If this was Tim Duncan's final game, he went out on his shield.
His Spurs were flushed out of the NBA Playoffs by a hungry Thunder team on Thursday night, 113-99, despite a throwback 19-point performance from the future Hall of Famer. San Antonio suffered through a lethargic second quarter and scored only 31 points in the first half -- its lowest halftime output of the season. That hole was ultimately too deep for San Antonio to climb out of in Thursday's season-ending loss.
That early slump couldn't have come at a worse time. Oklahoma City, feeding off a frenzied home crowd in Game 6, shot its way into the Western Conference Finals behind 37 points from Kevin Durant, 28 from Russell Westbrook, and a surprising 14-point showing from Andre Roberson.
Duncan finished his 2015-16 season with 19 points on 7-14 shooting and five rebounds in 34 minutes. Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 22 points in defeat.
San Antonio started the game hot and built a 19-13 lead midway through the first quarter, but Gregg Popovich's first shift change of the night gave the Thunder all the latitude they needed to start bullying the Spurs. A 12-0 run closed out the first quarter with Oklahoma City up 25-19, and the game would never be that close again.
The Spurs couldn't buy a bucket in the first half, shooting barely 31 percent from the field as their jumpers clanged off the rim and into the hands of OKC's big men. Durant's dagger three with two seconds remaining in the second quarter made it 55-31 Thunder as the two teams headed to the locker room.
San Antonio, behind a rested Duncan, chipped away at that lead in the second half. After a back-and-forth third quarter, the Spurs opened the fourth with a 19-6 run that had Thunder coach Billy Donovan burning multiple timeouts to deflate the visiting team's comeback chances. The veteran Spurs cut the lead down to 11 with three minutes remaining but never clawed any closer than that.
Here are three things we learned:
Gregg Popovich wasn't afraid to roll the dice with his substitutions. Maybe he should have been.
By the time Game 6 crossed the 15 minute threshold, San Antonio had run 11 different players onto the court. Kevin Martin and Boban Marjanovic, who hadn't played in the team's latest loss, were suddenly thrust into meaningful minutes in an elimination game.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, the gamble failed to pay off. An early 19-13 lead disintegrated with veterans like Manu Ginobili and David West on the floor. San Antonio gave up a 14-0 run and suffered through a 1-10 shooting stretch that allowed the home team to take a double-digit lead. Ginobli's +/- dipped as low as -27 as his team failed to gain traction going either big or small.
The Spurs eventually stabilized under Duncan, Leonard, Aldridge, and 40-year-old point guard Andre Miller, but the winning combination was too little, too late.
A migraine wouldn't stop Steven Adams
The Thunder second-year big man was in danger of missing Game 6 after the migraine headaches that haunted him in 2015 flared up again on Thursday night. Instead, the wide-bodied New Zealander gave Oklahoma City a shot deterrent on the defensive end and an efficient fourth option when his team brought the ball up in the half court. His straight armed, post-packing defense was an important part of making Spurs shooters miserable all night.
He finished with his most efficient game of the postseason, scoring 15 points on 6-7 shooting, pulling down 11 rebounds, and even adding a pair of steals. Adams left the floor midway through the fourth quarter with an apparent hand injury, but if he's healthy and can continue to coexist on the court with Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka, they could give the Thunder the size advantage they'll need to frustrate the Warriors in the WCF.
Oklahoma City's balanced attack is just what the Thunder need to dethrone Golden State
Among the Thunder starters, only Serge Ibaka had a sub-par game -- and he still finished with eight points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks. Adams and Roberson combined to make 11 of their 15 shots. Granted, Oklahoma City didn't get much from its bench until after this game was already decided, but Kanter still managed to make his presence felt with seven points and seven rebounds early in this game.
That group came together to bolster their superstars Durant and Westbrook, who combined for 65 points. That's the kind of support the Trail Blazers failed to produce when they lost to the Warriors earlier this week.
Golden State proved it can shut down a team that gets approximately 45 percent of its scoring from two star players this week when it defeated Portland in five games. Now the Warriors will have to prove they can handle a much more dynamic roster when the Thunder make their trip out to the bay area.
1 fun thing
1 sad reminder that time remains undefeated
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How to survive an encounter with Russell Westbrook
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