It will be the Spurs and Heat again for the championship. San Antonio managed to put down the Oklahoma City Thunder in overtime last night with a 112-107 victory. They were without Tony Parker for the entire second half and overtime due to injury, but their depth was on full display on this night. Boris Diaw—just one of a million role players the Spurs have picked up off the scrap heap in the Duncan-Popovich era—poured in 26 points in 36 minute to lead San Antonio in scoring. It’s about the most Spurs way to get into the Finals as you can get.
Thanks to Diaw, the Spurs bench outscored the Thunder bench 51-5 in the game. According to ESPN Stats and Info, it was the largest bench points differential in any game this season. Without Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard all scored in double digits as well. The Thunder were able to erase a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, but the Spurs escaped with the win.
The Thunder didn’t go down without pushing the Spurs to the limit. OKC came back from down 12 in the fourth to get the game to overtime. Russell Westbrook finished with 34 points and went to the line for 18 attempts and Durant had 31 and 14, and a chance to win it in regulation on a drive from the free throw line, but slipped and lost his handle with 15 seconds left in regulation.
For Oklahoma City, they’ve now lost in the Finals, the second round and the Conference Finals in the last three seasons. Derek Fisher has probably played his last NBA game and will go on to interview for coaching vacancies, notably with the New York Knicks. The Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka combination will make them competitive in the West every year when they’re full strength, but they’ve not become the dominant team in the West that we expected. There will be familiar questions to address in the offseason, like whether this team has gone as far as they can with coach Scott Brooks, and what the time can do to bolster their bench. Some of that will come from internal improvement. Players such as Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Perry Jones III have all shown flashes of their potential, and this young core does have the capability to develop into a formidable second unit. But this is a league based on results and less about the what-if, and with the Thunder in win-now mode, it remains to be seen how Sam Presti addresses those issues.
For the Spurs, they’re finally back in the place against the team they’ve wanted all year long. Tim Duncan was very clear about that after the game, ”It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year. But we’re back here. We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”
This is a confident San Antonio team, but they know how difficult it is to go up against the best player in the world, and how close you can get to the title without actually winning it. LeBron will go for a three-peat, Tim Duncan will go for his fifth ring and a chance at redemption, the storylines are aplenty. This is the first repeat match-up in back-to-back Finals since the Bulls and Jazz faced off in 1997 and 1998, and it should be a great one.
Follow me on Twitter @steven_lebron