One way only

From the “We Will Not Forget” files:

Maybe the part that leads out of town.


As the digits actually did fall

Remember this from last month?

Victor Oladipo wore #5 in Orlando, and I was sort of wondering what would happen when he got to Oklahoma City, where Kyle Singler wears #5.

Singler moves to #15. My one correct projection: Ersan İlyasova will indeed wear #7. Daniel Hamilton will wear #25, and Domantas Sabonis #30.


Kyle Singler’s time to shine!

It’s now or never, right?


As the digits fall

Victor Oladipo wore #5 in Orlando, and I was sort of wondering what would happen when he got to Oklahoma City, where Kyle Singler wears #5. If Wikipedia is to be believed — as of Sunday night, when this was written, the club Web site had not been updated — Singler is switching to #25, the number he wore as a Detroit Piston, leaving #5 for Oladipo.

Meanwhile, Ersan İlyasova is assigned #7. Of the draft picks, Domantas Sabonis apparently will be #23 — he was probably hoping for #11, worn by his dad as a Portland Trail Blazer, but Enes Kanter isn’t giving it up — and Daniel Hamilton will wear #55. (Hamilton was #5 at UConn.)


An unexpected act of Prestidigitation

Sam Presti comes up with the damnedest deals sometimes. Serge Ibaka will be packing up and heading for Orlando; in return come guard Victor Oladipo, forward Ersan İlyasova, and the rights to the Magic’s #11 draft pick, Domantas Sabonis.

Points of interest:

  • İlyasova has playoff experience: seventeen games with the Bucks, ten of which he started. And he’s at least vaguely familiar with the Thunder organization, as he played a whole season for the old Tulsa 66ers in the D-League.
  • In two games against the Thunder last season, Oladipo put down a triple-double (21-13-10), followed by a 37-point explosion.
  • Sabonis made a name for himself at Gonzaga; in two years he started 32 of 74 games and averaged 13.5 points a game.

In terms of dollars, Oladipo and İlyasova combined make somewhat more than what Ibaka is scheduled to make next year. In the case of İlyasova, he’s guaranteed only $400k unless he makes the Thunder roster by the first of July; Oklahoman beat writer Anthony Slater says that he will, and will be paid $8.4 million. Oladipo is a near-bargain at $6,552,960. Serge will earn $12,250,000 next year. And if Sabonis is signed to a rookie contract immediately, he’ll be paid $2,033,500, give or take 20 percent, as is the rule for rookies.

Oh, and the Nuggets sold the #56 pick to the Thunder, point guard Daniel Hamilton from UConn, who will probably spend Year One in the D-League.

Still, nobody does out-of-the-blue trades like Presti, which inspired Royce Young thusly:

Now that’s brass — or something stronger still.

What do I think? Right now, I just want to make sure that I spell “İlyasova” correctly. (That’s a dotted I; Turkish also has an undotted I.)


For it was not to be

The third quarter said it all: Golden State 29, Oklahoma City 12. A six-point lead turned into an eleven-point deficit in twelve minutes. The Thunder managed enough of a response to cut the Warriors’ lead to four, but they would get no closer than that. And it’s not like you couldn’t see it coming, either: it’s apparently possible to block Klay Thompson or Steph Curry, but not both. And unlike the situation that prevailed in Game Six, Curry was also effective inside: if he couldn’t take the long ball, he’d smoothly shift his way into the paint and lay it up. Steve Kerr also left a surprise for the Thunder: instead of Harrison Barnes, he’d start Andre Iguodala and epoxy him to Kevin Durant. So Durant’s numbers looked better, if only because Iguodala did a good job of keeping KD bottled up. With the Warriors up 90-86, Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a three-point play; Steph knocked out all three freebies, the Thunder came up empty on two possessions, Curry sank another long ball, and you can stick a fork in it, it’s done. Ibaka came back with a couple of free throws, but it didn’t matter: Golden State 96, Oklahoma City 88, and the Warriors will go on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.

(Truth be told, I figured it was going to be something like 99-all in the waning moments, and then Curry would swish a trey at the buzzer. The result, however, was pretty much identical.)

With Thompson held to barely half of the 41 he got day before yesterday, Curry took up the slack and then some, scoring 36 on a highly respectable 13-24 from the floor, 7-12 from outside. (For comparison, KD was 10-19 for 27.) What undid the Thunder was not so much the inability to contain the Splashes as it was the inability to make seemingly easy shots themselves: I haven’t seen so many blown bunnies since Hugh Hefner still had good respiration.

But that is neither here nor there. All I want to know right now is whether we suddenly turn into a town full of Cavaliers fans.

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Going back to Cali

For a Game Six, this was awfully Game Seven-y. “Dripping with drama,” said radio guy Matt Pinto, and right after he said that, Splash Brother Number One splashed a trey to tie it up at 99-all with 2:47 left. But it was Splash Brother Number Two who did the most damage tonight; after an exchange of buckets, Klay Thompson’s 11th trey opened up a three-point Warrior lead, Draymond Green banked one in with 15 seconds left, and Thompson finished the job with two free throws. Golden State 108, Oklahoma City 101, and there will be a real Game Seven Monday night in Oakland.

