Spurs relinquish throne to Oklahoma City


Jun 06, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after being fouled against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half in game six of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

As the final seconds waned, essentially squelching the San Antonio Spurs’ proverbial championship hopes, my mind kept revisiting the entire 2011-12 season. I remembered the incredible month and half of basketball purity, a streak that Oklahoma City, the heir to San Antonio’s throne, fittingly ended. I remembered the incredible games in Dallas and Los Angeles. I remembered the consistent outbursts from Tony Parker and the resurgence of Tim Duncan in his 15th season. I remembered my frustration with a team that dropped nine of their first 10 road games.

This can’t be how it ends.

Everything happened so fast. What once was a 15-point lead, a lead that I didn’t believe was a sufficient margin even with 24 minutes to play, dissipated. Oklahoma City was executing their offense, picking their spots and, most importantly, putting their superstars in a position to create and, subsequently, draw fouls. The Spurs, for the first time in the entire season, were at a competitive disadvantage. Gregg Popovich shortened his rotation to essentially seven players, conceding an advantage that I believed to be instrumental in their (hypothetical) victory over the Thunder … depth. Not only were Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook finding gaps in the Spurs’ struggling defense with impunity but they didn’t have to worry about a flurry of Spurs making a positive impact.

Even so. I kept thinking.

This can’t be how it ends.

I’m naive. I believe that’s inherent in a sports fan DNA. As the game progressed I, like many Spurs fans, grew incensed with the officiating. It was certainly an important factor and one that dictated the tenor of the game. But, if we are looking at the game objectively, the referees shouldn’t draw our ire. They weren’t the sole reason why the Spurs defense couldn’t defend well enough to maintain a 15-point lead. Oklahoma City attempted 21 free throws in the second half with a good amount coming from ill-advised calls. Sure. But how is it logical to pin the officials on the entire loss when they couldn’t have possibly caused the Thunder to shoot 57.6% from the field? Who followed a 63 point half with 32.5% shooting — the referees or the Spurs? Who allowed Durant, Harden and Westbrook to score four more points than the entire Spurs team in the second half? The referees? I’m not happy with the officiating the Spurs might have emerged victorious without the apparent ire of the basketball gods.

After letting the loss sink in for a good four hours, that is my rationalization. I’m not going to blame a factor that a basketball team cannot possibly control for a victory, regardless of the crime (And, believe me, some were awful). Instead, I will simply give credence to the emerging Thunder offense and Scott Brooks’ timely adjustments. The Oklahoma City Thunder won this series, not Joe Crawford. (Irrational fan note: Arrrgghh. I hate Joe Crawford. I want a redo!)

But, still. I’m naive.

This can’t be how it ends.

Pop said that a championship caliber team should be able to win on the road. Based on that logic, the Spurs were not a championship caliber team. Or maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder were just a superior team. Armed with a top 10 offense and defense, the best scorer of this generation and a seemingly insurmountable home-court advantage, the Thunder are definitely championship material. As a Spurs fan, I tend to think the 2011-12 edition fit the same bill although, obviously, they were not capable of upending the Thunder. That doesn’t mean we didn’t witness a championship caliber team. Instead, I’m choosing to view this series as a battle between two championship caliber teams. One team had to win. That team was not the Spurs.

That shouldn’t diminish their accomplishments though. The intangible joy that their brilliant play emitted made this season worth the price of another painful failure. Just like you can’t take away my excitement while watching these Spurs; you can’t possibly convince me that they failed.

Weren’t they criminally underrated prior to the season? Were they expected to pull of three double-digit winning streaks? I would have liked to see them accomplish more, certainly. But failure? Please.

This can’t be how it ends.

Maybe it was the volatility of Stephen Jackson or Tony Parker’s consistent forays to the rim in the first quarter, but I maintained my stance. The Spurs will win Game 6. The Spurs will win the series. I was wrong. They couldn’t sustain their offensive execution nor the pace and the game turned into an affair dominated by free throws and Kevin Durant.

It just simply wasn’t meant to be.

This can’t be how it ends.

Only, it had to end this way. The Spurs, for their 15 consecutive years of excellence, had to be dethroned eventually.

It’s fitting that the Oklahoma City Thunder received the honor.

(Well … Wait until next year.)

Game notes– Only four Spurs (Duncan, Ginobili, Jackson and Parker) made a field goal in the second half.

– Stephen Jackson converted on 6-of-7 attempts from behind the arc. Jackson’s career high is eight 3-pointers, a mark he achieved on Nov. 20, 2002 against Los Angeles.

– Seven Spurs garnered 10+ minutes.

– Parker was well on his way to an excellent game. He tallied 17 points and five assists in his first 11:16 minutes. He only totaled 12 points and seven assists in the remaining three quarters. He shot 29.4% from the field.

– Kevin Durant’s second half line (20-9-4) was good enough by itself to warrant praise. Of his 20 second-half points, 10 came from the foul line.

– The Spurs only attempted 10 free throws in the second half.