It seems like weeks have passed since fans and experts alike were contemplating a potential perfect run through the playoffs for the San Antonio Spurs. Instead, the Oklahoma City Thunder returned home and after Saturday night's 103-109 win have tied the Western Conference Finals at 2-2. The Spurs were outmatched in every way tonight.
The only way, San Antonio was able to keep Game 4 competitive was from firing a flurry of three-pointers. Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw led the charge as the Spurs shot 23 treys and connected on 11 of them (compared to the Thunder's 5-of-11 shooting behind the arc). However, it wasn't enough to counter Oklahoma City's attack. Here are the five keys that led to the Thunder's win over the Spurs in Game 4.
1. Kevin Durant's Monstrous Fourth Quarter
In the first half, Durant scored just eight points, attempted just four field goals and was visibly frustrated by the pestering defense of Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson's. However, in the fourth quarter as San Antonio mounted a furious rally, Durant scored 16 straight points for San Antonio en route to an 18 point fourth quarter on 7-of-9 shooting. It was reminiscent of Lebron James' 25 straight points against Detroit in the defining game of his career in Game 5 of the 2007 Conference Finals.
Durant had to pick up the slack for Russell Westbrook who went 2-for-10 from the field, scored one point in the second half and didn't even attempt a field goal in the fourth quarter.
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2. Serge Ibaka's Perfect Game
If Durant was the knockout punch, Ibaka delivered the setup jabs all night. San Antonio was unable to take advantage of James Harden and Westbrook's struggles because of the perfect performance by power forward Serge Ibaka. Known for his shot blocking, Ibaka poured in 26 points on 11-of-11 shooting and made all four of his free throws. Most impressively, was the varying ways that Ibaka scored including 17-foot jumpers, backing down in the post and most memorably, a soaring, one handed jam from outside the restricted circle over Duncan.
3. Ball Movement For OKC And Westbrook's Struggles
During the regular season, the Thunder 's iso offense ranked last in the league in assists per game and assist to turnover ratio. Much of the finger pointing was levied at point guard Russell Westbrook and his tendency to heave more shots than Durant, the three-time scoring champion. The last two games certainly won't help change that mindset.
After averaging 22 points and 22.5 shots per game in the Thunder's losses at San Antonio, Westbrook is averaging just 12.5 shots and 8.5 points per game in the Thunder's two wins.
While Durant struggled to shoot the ball during the first three quarters, he was able to put the ball on the floor, draw defenders and make plays with his passing instead. Durant finished with eight assists and was part of a Thunder unit that has had better ball movement during their two games in Oklahoma City.
While Westbrook has tempered his overaggressiveness, Durant has taken the reigns and assumed the playmaking role. It will be interesting to see if Westbrook allows this trend to continue.
4. Kendrick Perkins Scorching Hot Start
While Durant carried the Thunder to victory in the final frame, he combined with Harden and Westbrook for an abysmal 5-of-17 shooting in the first half, it was Kendrick Perkins who posted 13 first half points in Game 4.
In the first three games, Perkins posted a grand total of 12 points through the first three games of the series and was criticized for his pick and roll defense in Games 1 and 2. In Game 3, his defensive effort picked up and he barked at the TNT courtside crew after a series of stops. In Game 4, he sparked the Thunder on offense before eventually cooling down in the second half when he didn't attempt a shot in the final 20 minutes.
5. Home Court Advantage
In the 2012 East and Western Conference Finals series' the home team is now 7-0. The Spurs appeared ready to sweep the Thunder, however, Scott Brooks and the Thunder quickly made adjustments that now has San Antonio on their heels.