You know what’s scary? The Warriors came up with ten treys from people not named Klay Thompson. Twenty-one of forty-four, 48 percent, rather better than their percentage from inside. Thompson’s 41 points led everyone, of course, but Steph Curry came awfully close to a triple-double: 29 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists. Green, when he could keep both feet on the floor, delivered 14 points and collected 12 boards. The rest really didn’t matter.

And it’s hard to say that the Thunder took too many unnecessary treys, attempting only 23. Then again, they missed 20 of them. (Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters and Serge Ibaka each had one; Russell Westbrook didn’t get one at all.) There’s a lot to be said for reliance on points in the paint, where the Thunder were sort of dominant, but still: Durant was 10-31 for the night, Westbrook 10-27. Good looks, bad looks, sometimes no looks, it didn’t make any difference.

So it’s off to Oakland once more. And if at the end of the season, what you were hoping for was a shootout between either Steph or Klay versus Cleveland’s J. R. Smith, your wish may well be granted. I would consider that outcome suboptimal, but hey, I’d watch it. At least, I’d listen to it on the radio, assuming one of the spastic sports-radio stations around here deign to carry the freaking NBA Finals. Between now and then, though, it’s Do or Die time.

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In case you thought this would be easy

“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,” observed Dr. Johnson, “it concentrates the mind wonderfully.” The Golden State Warriors, facing elimination not in two weeks but in four quarters, buckled down from the get-go and presented their hometown crowd with the hope of one more game, mostly by controlling the paint and keeping the Thunder from easy dashes to the rim. OKC led for 14 seconds in the third quarter, but that was it; when Andre Roberson fouled out inside the two-minute mark, you could see the game slipping away. Steph Curry (of course) picked up two free throws on that foul, giving the Warriors an eight-point lead, and then stole the ball on the next possession. A layup followed, and the last Thunder rally fell short. Golden State 120, Oklahoma City 111, forcing Game Six back in the Big Breezy on Saturday night.

To win actual games, you must score points. Kevin Durant scored 40, but it took him 31 shots. (He did hit all 13 of his free throws.) Russell Westbrook came up with 31 on 28 shots. Compare to the Splash Brothers, who scored less but with a lot less work: Curry 31 on 20 shots, Klay Thompson 27 on 21 shots. The Warriors, who shot around 50 percent most of the night, fell to 47, but the Thunder never broke above the middle 40s and finished at 43. Nor would rebounding save them; the boards were even at 45 each. And the X Factor might have been Andrew Bogut, who played an unprecedented (for him, anyway) 30 minutes in the middle, collecting 15 points and 14 boards while guarding the paint. But this is the line that bugs me the most: Enes Kanter was at 0 on the plus/minus scale while scoring one point. Evidently it wasn’t his night.

Dispatching the Warriors in Game 6 becomes a bit more urgent, because if the series goes to seven, it’s back to Oakland, and I have to assume that nobody wants to go back to Oakland. And some of our own fans are, um, excitable:

If things are done right, that won’t be necessary.


And the arena goes totally nuts

The great mystery to Thunder fans was the fact that the NBA did, after all, elevate Draymond Green’s assault on Steven Adams’ dangly bits to a Flagrant Two, but did not order Green’s suspension. This was fine with me, for the sake of asterisk avoidance: if the Thunder pull off a win in this series, I don’t want to hear anyone warbling “Yeah, what did you expect would happen when they lost a starter for one whole game?” Which would have been dumb anyway, since Green hasn’t been that much of a factor in the series, though he did reel in 11 rebounds tonight. The bigger threat was Klay Thompson, who was held to four points in the first half but exploded for nineteen in the third quarter, enabling the Warriors to shave the Thunder’s 19-point halftime lead to as little as four. Still, OKC was up 12 at the beginning of the fourth, and the forgotten Andre Roberson — the Warriors didn’t even bother to guard him when the series began — wrought havoc on Golden State during that final frame. With the Thunder up 23 at the 3:15 mark, Steve Kerr yielded; it wasn’t technically over, but it might as well have been. Oklahoma City 118, Golden State 94, and Brian Davis asked Dre at the end: “What did you have for breakfast, and can I have some?”

Statistic to ponder: Roberson finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and two blocks. Further statistic to ponder: Klay Thompson, who had 26 after three quarters, finished with, um, 26. Steph Curry spent 20 shots getting 19 points, and Draymond Green made one shot all night. Meanwhile, Dre and Kevin Durant were assembling double-doubles — KD had 26 points and 11 rebounds — and just because, Russell Westbrook turned in a triple-double (36-11-11).

