HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — It’s easy to focus on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Big 3 Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden when they’re playing as well as they have in the past three games of the Western Conference finals.
But to focus solely on the stars would overlook perhaps the most startling development in this series. The Thunder’s role players, commonly referred to as the “others,” are outplaying their Spurs counterparts considerably in the past 12 quarters of this series.
Praised by many as the deepest and most balanced team in the league, the Spurs haven’t been able to lean on the likes of Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter or any of the extras who helped them roll to 20 straight wins since April 11, and that includes those two wins over the Thunder in Games 1 and 2. They’ve been in the conference finals witness protection program the past three games, though, as the Thunder have seized control with three straight wins.
Neal suffered a through a particularly ugly performance on this night, shooting 0-for-6 from the floor and scoring just two points in his 14 minutes of action. His 6-for-22 shooting effort in the past three games is indicative of the struggles that have plagued the Spurs’ extras.
Meanwhile, the Thunder have received timely contributions from guys like Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Daequan Cook, whose eight points(on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting from the floor, and consecutive makes from long distance) in just three minutes and 54 seconds of action in the first half of Game 5 proved to be crucial to the Thunder’s cause in their 108-103 win.
Obviously, the performance of the big names always dominates the scene. And Durant, Westbrook and Harden outperformed the Spurs’ Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan for the third straight games. Yet Durant and Westbrook weren’t even cooking in the first half and the Thunder still held an eight-point halftime lead.
Championships aren’t won by stars alone. And no one knows that better than the Spurs, who have made a habit of capitalizing on huge performances from others (Robert Horry, Steve Kerr, Mario Elie, Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen, among others) in past championship runs.
Conference championship are won the same way, a lesson the young Thunder have been reminding the seasoned Spurs of since getting schooled in the art of extras in Game 2.
Durant, Westbrook and Harden combined for 88 points and made 30 of 54 shots in that game and they still got stroked because the Spurs got production from up and down the roster in a 120-111 win. Green finished with 10 points, Boris Diaw nine with Bonner, Neal, Splitter and Stephen Jackson combing for 18 to go with Ginobili’s 20 off the bench.
But that was the last time the Spurs have gotten anything of that sort. The Thunder’s role players came alive as the series shifted from San Antonio for those first two games to Oklahoma City for Games 3 and 4. They’ve been on fire ever since.
And if the Spurs’ extras can’t locate some of that production from earlier in this series and that 20-game win streak in time for Game 6 Wednesday night, all of the Spurs, superstars and role players alike, will spend Thursday cleaning out their lockers as they head home for the summer with no one but themselves to blame.