Since the beginning of the regular season, it was almost a forgone conclusion that the battle hardened San Antonio Spurs and the versatile Oklahoma City Thunder would meet in the Western Conference Finals. Although the Western Conference had plenty of potential contenders such as the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trailblazers, none of these teams had the endurance or depth to win a seven game series against their superior opposition.
Yet, despite the persistence and talent that exists on the Thunder’s roster, the dual for the west has been decisively uneventful, as the Spurs have dominated on both defense and offense. While the loss of power forward Serge Ibaka has undoubtedly hampered the Thunder’s defensive capabilities, it doesn’t account for their miscues on offense. If the Thunder wants to retake this series, they’ll need to find some consistency with their offense while compensating for the loss of their monumental defensive contributor.
Although the Thunder’s loss in game one was unimpressive, they at least had an offensive flow that allowed them to go small in the absence of Ibaka. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played with their expected offensive vigor while point guards Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher provided some much needed relief from the bench with a combined scoring output of 29 points. While the Thunder’s one-dimensional approach wasn’t exactly innovative, it allowed them to continuously attack the Spurs with their best offensive weapons that were able to shoot 46.3% from the field while shooting 44.4% from beyond the perimeter.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Spurs were firing on all cylinders on both offense and defense throughout the duration of the game. Power forward Tim Duncan couldn’t miss with 27 points on the night while Tony Parker unselfishly dished out 12 assists and shot 50% from the field for 14 points.
While game one was an emphatic display of both teams explosive potential, game two was a Harlem Globe Trotters esque domination on behalf of the Spurs. Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha once again couldn’t score while his tenacious opponent Danny Green scored 21 points and went 7-10 from beyond the arch.
Both Durant and Westbrook failed to keep their team afloat offensively with just 15 point apiece. Not only did the Thunder’s offense suffer tremendously at the hands of the Spurs, their meek defense only managed to garner 27 rebounds while the Spurs played the defensive boards with ease as they snatched 42 defensive rebounds.
Even though the Thunder’s recent demise may seem to indicate that this team will not only lose the series but could also be swept in the process, this team has always found a way to regroup to utilize their strengths effectively, particularly when they have home court advantage. While the Thunder have an arduous obstacle to overcome because of Ibaka’s absence, they have proven that even when they’re down a key player that they can still find ways to win. If it wasn’t for the absence of Russell Westbrook during a fairly long stretch of the regular season, Durant would have had less of an opportunity to solidify his MVP season and his individual accomplishments made him a better leader and teammate as he led the Thunder to one well earned victory after another.
Now, down two games to none, Westbrook and Durant have a grand opportunity to prove that they are the best forward/guard duo in the NBA. Although they may not have a consistently competent defense to back them up, they have the superstar repertoire with which to outscore the Spurs. If Westbrook and Durant can establish some confidence and find their back and forth offensive rhythm, the Thunder are more than capable of coming back in this series.
When all is said and done, the Thunder have found themselves in an unfavorably deep hole that will take a concerted effort from their entire team to climb out of. While it would unrealistic to expect the Thunder’s entire roster to play exceptionally well, Westbrook and Durant have to lead by example if they hope to inspire their teammates to help them in their cause to win the Western Conference.
All hope may seem lost for this courageous Thunder team, but they are simply too talented and fierce to give up this easily when everything is on the line.