Thunder learn meaning of team from Spurs in Game 6 loss

OKLAHOMA CITY – What we saw from the Thunder Saturday night was what we knew all along. 

As hard as it is to admit. 

And what we saw from the Spurs was something we’ve grown to realize, too.

Without Tony Parker, San Antonio thrived with a perfect example of team basketball, equal parts interchangeable pieces with experience and savvy.

That’s who the Spurs are.

And that’s who the Thunder are not. They rely on the fireworks from Durant and the intensity of 1,000 suns Russell Westbrook brings. They are explosions and uppercuts. Knockout punches and and long-bomb touchdown passes. When it happens, it’s life in High Def. Sharp and focused. When it doesn’t, it’s blurry and sluggish, stagnant and unsuccessful. 

Saturday night, in a 112-107 overtime, season-ending loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Durant and Westbrook were often great, brilliant and spectacular. They combined for 65 points, certainly good enough to win in the most-difficult of situations against the best teams in the league.

If the Thunder have the power of a bazooka, San Antonio does the damage of 1,000 paper cuts. 

The Spurs overcame playing without Parker for the entire second half and overtime, out with a sore ankle. The Spurs survived a stretch of the fourth quarter without Tim Duncan on the floor. They got overtime baskets from Duncan and Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw.

That’s why the Thunder lost Game 6 at home Saturday night, 112-107 in overtime and that’s why their season is over. They weren’t good enough to keep up with what ultimately was the better team. 

"Everything that was supposed to happen this year, happened," Durant said.

And it wasn’t quite good enough, but trifle not with the thought OKC would do things any differently. They haven’t for the better part of four years. This team wins with Durant and Westbrook or dies trying. That’s the way they’re built and that’s what’s worked. It got them the No. 1 seed a season ago and it was good enough to get them the No. 2 seed this year and 59 regular-season wins.

The Thunder are a two-man operation with a constant, "Help Wanted," sign hanging from the door.

San Antonio doesn’t work that way. They turn superstars like Duncan and Parker into extras, characters blending into the background of a black and gray picture where anyone, anytime can take the lead role.

"They are intelligent enough to see the wisdom in that," Spurs coach Greg Popovich said of playing team basketball. Some teams do it once in awhile, but if you can do it more than the other guys, it works out for you."

Like it did for Diaw Saturday. He scored 26 points off the bench. Like Ginobili. He had 15 points off the bench and played point guard in overtime Heck, this team started Matt Bonner and got 17 points from Kawhi Leonard and 19 from Duncan. Danny Green scored 11. Parker had eight in the first half.

"It’s Pop’s game plan," Duncan said. "It’s us buying in that everyone will be unselfish. If you share the ball, someone is going to share it with you. We have trust in the guys we have out there. That’s been built over the last couple of seasons and it’s worked for us."

As for the Thunder, well, Reggie Jackson scored 21 points for the Thunder, complementing Durant and Westbrook. Serge Ibaka had 16 points. The rest of the team scored five – all from Derek Fisher. 

But the balance of power rests with Durant and Westbrook. Westbrook was so, did-you-just-see-that good and then so mind numblingly baffling. He was 17-of-18 from the free throw line and had eight assists. He was also wild enough to have seven turnovers, including a pair of turnovers in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter which were crushers. He was 1-for-7  shooting in overtime, and still nearly got the Thunder the win, but a layup that would have given OKC a one-point lead with 43 seconds left was blocked by Leonard.

As for Durant, a chance to tie or take the lead with 18.9 seconds left in regulation didn’t work out. He slipped and turned it over. In overtime, Durant went 0-for-3, including another chance to tie the game, this one with 16.9 seconds to go. His 3-pointer missed. Durant didn’t score in overtime and wound up with seven turnovers for the game. Yet, he made 12-of-25 field goals, scored 31 points and had 14 rebounds.

This is what the Thunder signed up for. Like Durant said, everything that is supposed to happen with the team built this way, happened.

"They have so much talent," Ginobili said of the Thunder. "So much athleticism. "I’m so proud of my team to beat them here."

The Spurs won as a team, a situation the Thunder have never done consistently.

"I’m proud of our guys," OKC coach Scott Brooks said."We competed. Tonight’s game was a great effort by our guys. We just didn’t do a few things well enough."

That’s the message Durant and Westbrook also supplied after the game, saying multiple times to multiple different questions that San Antonio just made a few more plays than the Thunder did. The Spurs shot 50 percent in overtime. OKC shot 9 percent.

"We left it all out there," Durant said. "They made plays down the stretch. We didn’t."

True. And they had a few more players to make them, too.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK