After falling down 0-2 to San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City continued its home court playoff dominance and ended the Spurs’ remarkable 20-game winning streak with a convincing 102-82 victory in Game 3. The Thunder stomped San Antonio up and down the court by playing stifling defense and scoring in the paint at will, handing the Spurs their largest margin of defeat in a playoff game during the Gregg Popovich era and ending their perfect postseason start at 10 games.
But it’s not exactly time to break out the bubbly and get ready for the NBA Finals. In actuality, down 2-1 in the series with another home game on its way Saturday night, now is the time OKC should be most worried. Sure, they just dismantled the mighty Spurs, winners of 20 straight and 31 of 33, but such a thrilling victory could make Game 4 a perfect time for a Thunder letdown. Only complicating matters, the Thunder will again be playing the NBA’s best coached and most balanced team coming off arguably their worst performance of the entire season.
Game 3 marked San Antonio’s second-lowest point total in a game this entire season, slightly better than scoring 79 in a game against Minnesota all the way back in January. Its 21 turnovers far exceeded its season average of 13.6 per game (third-fewest in the NBA) and marked the Spurs’ highest postseason turnover total since 2007. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili went a combined 6-20 from the field and the team shot under 40 percent for just the third time since February. Plain and simple, the league’s most efficient offense—and for the last three months, unquestionably the league’s best team—will not play this poorly again this postseason.
Obviously, Scott Brooks’ adjustments and the Thunder’s on-court execution in Game 3 deserve a tremendous amount of credit for making the Spurs look out of sync and uncomfortable for the first time in these playoffs. But there’s no doubt Popovich, who has proven time and time again to be the NBA’s best coach this side of Phil Jackson, will come into Game 4 with plenty of his own adjustments. Even if OKC matches the intensity and pressure from Game 3, they can’t realistically expect to shatter San Antonio’s rhythm for a second consecutive game.
One of the Thunder’s greatest hopes is their dominance at home, where they went 26-7 in the regular season and haven’t lost in six tries in the playoffs. But don’t forget that the Spurs are a dangerous road team as well—they’ve gone 26-12 on the road in the regular season and playoffs combined, including a victory in Oklahoma City in March. And should the Thunder lose Game 4, they’ll return, down 3-1, to the arena where the Spurs went a league-best 28-5 this season and haven’t lost since March 7.
So, unfortunately for the Thunder, this series may have been lost long before it started, back when the Spurs’ late close stole the top seed in the Western Conference after OKC had held the spot all season long. Beating the league’s best team in the league’s toughest arena may prove to be impossible, making it all the more imperative to hold serve at home.
There’s no way around it: Everything revolves around Game 4. If Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. come out flat, the Thunder can kiss any NBA Finals hopes goodbye until next season and this series will end in five. But if OKC shows maturity and matches its Game 3 intensity, we could be in for a lengthy and wildly entertaining Western Conference Finals.
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