Archive for June 1st, 2012
It was beautiful. The Oklahoma City Thunder Crowd might be the loudest in the league. This fans really now how to stand behind their young and talented team and cheer them on. The San Antonio Spurs, on the other hand, figured out that it was all set and done against the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs. These squad was coming off from a 20-game winning streak, setting an NBA record for wins extending into the postseason, and had now won 10 straight games in the 2012 Playoffs. As if that was not enough, the Spurs had been very dominating in their two games at San Antonio, and it really seemed that the Thunder just didn’t had what it take to win one. But they were wrong.
The San Antonio Spurs never really had a chance against the young and motivated Thunder. As a matter of fact, the Thunder built a 27-point margin against the Spurs and with a flawless defense and a solid performance from the whole gang; they took game 3 and stayed alive in the fight for the series. Down 2-0 against the Spurs, a win at home was a must. And the Thunder delivered. Kevin Durant guided OKC’s efforts with 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assist. Thabo Sefolosha set playoff career bests with 19 points and six steals rounding up a solid performance from the Oklahoma City Thunder to beat the San Antonio Spurs 102-82 in Game 3. Sure enough this is the end of the phenomenal streak set by the Spurs, but it also means that this series might just be getting started.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is a new emerging team and they don’t have a title yet. But this young team is ready to make a statement. And this year, they might have their best chance yet. Many sports commentators out there believed that in order to win a game against the Spurs, the Thunder would have to get out-of-this-world scoring figures from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. A couple of sports reporters had ventured to say that the duo had to score at least 70 points to beat the Spurs. Reality wasn’t even close. The Thunder relied heavily on a impenetrable defense and a brilliant defensive master class from Thabo Sefalosha. He finally figured out the Spurs offensive speed and just to show them how rough things would get, Sefalosha had four steals in the first 3 minutes. The Spurs ended up committing a postseason-worst 21 turnovers and scoring their fewest points all season.
The Spurs were off their mark. Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson led the Spurs with 16 points apiece. Tim Duncan had 11 points on 5 for 15 shooting, taking 11 of San Antonio’s first 25 shots as the offense went through the All-Star center instead of Parker. For a moment there in the fourth quarter, as the starters took some rest, you could see the defeat in their faces. They really couldn’t believe what was going on. Not even the Argentinean Manu Ginobili was going to save the date. He finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds, his weakest performance in the series. Game 4 will be played in Oklahoma City on Saturday night. As of press time, the Thunder are a -3½ point favorite on the spread.
No one said that sports were fair. Sports are not about fairness, about deserving something or not. At the end of the day, it all adds up to winning or losing and even if we hold a soft spot for the underdog or if we think someone deserved to win or not. But let’s be absolutely clear about this one: The Boston Celtics deserved a win in game two against LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat. Make no mistake about it, Rajon Rondo, the 26-year-old point guard had one of the best playoffs performances we have seen this season, and by far the best game of his career. Rondo put out a herculean effort into game 2, guiding the Celtics into a 15 point lead, and resisting the furious comeback of the Heat in the fourth quarter. Rondo scored and the Miami Heat will answer. That one time when he failed to deliver, the Heat went ahead in overtime and took the game115-111.
So it’s a very rough lost for the Celtics, because at the end of the night they knew that they had failed Rondo’s effort. To score 44 points, record 8 rebounds, 10 assists and 3 steals in a playoffs game against the Miami Heat is an amazing achievement. Not only was he a solid passer and distributor, he was the core and soul of the Celtics. Even the Miami Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized that once he gets in the zone he is a very difficult target to hold down for his defender. The bottom line here is that for a moment there, Rondo became the NBA’s worst nightmare: that is, a Rajon Rondo with a solid jump shot. Just consider for a moment that Rondo made 11-of-13 jumpers during his masterful Game 2 performance. Take into account that for any shooter on the planet this would be one heck of a night. For Rondo, on the other hand, this was a watching the Haley Comet twice in a lifetime rare. For instance, during the regular season, Rajon Rondo shot 28 percent on shots 10-15 feet from the basket and 39 percent on shots from 16-23 feet.
Still, it is going to be really hard to come back from a 2-0 deficit, even if they manage to win the next two games at home, things are only going to get harder. As a matter of fact, no Celtics team has been able to get back from a 2-0 deficit in a 7-game series since 1969. “Listen, we played terrific,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in the postgame press conference. “I told them, we played extremely hard. I thought we played with great heart tonight, but I didn’t think we played smart all the time. And there’s things we can absolutely fix, and we’ll do that. We’ll be ready for Friday.” They could start by giving out less fouls. The Celtics gave out 33 fouls against the Miami Heat’s 18.
The numbers looked right. The outcome didn’t. Paul Pierce scored 21 points, Kevin Garnett added 18 and Ray Allen 13 for Boston. Rondo finished 16-of-24 from the floor and 10-of-12 from the foul line, and made both his 3-point tries. If the fantastic four manages to get a little more help from the bench and play smarter, they might just manage to beat the Heat this season.
The San Antonio Spurs are the quite guys. They don’t make a lot of noise, they don’t really don’t seem to be wanting to grab all the attention. The thing here is that they make it all look too easy, the shots they make, the flawless pick and rolls, the fact that this guys have won 20 games in a row and haven’t lost a game in the postseason, the way they almost ridiculed the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half; it all adds to boring but extremely effective basketball. It was never close, even though 111-120 win at home can make it look a bit overwhelming, even thought the Thunder came back, it all seemed like a cruel joke played on the younger rooster. The Thunder got a better outcome through the solid game of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Particularly Harden who came back from a very mediocre performance in game 1, to deliver 30 points and 7 rebounds in game 2. Still it was not enough, and even thought they cut it down to a 6-point deficit in the fourth quarter, San Antonio never loss its cool.
And perhaps most of the damage made against the Thunder came by the way of the point guard Tony Parker. He has really managed to find the balance between his duties assisting other player offensively and making the points when needed. On game 2 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, the Frenchman Tony Parker finished the night with 34 points, 8 assists and 3 rebounds. As if that was not enough, the Argentinean Manu Ginobili chipped in with 20 points and 4 assists coming off the bench as theSpurs set an NBA record with their 20th consecutive victory bridging the regular season and the playoffs. Now, to be fair, the San Antonio Spurs are now 10 down and 6 more games to go before doing something no other NBA team has done: sweep in the NBA Playoffs. And sure enough, we still need to see how this team is going to play at Oklahoma City, were the Thunder are currently a -3½ point favorite on the NBA Playoffs betting spread.
Somehow that hasn’t kept the press from arguing that they might just have a chance to make history. They believe that the Oklahoma City Thunder is not going to have what it takes to secure a win at home, and that on the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics are not really equipped to give these guys a run for their money. 6 games to go, at least in paper it looks quite easy, considering that they have won now 10 straight games in the Playoffs and 22 straight including the regular season. So what then? If the Thunder wants to win this one, they have to find a way to slow down Parker. Even the Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich knows very well that “Tony’s been great all year. He’s been really focused the entire season…” and that all the game flow is going through him.
The Oklahoma City Thunder has the manpower, I’m just uncertain if they have the emotional strength to keep it together under heavy pressure. Kevin Durant had 31 points, Westbrook had 27 points and eight assists, and James Harden rebounded from a rough Game 1 to score 30 for the Thunder. Those alone are phenomenal numbers for a squad, but somehow Oklahoma never seemed to really have a chance.