Just under two weeks ago, everything was going according to plan. The Spurs, historically great and, by one measure, historically greater than the Golden State Warriors, blew out a disheveled and unprepared Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, playing four quarters of near perfect total basketball.
And then things started to slip. The Spurs lost Game 2 after referees failed to blow as many as five whistles during one of the craziest sequences I’ve ever seen, and there was yet another officiating controversy in their Game 5 loss. But the Spurs, the NBA’s most selfless team for the past decade, stopped being able to move the ball midway through this series. Oklahoma City’s ultra-big lineup of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter absolutely befuddled San Antonio’s big men, preventing the double teams they thrive off of—San Antonio’s bigs pass out of the post better than anyone in the league. They also turned LaMarcus Aldridge, the league’s most efficient midrange shooter, into someone who couldn’t buy a basket. By gumming up one of the gears in the Spurs machine, the Thunder were able to expose San Antonio’s guards and wings, who struggled to create their own shots and facilitate. If you double team anyone on San Antonio, the open man will kill you, but in the last three games of this series, the Thunder were rarely forced to scramble on defense. (It didn’t help that Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, who we will hopefully see again, suddenly looked very, very old.) Every once and a while there were glimpses of the Spurs as they should be, but they were few and far between.
Of course, it doesn’t help when the team you’re playing has two of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA. While OKC’s offense rarely looked as good as its defense, that doesn’t matter when you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who took turns being transcendent in the series. Oklahoma City will likely have a harder time with Golden State, but this series proved that if you have Durant and Westbrook anything can happen.