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2012 NBA Playoffs: Thunder Eliminate Spurs, Advance To NBA Finals

Aaron Fischman |
June 6, 2012 | 9:38 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

The Thunder found a way to combat Parker's offense after the first two games of the series. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
The Thunder found a way to combat Parker's offense after the first two games of the series. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
The Oklahoma City Thunder overcame an 18-point Spurs lead in Game 6, Sunday night, to advance to the NBA finals. 

The Thunder swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and got by the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, but the naysayers came out in full force as soon as the Spurs took a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

In the first two games at the AT&T Center, Spurs point guard Tony Parker had his way with the Thunder. In Game 2, he was especially impressive. In the contest, the French guard recorded 34 points on 16-21 shooting to go along with eight assists and just two turnovers. 

The Thunder managed to score 111 points in a losing effort, but a closer look would reveal a serious problem: No one made shots besides Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Those three guys scored 98 of the team’s 111 points (88.3 percent of the Thunder’s offensive output). The rest of the team shot an embarrassing 20.6 percent (7-34 FGs).

At that point, San Antonio had won 20 straight games and 31 of its last 33. Conventional wisdom said, “The Thunder are extremely exciting and will be in title contention for years to come, but this is simply not their year. The Spurs are just too experienced, too battle-tested.”

Going forward if Oklahoma City was to have any chance, it would have to stop Parker’s penetration to the basket, as well as diversify its offense.

The Spurs had not lost three consecutive games all season, let alone four. So how did the Thunder roar back to win four straight games against the seemingly unbeatable Spurs? 

For one, the Thunder were able to contain Parker for the most part in Games 3 through 6. Although Parker turned in a brilliant first half in Game 6, he was clearly never comfortable after Coach Scott Brooks gave 6-foot-7 guard Thabo Sefolosha the critical defensive assignment in Game 3. Sefolosha’s defensive speed and long arms gave Parker fits. Not only did his presence limit Parker’s scoring, but it also prevented the 11-year veteran from finding his teammates for easy assists. Despite averaging 7.7 assists per game during the season, Parker was held to just four assists per game from Games 3 through 5. 

To make matters worse, Manu Ginobili struggled in three of the Spurs’ losses after scoring 20 or more in each of San Antonio’s two wins.    

Durant was extraordinary, but even he needed help from his supporting cast. (BryanWaytula/Creative Commons)
Durant was extraordinary, but even he needed help from his supporting cast. (BryanWaytula/Creative Commons)
But without the immense contributions from the Thunder supporting cast, San Antonio would be preparing for the NBA finals instead of Oklahoma City. In Game 3, Sefolosha and 22-year-old big man Serge Ibaka combined for 33 points, eight steals and four blocks.

In Game 4, Westbrook and Harden struggled mightily, converting a combined six of 23 field goals. As usual, Durant did his thing, but just as importantly, Ibaka exploded for 26 points and three blocks. For the game, Ibaka didn’t miss a single one of his 11 shots. Perkins added 15 points and nine rebounds. In such a tight game, Oklahoma City would need as much help as it could get.

With the Thunder clinging to a narrow, 86-82 lead with 6:33 to go in Game 4, Durant absolutely took over, scoring 16 consecutive points for his team. This year’s NBA scoring leader would later nail a couple free throws to give him 18 total points for the fourth quarter, but more importantly tie the series at two games apiece. 

Back-up big man Nick Collison also brought significant help to the Thunder during the Western Conference finals. After a rough Game 2, in which he scored 0 points and committed four fouls in nine minutes, Collison played very effectively over the next three games. In Games 3 through 5, the former Kansas Jayhawk made 10 of 11 field goals, effectively adding another tool to the Thunder's offensive attack.  

Much more can be said about the Durantula’s fourth-quarter heroics, but with the Thunder hanging around another series, there will be more time for that. Derek Fisher also has a propensity for hitting big-time shots, something that could help Oklahoma City in the finals.

Last postseason, the Thunder fell to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals. These playoffs, Oklahoma City became the first team other than the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs to win the West in 14 years. Ironically, the Thunder eliminated all three in order to make it to the finals. Can you say "passing of the torch"? 

The Thunder’s top four scorers average 22.5 years of age, but what Oklahoma City lacks in experience, they’ve more than made up for with teamwork, athleticism and intensity. We’ll see you in the finals, OKC!



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