After losing Game 1 of their second-round series by 32 points, the Oklahoma City Thunder have taken three of four against the San Antonio Spurs, including two in San Antonio, where the Spurs went 40-1 this season.
Somehow, despite looking helpless in the series opener, the Thunder can close out the Spurs in Game 6 in Oklahoma on Thursday.
“What you’re seeing now is a team that is slow but surely believing in itself and growing up right before your eyes,” Fox Sports Thunder studio analyst Antonio Daniels said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “You hear all year about the Thunder are blowing fourth-quarter leads, and I think that that stat is very misleading. You can go into a fourth quarter leading by one point. You can go into a fourth quarter leading by two points. In (the) 14 or 15 games that the Thunder have lost (after leading entering the fourth quarter), there’s only been one game where they’ve been up by six points or more. So that’s very misleading.”
Kevin Durant scored a game-high 41 points in Game 4 and Russell Westbrook scored a game-high 35 in Game 5, but the Thunder are getting significant contributions from several players. Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, for example, combined for 20 points and 24 rebounds in Tuesday’s 95-91 Game 5 win in San Antonio. Dion Waiters, meanwhile, had 17 points off the bench in Game 4, which the Thunder won, 111-97, in Oklahoma City.
“I love the way we’re playing right now because we believe in each other and we’re trusting each other,” Daniels said. “It’s not about just Kevin Durant. It’s not about just Russell Westbrook. It’s about the other guys around them and that makes this a complete team. San Antonio can’t just focus on Russ. They can’t just focus on KD. Now you have to worry about Enes Kanter. Now you have to worry about Steven Adams. You have to worry about Serge Ibaka stretching the floor and also what Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter together are bringing off the bench.”
The Thunder lead the series despite scoring 100+ points just once in five games. Still, they’re pushing the ball as much as possible against the older Spurs.
“That’s been their philosophy all year,” Daniels said. “When you’re a team that averages north of 110 points a game, that’s what you do and that’s who you are. You get the ball up and down the floor, but you also understand coming into the playoffs, especially against the San Antonio Spurs, things have to change a little bit. The game’s going to slow down. You have to learn to execute in the half-court. You aren’t going to be able to just run the ball up and down the floor like you did during the regular season. And it’s not about the amount of points you score; it’s when you score them. The pace has been slower, but the Thunder, especially the past two games, they’ve increased the pace when it mattered.”
The Thunder have averaged 30 fourth-quarter points over the last two games – almost double San Antonio’s 16.5. They also scored 19 points in the final six minutes of Game 5 despite scoring just 95 for the game.
“So they want to increase the pace,” Daniels said, “but it’s all about the timing as well.”
Daniels was asked about a potential Thunder/Warriors matchup in the Western Conference Finals. He didn’t want to go there, but for the sake of Gio and Jones, he did.
“This series is far from over, and you have to close out today,” said Daniels, who won a title with the Spurs in 1999. “You don’t want to go back to San Antonio for a Game 7. But if you are to play the Golden State Warriors, the thing that I like about the Oklahoma City Thunder and how they match up to Golden State is their ability to play small with Golden State. So when they play Draymond Green at the 5-spot, we can play Serge Ibaka at the 5-spot. Now they have to play somebody at the 4-spot to match up with Kevin Durant, who we can play at the 4. Good teams at this time of the year are versatile enough to win in different ways. So you can win playing big and you can win playing small. The Oklahoma City Thunder can win and match up both of those ways.
“I think Golden State is the best small-ball team in this league,” Daniels continued, “so it remains to be seen how Billy Donovan can counter that. Do you counter that by going big with Enes Kanter and Steven Adams? That’s worked fantastic against the San Antonio Spurs. Or you can go the other way and go small like he’s done this year and play Kevin Durant at the 5, if they have Draymond Green at the 5. So when you have the ability to match down to Golden State, that gives you a great chance.”