Monday, May 28, 2012

Spurs Update: Western Conference Finals

The WCF are finally under way! It's about time, as both these teams have been sitting around waiting - thanks to the NBA powers-that-be forced each of us to play a back-to-back in the playoffs, on the opponents' home court, while both these teams had respective home court advantage in each series. OK that's the last time you'll have to hear that rant from me.

The Oklahoma City Thunder brought their young & talented squad to the AT&T Center for game-1 Sunday night. As usual the hype was sort-of overblown. That doesn't mean I wasn't excited - I just try to stay away from any & all media bias, especially when it comes to my Spurs. For the last several days Spurs fans
Durant & Westbrook are two young NBA stars - Image Source (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

have come out of the woodwork, from under rocks, and from universes far away, but it happens every single season that we do really well. This is the 11th time the organization has been to the conference finals, and the 7th time during the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan era, and have a record of 4-2 in WCF's during this era. Obviously the 4 wins were '99, '03, '05, and '07, and the losses were the Lakers sweep in '01, and another loss to the Lakers in '08. The other four prior to this year were '79, '82, '83, and '95, when we were up 2-0 on Houston (without home court advantage), only to lose four-straight as Hakeem Olajuwon completely & embarrassingly schooled MVP David Robinson.

This is something worth noting (and is something I've been wanting to make public, under my pen, for a long time). In the 2004 playoffs, 2nd-round series with the Lakers was tied 2-2, and Tim Duncan hit an amazing shot to put us ahead in game-5 at home. We all know what happened right after that. Lakers go up 3-2, and win the series the next game. They then go on to beat the T-Wolves in the WCF, only to get their asses handed to them in the Finals by the Detroit Pistons. Derek Fisher doesn't hit that lucky 0.04 shot, we win the title that year.

Two years later in the 2006 playoffs, following our return to title holders in '05, and with the #1 seed, we go head-to-head against the Dallas Mavericks in one of the best series in recent memory. Game-7 in San Antonio with the 3-pt. lead, Dirk drives and gets to the bucket with 0:25 left, and Manu pulls his most bone-headed move of all-time, fouling Dirk as the ball rolls in for the "and-1". Of course, Dirk hits the FT, the game goes to OT, and the Mavs pull it out. They then go on to get beaten pretty badly in the Finals by the Miami Heat. Manu doesn't foul Dirk on that play, we win the title that year.

So, if those two tiny little exclusive events don't happen, we win FIVE straight championships from '03 to '07.

OK now that I've gotten that off my chest, the 2012 WCF began with 5 straight from Sefolosha and Durant, followed by 8 straight from Tony, Diaw, and Duncan. Then after Russell Westbrook made an easy layup to put the Thunder up 11-10, Spurs call timeout. Teams would trade a basket, and then defenses and sloppiness took over for a few minutes. Kawhi Leonard made a layup, and then a solid three. After a couple Kevin Durant FTs, Manu made a sweet layup to put us ahead 21-18. Then this happened in the last possession of the 1st-Q:


Beginning the 2nd-Q down by 6 (24-18), the Thunder had already racked-up several blocks, and a few steals. Derek Fisher, Sefolosha, and James Harden all would hit early jumpers, but Manu & Tiago Splitter would put down 7 of their own. Gary Neal would enter at this point and immediately make his presence known, but too much Derek Fisher, and too many Spurs turnovers would mar the 2nd-Q. Durant, Westbrook, and Fisher were getting most of what they shot (Fisher hasn't missed yet), and 14 Spurs turnovers led to a halftime deficit of one: 47-46.

So the Spurs had to feel OK with the fact that we were down only 1 despite 14 TOs, 6 blocks, and 6 steals, and Derek Fisher was their leading scorer, right?

Well things only got worse. Serge Ibaka began the 3rd-Q with a powerful dunk, and a FT. Our offense came out stagnant, and guys were settling for jumpers, which of course they missed. Four minutes into the 3rd, and with only a Timmy FT so far, Tony hit a three in the corner to close a 7-pt. Thunder lead to 4. With 5:00 left in the 3rd, Durant would hit a nice jumper, which led to a 61-56 OKC lead. Enter Manu Ginobili again. We would close to within 2 again, but just like that Harden would hit a three, and Durant - two more FTs - taking the lead back to 7. After a Manu three with 2:30 on the clock, OKC would run off 5 more for a 71-62 lead going into the 4th-Q. Yikes!

Splitter layup. Harden jumper. Splitter hook. Now down 7 at this point, Gary Neal would enter, and give the team a huge boost while the big-3 rested for a couple minutes. OKC would be stuck on 73 - from right after Harden hit their only 4th-Q shot, at 11:18, for a full 4:07, while Neal had 4, Tiago had 3, and Tony 2. And just like that the crowd was as loud as I've heard a Spurs' crowd this season. This 4th-Q was INTENSE! I think a lot of fans probably felt like this was finally

Neal provided a huge spark for the Spurs - Image Source (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

gonna be our first loss in 7 weeks, but near the end of the Thunder cold-streak (when Tony tied it up at 73) the entire arena had exciting new life! Tied up at 73, Perkins would hit 1 of 2 FTs, followed by another layup from Tony to take the lead. It was at this point that Manu was not to be denied. After he created his own little layup for a 3-pt. lead, and Fisher replied with a jumper of his own, Manu got to the line and hit both. Then Fisher finally missed a shot, and Gary Neal followed it with a clutch three. It was now 82-76, Spurs - culminating an 18-3 San Antonio run over the last 6:13.

Up 82-76 with just under 5 minutes left, Spurs withstood 8 straight OKC FTs with 4 of their own, a Duncan layup, and a gigantic Stephen Jackson three with 3:01 left to put us up 7, 91-84.

Then with 1:57 remaining, Manu did this. Watch Kevin Durant bite on this fake. SICK! 94-84 after the Manu FT. They then began fouling, and while we hit all but one of our FTs, OKC would hit 3 threes (Westbrook, and 2 by Harden) in the last 16-seconds to make the

Manu took over the game - Image Source (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

score appear much closer than the victory actually was. San Antonio takes game-1 101-98!

We did a good job on their big-3. Durant's probably gonna get his, and he did with 27 & 10. However, we held Westbrook & Harden to 14 of 38 shooting (36.8%). Manu was the man tonight with 26-5-3 on 9 of 14 shooting in 34 minutes. Timmy had 16 & 11, and Tony had 18 & 6 plus 8 rebounds. Here's ESPN's boxscore..

That's 19 in a row! Game-2 is Tuesday night at 8pm Central. Look for several changes from the Thunder, but a lot more of the same from my Spurs. One thing I know - we won't have 14 first half turnovers!

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