Thunder finish Spurs, set sights on Steph Curry, Warriors: Takeaways
So much for that Warriors-Spurs showdown everyone was expecting pretty much all year.
Well, so much for that Spurs-Warriors conference finals showdown everyone was expecting all season. After falling in Game 1 by 32 points, the Thunder won four of the next five against the Spurs, including Thursday's 113-99 Game 6 victory, which sends the Thunder into the conference finals to face the Warriors after a 4-2 series win over San Antonio that quite honestly very few people saw coming.
Three things to know from the Thunder's Game 6 victory over the Spurs:
1. Thunder pulled off the improbable
The Spurs were the second-best team in the NBA all season, winning a franchise-best 67 games and finishing second overall in the West with home-court advantage for the first two rounds. Yet that didn't matter against the Thunder.
Oklahoma City won two games in San Antonio, a place the Spurs lost just once all season. The Thunder neutralized San Antonio's offense, which was third overall during the regular season, and made mincemeat out of the Spurs' defense, which was the best in the league. Pretty shocking on all levels.
The Thunder just simply overwhelmed the Spurs, being physical, dominating the rebounding battle and making the adjustments that actually made a difference. The pairing of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams paid off and so did the move to get Randy Foye more minutes. Adams really stepped up, playing some of the best basketball of his career and frankly putting himself into the conversation for one of the best centers in the league.
But Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the guys here. Durant scored 37 points in Game 6, making Kawhi Leonard, winner of back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards, look at times helpless. And Westbrook (28 points and 12 assists) played like he usually does, running downhill all game, attacking the basket and controlling the Thunder offense while also being a pest on defense.
This was all too much for the Spurs, who got poor bench play throughout the series and saw LaMarcus Aldridge lose his shooting touch after the first two games. Leonard did all he could, finishing with 22 points and nine boards, but it was to no avail as the Spurs join the 2007 Mavericks as the only teams in NBA history to win 65-plus games and not make the conference finals.
2. Is this the end of the Spurs as we know them?
With the Spurs losing in the second round, the speculation and rumors about San Antonio's future will now begin. Will Tim Duncan, who showed his age and didn't have any lift in this series, retire? Will Manu Ginobili, who came back because he believed San Antonio's championship window was re-opened due to the signing of Aldridge, also hang it up?
One way or another, San Antonio will have to figure out how to bolster its bench, which was close to nonexistent against the Thunder. To sign Aldridge, San Antonio let key bench members like Cory Joseph, Aron Baynes and Marco Belinelli leave in free agency. All three aren't game changers yet their replacements -- David West, Kyle Anderson, Kevin Martin and Boban Marjanovic -- left a lot to be desired against OKC.
But it isn't all doom and gloom for the Spurs. They still have Aldridge, an All-Star in his first season in San Antonio, and of course Leonard, who finished second in the MVP voting and is, in many people's opinion, the best two-way player in the league. Leonard is their true superstar and at just 24 years old, he certainly can keep developing, especially on the offensive end where he made a big leap this season. The Spurs got bounced in the first round last year and Leonard came back better than ever. Now imagine Leonard motivated by yet another early playoff exit. Frightening, right?
3. Thunder-Warriors lookahead
We may not get to see the best two teams during the regular season face off in the Western Conference but we will get to see two of the league's best offenses go head-to-head, and this should one heck of a fun series.
The individual point guard matchup is off the charts with Westbrook facing off against Stephen Curry . Can Westbrook use his hectic and chaotic speed to slow down Curry's high-powered offense? How will the Warriors contain Westbrook? Who will draw the Durant assignment?
Also, will Thunder coach Billy Donovan be able to make the necessary counter moves, like he did against Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, against Coach of the Year Steve Kerr? Can the Thunder's defense, which largely stymied the Spurs' ball movement after Game 1, carry over against the Warriors? Will Oklahoma City's athleticism, which was a huge advantage against San Antonio, be a difference against Golden State, which may be even more athletic?
The Western Conference finals start Monday in Oakland.
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