Throughout most of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have held the top spot in the Western Conference. Led by All-Star Kevin Durant, it looked as though the Thunder were all but guaranteed to get the No. 1 seed in the west. However, when Russell Westbrook returned, the team’s chemistry was disrupted a little bit, as they went 5-5 over the next ten games. During this time, the veteran San Antonio Spurs got hot and reeled off 19 wins in a row to take a four-game lead in the conference.
That all changed last night, though, as the Thunder dominated the Spurs in a 106-94 victory in Oklahoma City. Last night’s game was a statement win for the Thunder. Not only did they end the Spurs’ 19-game winning streak, but they proved that they are still the team to beat in the Western Conference.
After last night’s victory, the Thunder improved to 4-0 against San Antonio this season. They alone have accounted for nearly 25 percent of the Spurs’ losses this season.
The team’s chemistry has returned to form, as they are beginning to find balance offensively. Durant scored 28 points last night and Westbrook also added 27 in the win. Durant, who is likely to win his first MVP award this season, is now one game shy of tying Michael Jordan for consecutive games in which he scored 25 or more points (40).
There are several aspects of the Thunder that the Spurs just cannot match up with, including athleticism, intensity and physicality, which showed in the second half of last night’s game. When asked what happened, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said, “We didn’t react well to physicality. I thought they did a great job of getting physical in the second half and created a gazillion points off turnovers.”
Don’t get me wrong; the Spurs still possess plenty of talent in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, but it just does not match up with what the Thunder have to offer in Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and up-and-coming players like Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb.
Although the Spurs possess veteran leadership and fundamentally sound play making abilities, they do not have the physicality and athleticism to beat this year’s Thunder team in a seven-game series. Say what you want about this being “just another game”, but as far as I’m concerned, the path to the NBA Finals runs through Oklahoma City.