There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich's club absorbed the loss of Tony Parker and rallied to stun the Thunder on their home court and advance to the NBA Finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder RECAP
112 - 107 Spurs win 4-2
5 things to know
No Parker, no problem
This was the big test of the Spurs Way. Tony Parker's ankle was acting up and he couldn't play in the second half, forcing Cory Joseph into the game. This wasn't the second night of a back to back in February, where it really doesn't matter who the Spurs trot out. This was Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. The whole point of the regular season was to have the stars rested and healthy for this moment ... and they weren't.
And yet, did anyone remember that Parker was injured when the final buzzer sounded?
Down seven at halftime, the Joseph-led Spurs rallied quickly to take the lead, then extended it to double digits led by Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili. Gregg Popovich finally embraced wacky lineups, rolling out a Ginobili/Danny Green/Marco Belinelli/Leonard/Diaw unit during the fourth quarter and keeping Tim Duncan on the bench until the four-minute mark. Without Parker, they withstood Oklahoma City's final push, a blown goaltend call and a grueling overtime period to get their Finals rematch with Miami.
It played out like one of those mid-February games with one of the Big 3 resting. The Spurs didn't need Parker to beat a 59-win team playing at home with the league's MVP, another top-10 player and the scariest defender in the league. There's no better compliment to the Spurs Way. -Mike Prada
The ageless wonder
You can rely on death, taxes and Tim Duncan. Big Fun scored nine points in crunch time (including overtime) to carry the Tony Parker-less Spurs to another NBA Finals series. It's been 15 years since Duncan's first Finals -- Kawhi Leonard was a second grader when Duncan's Spurs won the 1999 championship -- and now he gets to avenge San Antonio's only Finals loss.
He put on a post clinic against Serge Ibaka, one of the best defenders in the world. His step-through bucket in overtime made Twitter implode like it was a Russell Westbrook dunk or a Stephen Curry three. After one critical hoop, he actually showed positive emotion! The reserved legend gave a "yeah!" and ripped his jersey from his waistband. That's the closest Big Fun gets to showboating.
It's pretty perfect that Duncan, a pending free agent, would carry San Antonio back to the Finals. You want to add "maybe for the last time" to the end of that sentence, but then we go back to the first: you can rely on death, taxes and Tim Duncan. There's no telling when he'll stop. He's in amazing physical condition at age 38, he's leading the Spurs in playoff PER and has thrived playing 33 minutes per game in the postseason. This may never end. Big Fun certainly doesn't seem inclined to let it. -Tom Ziller
Durant tastes failure ... again
The pangs all superstars go through struck Kevin Durant Saturday night. With OKC's season on the line, the MVP had a nearly backbreaking turnover late in regulation, then shot 0-3 in overtime. The Thunder lost and must seek revenge next season, perhaps with home court advantage if they can stay healthy.
The only player in the NBA better than Durant -- LeBron James -- had his own misfortune in the postseason years ago. It happens. Even Tim Duncan, who has been competing for championships for 15 years, has seen playoff failure up close and personal. It happens. No player performs perfectly, and the Thunder aren't built to survive hiccups from Durant or Russell Westbrook. KD had a strong game in all, but the late hiccups put San Antonio in charge. Next time, maybe it will be different.
The great players help you get to this point in the season. After that, you're relying on a good deal of fate. KD met the wrong flavor on Saturday and made some mistakes. But he has plenty of chances left to write a better history. -Tom Ziller
The Spurs' new blood
Kawhi Leonard is heading to his second straight NBA Finals in the third year of his professional career and will once again be tasked with chasing a four-time MVP. Quite the reward for making a remarkable defensive play that swayed Game 6.
Stopping any three-on-two fastbreak is no easy task. Multiply that by 10 if Russell Westbrook is the player zooming to the rim with a chance to take the lead in overtime of an elimination game. Leonard rotated away from Reggie Jackson, stepped around Westbrook and stripped the ball in such a fluid motion it was as if time stood still for him. The Spurs collected the loose ball, raced it up the court and Tim Duncan landed the knockout blow in the low post. Kawhi Leonard became Freddy Krueger, conjuring a nightmarish sequence of events that will haunt the Thunder until next season.
Now, he has another chance to be the next wing player -- not Kevin Durant or Paul George -- to capture an NBA title. He just needs to have four repeat performances. -Andrew Garrison
OKC's still the envy of the league
Don't weep for the Thunder's future. Yes, Kevin Durant is one year closer to free agency without any titles. Yes, there's the James Harden trade, which remains one of the biggest what-ifs in recent history. Yes, they have stagnated since rising to the Finals in 2012.
But to those suggesting their window is closing: stop it. This is a team anchored by two of the league's 10 best players, both of whom turn 26 next season. The devastating defensive force whose return to health kept Oklahoma City alive in this series will be 25. Steven Adams, who was a revelation in limited minutes, isn't even 21 yet. He'll have Kendrick Perkins' job soon, perhaps next year. (Reminder: the Thunder acquired him with one of the draft picks they got in ... the James Harden trade). Derek Fisher should be gone, freeing minutes for Jeremy Lamb. Reggie Jackson will likely stick around. Two more first-round picks arrive to fill in any more gaps.
The whole point of the Harden trade was to prolong the window instead of constraining it to one run before massive tax bills ruined any cap flexibility. In the two years since, the Thunder had the league's best point differential before Russell Westbrook's damaged knee torpedoed their chances, then spotted two games to the Spurs because of Serge Ibaka's calf. They were great: obvious title contenders and potentially even favorites. They just got unlucky.
There are never any guarantees in the NBA, but the Thunder are in a great place. Twenty-nine teams would gladly trade situations. -Mike Prada
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