OKLAHOMA CITY – A Spurs season that began with a realistic dream for a sixth NBA championship came to a nightmarish finish on Thursday night.
With a 113-99 Game 6 win before a rollicking crowd in Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Oklahoma City Thunder closed out the best-of-seven series, 4-2, advancing to a Western Conference Finals matchup against the defending league champion Golden State Warriors.
A Spurs roster that was re-tooled last summer produced a 67-15 regular season record, the best in franchise history. Now they must spend the summer wondering what they could have done to keep Oklahoma City from winning the final three games of the series to send them home from the post-season tournament
Their understanding of the Thunder’s domination of Thursday’s game – Oklahoma City began the fourth quarter with a 28-point lead – included a nod to providence.
“Have to give credit to OKC” said point guard Tony Parker. “They’re coming from last year getting all the injuries and bad luck and this year the basketball gods went their way. Every tough play, every big basket, they made it. So you have to give them credit.”
Eliminated from a playoff run they believed could extend into June, the Spurs also will spend the next several weeks waiting for Tim Duncan to make a decision about his basketball future. The 40-year-old team captain has one year left on the two-year contract he signed last summer but can opt out of the deal come July 1.
Asked about his basketball future after his best game of the series – 19 points, five rebounds, two assists and a block in slightly more than 34 minutes – Duncan offered no hints.
“I’ll get to that after I get out of here and figure life out,” he said.
Gregg Popovich swatted aside a suggestion made during his post-game press conference that Duncan’s career may have come ended with the loss.
“Do you know something I don’t know?” the Spurs coach asked his interrogator.
Manu Ginobili, Duncan’s “Big Three” mate of 13 years, has the same option for his 2016-17 contract. At age 38 retirement seems a possibility for him, as well.
He, too, will postpone a decision about his future until the sting of Thursday’s disappointment passes.
“I’m used to it,” he said. “I guess once you’re past 35, 36, it happens. I’ll take my time, as always.”
Parker, the third leg of the “Big Three” triangle, shrugged off the uncertainty about his long-time teammates and friends.
“Every year it’s the same thing with us,” he said. “TD, obviously, and Manu, obviously, it’s the same question every year. They’re either going to come back or not. We’ll see, along with some of us.”
Ginobili’s play in Game 6 did nothing to convince him another season is a good idea. He missed 5-of-6 shots and scored only five points. Worse, he was on the floor in the second quarter, when the Thunder went on a 22-6 run that turned the game into a rout.
“We messed it up there,” he said. “We turned it over a couple times, but I just think we couldn’t make one (shot). They got on a roll and they gave us 20 very quickly and broke the game very early.
“So disappointing. It happened when I was on the court so it hurts even more. You start thinking about stuff you could have done better and stuff like that.”
Oklahoma City’s command of Game 6 was nearly as thorough as the Spurs total control of Game 1, when they led by 43 points and finished with a 124-92 win.
The difference: There are no more games left for Gregg Popovich to try to decipher and unravel the problems, as first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan and his players did after being shaken by their series-opening thumping.
“We had that game and we left it behind us,” said Russell Westbrook, who had 28 points and 12 assists in Game 6. “We came out after that and had a different mindset. We knew what we had to do to beat this team.”
Kevin Durant’s 35 points led Oklahoma City but he deflected credit for the win to the interior defense played by his team’s big men.
“Steven (Adam), Serge (Ibaka) and Enes (Kanter) came out and posted a wall,” he said.
It was the second time in the past four seasons the Thunder eliminated the Spurs. They won the final four games of the 2012 Western Conference Finals after the Spurs had won their first 10 playoff games, including Games 1 and 2 of that series.
Parker still hasn’t gotten over that disappointment, so the outcome of a series most experts had picked the Spurs to win added to his discontent.
“Since 2012 I don’t really try to understand any more basketball,” he said. “Between 2012 and 2013, our series against OKC and our series against Miami, you know anything can happen in basketball.”
Thursday’s result didn’t produce the same pain as the Game 6 loss to the Heat that denied the Spurs an NBA title in 2013. Then, the Spurs blew a five-point lead in the final 28 seconds.
Failing to come all the way back from a 28-point deficit to being the fourth quarter – they got as close as 11 – doesn’t come close to that level of pain.
Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball. Related Stories: