The San Antonio Spurs were steam rolling opponents in route to a 20 game winning streak. The Spurs had swept both their first two playoff series and had taken the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then came a beating at the hands of those Thunder and everyone knew the streak had to end sometime. The Spurs then lost game four, and it was closer, but still a lost. Deja vu had set in.
Spurs fans will not soon forget what happened in 2004, when Derek Fisher hit the ridiculous turn around jumper and the whole series changed. The Los Angeles Lakers then went on to win four straight, and now the Thunder are one win away from the NBA Finals.
Where did it all go wrong for the Spurs?
The Spurs downhill spiral started with the bench and key role players who have not been playing anywhere near as good as they had all season. Daniel Green, for one, has played absolutely terrible all series. He was benched in favor of Manu Ginobili in the starting lineup for game four, and that did not make a difference.
Secondly, the Spurs defense has been atrocious the past few games. Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair, and Tiago Splitter have not been doing a great job with defending the rim.
Third, the Spurs have dared Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison to beat them. The Spurs have let those three take open jumpers from 15 feet, instead of letting scorers get into the lane. It worked in the first two games, but not in the past three.
The Spurs have also seen their league leading shooting percentage suffer in two of the past three games. In those two games, the Spurs have shot less than 40% from the field, well below their season average.
Fourthly, the younger, more athletic Thunder have been crashing the boards and getting many second chance opportunities. But that might not be the Spurs biggest problem. The Thunder are shooting over 50% of first chance shots from inside the paint for the series. And when they miss, they are getting the rebound at an alarming rate, giving them lots of second chance points.
Fifthly, the Spurs have no answer to Kevin Durant. Durant has taken over late game situations, put the Thunder on his back, and propelled them to three straight victories. Durant has been shooting lights out in late game situation, and Kawhi Leonard just is not experienced enough to shut down Durant. The Spurs are badly missing a player like Bruce Bowen, who could matchup and shut down anyone on the opposing roster.
The Spurs have a lot of work to do, especially if they want to win game five on the road in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have not lost at home this postseason, and the Spurs had not lost on the road until they went to Oklahoma City. It could be over tomorrow night, but for the sake of basketball, who does not want to see this go to seven games?