The San Antonio Spurs had a historically great regular season, whipped the life out of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, but somehow they’re just one game from elimination after the Thunder beat them 95-91 thanks to a rugged performance from Russell Westbrook and, of course, some late officiating drama.
Down one with nine seconds left, Westbrook got past an intentional foul attempt from Kawhi Leonard and attacked the hoop, ending the game with an and-one layup over and through LaMarcus Aldridge. For my money, Kawhi’s swipe should probably have been called, but even if it wasn’t, Aldridge’s block attempt was much lighter and definitely wasn’t a foul if you’re not going to call Kawhi for a harsher infraction.
Here’s a better angle.
Anyway, Pop was none too happy with the no-call, but he acknowledged the messy imperfection inherent to NBA playoff life, telling reporters after the game:
“He fouled him. It was pretty obvious he fouled him. But every call doesn’t get called. That’s the way the game is.”
As for the non-controversial part of the game, Russell Westbrook was magnificent and had the most in-character Westbrook performance he could have. The Thunder point guard scored 35 points, grabbed 11 boards, handed out nine assists, but he also turned the rock over eight times and took some ill-advised shots. Hell, he even got to own a reporter. His game, in one play, is this, uh, bold Curry-esque pull-up from the damn logo.
Westbrook taking over the game late isn’t as simple as the Spurs not having the athleticism to handle him, but they certainly don’t have anyone who can hang with him beyond Kawhi Leonard, who they are still mostly keeping on Durant. The Spurs smartly play off Westbrook and encourage him to shoot, and tonight he found the happy medium between settling for open shots and ripping into the core of the defense.
The Spurs had their worst offensive game of the series tonight, only hitting 39 percent of their shots. Weirdly, San Antonio’s much-vaunted bench is losing shifts to the likes of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters and LaMarcus Aldridge has cooled all the way off after setting the series ablaze in the first few games. Aldridge had a quiet 20 on 21 shots and his efficiency’s fallen off a cliff.
Leonard at least played well, scoring a reasonably efficient 26 and dunking all over Westbrook in the fourth.
The Spurs now have to trek north to Oklahoma City on Thursday and win one on the road in front of what will definitely be a fervent crowd. This feels like a seven-game series, but if Westbrook gets to slicing open the Spurs again, OKC will make it to a somehow unlikely-feeling Western Conference Finals. This was a team that had some severe late-game problems during the regular season. They have a flawed bench, two superstars with overlapping skill sets, and a pass-averse offensive system, but none of that is quite as important when you are as utterly talented as the Thunder are.