OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — For the San Antonio Spurs, a season spent building greatness unraveled almost in an instant.
From 20 straight wins to four consecutive losses, from 18 points up to behind when it counted, the Spurs saw it all wash away too fast.
Kevin Durant had 34 points and 14 rebounds while playing all of regulation for the first time all season, and the Oklahoma City Thunder came back from an 18-point deficit to eliminate San Antonio with a 107-99 victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night.
“It is very disappointing. I thought this was our time to get back to the finals and push for another championship,” said four-time champion Tim Duncan, who had 25 points and 14 rebounds.
“That was our singular goal but obviously it ends here.”
Just a week earlier, the Spurs seemed well on their way. They were only the fourth NBA team ever to win 20 straight games. Then came four losses in seven days.
“It’s upsetting for the organization, the team, the fans and the city. It’s something where we were definitely trying to get to the championship,” said Stephen Jackson, who hit six 3-pointers and scored 23 points.
“It’s upsetting. Tim wanted it bad and I wanted it bad for Tim. At the end of the day you have to take your hats off to those guys.”
Russell Westbrook added 25 points for the Thunder, who erased a 15-point halftime deficit before pulling ahead to stay in the fourth.
Durant grabbed the final rebound, dribbled the ball across halfcourt and raised his right fist to celebrate with a sold-out crowd wearing free white T-shirts. The franchise will play for the NBA title for the first time since 1996, before relocating from Seattle.
Even before the final buzzer, Durant indulged by hugging his mother and brother seated courtside after a foul was called with 14 seconds remaining.
“I never want to take those moments for granted,” Durant said. “I know it’s just one step closer to our dreams, but it felt good.”
Tony Parker had 29 points and 12 assists for San Antonio, but only eight of the points and two assists came in the second half. Oklahoma City outscored the Spurs 59-36 after halftime.
The Thunder took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter, getting nine of their first 13 points on free throws as the fouls started to pile up for San Antonio – six on the defensive end and three on the offensive end in the first 7 minutes.
Even Durant drew what he thought was his first charge of the season, stepping in front of Ginobili.
“Down the stretch, it seemed like they got every whistle possible and that really changed the tide,” Duncan said. “We were playing tough defense and trying to get stops, but the whistle kept blowing and they went to the line.”
The Thunder, only three years removed from a 3-29 start that had them on pace for the worst record in NBA history, went through the only three West teams to reach the finals since 1998 – Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio – to earn their shot at the title.
Game 1 of the NBA finals will be Tuesday night in Oklahoma City against either Boston or Miami. The Celtics lead that series 3-2 and can earn a trip to the finals with a win at home in Game 6 on Thursday night.
The Spurs had the home-court edge in this series after pushing past Oklahoma City during the last month of the regular season for the best record in the league. But the Thunder took that back by winning Game 5 in San Antonio on Monday night.
“There’s not much to complain about,” San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili said. “We had a great run. We just couldn’t beat these guys.”
Derek Fisher and James Harden hit 3-pointers in a three-possession span to bump Oklahoma City’s lead to 99-93 with 3:13 remaining. Jackson, who had made his previous six 3-pointers, and Parker both missed 3s that would have gotten the Spurs within 103-102 in the final minute.
The Spurs put up quite a fight, at least for the first half.
Parker, who had been largely bottled up ever since the Thunder put 6-foot-7 defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha on him in Game 3, had a hand in the Spurs’ first 12 baskets, making seven on his own and assisting on the other five.
Kawhi Leonard and Jackson followed his three-point play by nailing back-to-back 3-pointers for a 34-16 advantage in the final 2 minutes of the first quarter.
The Thunder stormed back with an 11-2 run to start the third quarter and eventually pulled ahead after Durant’s 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 79-77 with 1:41 left in the period.
“The third quarter, it was like playing in mud,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “So, that was our downfall as much as anything.”
NOTES: Popovich, whose request for his team to play nasty led to T-shirts being made in San Antonio, said at the morning shootaround that his team needed to play “with a little bit of ugly.” Not nasty? “I was trying to stay away from that word,” he said. … San Antonio had a 29-28 edge in the second quarter after getting outscored 138-106 in the period in the first five games – dropping more than six points per game. … Greg Willard was initially scheduled to be one of the three officials but pulled out due to illness. Rodney Mott replaced him, alongside Joe Crawford and Bill Kennedy.