There will of course be a Game 5, in Oakland on Thursday. This is about where the Warriors, and all the pundits, figured they’d be wrapping it up. And ABC, which will be carrying the Finals, must be beside itself with grief; suppose the Thunder dispose of the Warriors, if not Thursday, then shortly afterward, and suppose the Raptors, dead even with Cleveland through four games, manage to finish off the Cavs. You’ve got Nielsen Small Market vs. Nielsen No Market At All. Great argument, as always, for radio.

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This time it’s personal

This one opened fairly well, with the Thunder squeezing out a six-point lead after the first quarter. As Oklahoma City started to open up some distance, there was a nasty yet ludicrous contretemps: Steven Adams fouled Golden State’s Draymond Green, and Green, in keeping with his style earlier in this series, kicked Adams in the nards. Literally.

Draymond Green on the attack

Adams’ expression says this: “You try that stunt one more time, and I find out about it…”

Green was tagged with a Flagrant One, free throws were exchanged, and the Thunder were off. Whether it was karma or simple vengefulness, OKC proceeded to pound the living crap out of the Warriors, taking a 25-point lead (72-47!) at the half, running that lead to as many as 41 in the third quarter, and the Splash Brothers were vaporized before the fourth quarter even started. Oklahoma City 133, Golden State 105, and the Thunder go up 2-1.

How bad did it get for Golden State? Steph Curry got a respectable 24 points, but it took him 17 shots; Klay Thompson poured in 18, but it took him 19 shots. Nobody else made double figures. And Draymond Green, 1-9 for six points with four turnovers, finished -43 for the evening.

Meanwhile, the two big Thunder stars got a bit of unexpected rest, with neither playing in the final frame. Kevin Durant knocked down 33 points; Russell Westbrook 30 (with eight boards and 12 dimes). Four more in double figures, with Enes Kanter collecting a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds). The Thunder shot 50 percent; the Warriors took the same number of shots (92) but missed eight more. Rebounds? OKC, 52-38. Assists? OKC, 21-19. Free throws? OKC 33-37 (89 percent), Golden State 19-25 (76 percent). But here’s where the Warriors got cut off at the knees: after 4-12 from long distance in the first quarter, they were 6-21 thereafter. A Warrior team without the three-point shot is … well, down by 28 at the horn.

Game 4 is here in the Big Breezy on Tuesday. Nobody is expecting it to be easy. But if Draymond Green sticks out that big foot one more time, the Thunder are going to force it down his throat — or up somewhere else.

(Photo: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman.)

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Swift and ferocious payback

Monday night, some folks were wondering when Stephen Curry would finally get hot. The answer turned out to be tonight in the third quarter, in which Steph knocked down something like a hundred points in a row. More or less simultaneously with this eruption, the Thunder went totally to pieces; after that 31-19 quarter, OKC was down twenty, and the Warriors opened the fourth with an 11-2 run. That was it for Billy Donovan; to give the man credit, he always knows where his towel is, especially when it’s time to throw it in. Golden State 118, Oklahoma City 91, the series is even, and, well, hey, no one figured the Thunder would win one in Oakland.

Pretty much everything went the Warriors’ way: OKC held a one-point lead for all of twelve seconds, late in the second quarter. Seven Warriors scored in double figures. (The Thunder had two, exactly the two you think.) The usual Thunder strength — rebounding — failed them tonight: the Warriors had a 45-36 edge on the boards. The long ball, which did not serve Golden State particularly well Monday night, was deployed effectively this time around: 13 of 28. (Curry was 5-8 from distance; the Thunder in aggregate was 7-23.)

So what happened? Various Twitter wags will blame it on Kyle Singler, who played the last eight minutes and collected one rebound, one steal, and one foul. But the game was already lost before Singler ever made it to the scorers’ table. The OKC defense didn’t defend when they had to — Golden State shot 51 percent for the night — and while once again Curry missed game-high honors, which went to Kevin Durant with 29, there didn’t seem to be much of anything Steph couldn’t do tonight, which demonstrates why of recent MVPs, he might be the M-est.

The series resumes in Oklahoma City Sunday and continues Tuesday. No predictions: frankly, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the crystal ball.

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Curry disfavored

Come out and play? Of course the Warriors did. That’s what they do, and that’s what they did better than anyone else for 82 games, or at least 73 of them. And going into halftime, they had a nice ten-point lead — until Steph Curry delivered one of his patented buzzer-beaters. So make that a nice 13-point lead. This was apparently Russell Westbrook’s wakeup call: after a three-point first half, he scored half of the Thunder’s 38 points in the third quarter and was a factor in most of the others. At the beginning of the fourth, Golden State was up only three; halfway through the fourth, the Warriors were down four. The Thunder ran that lead to eight, only to see the Warriors trim it to three in two possessions. And then, there things sat for a couple of minutes; at 1:12 it was 101-100 OKC. Over the next 40 seconds, there followed two Steven Adams free throws — he hit six of nine! — and a Kevin Durant rebound, leading to a pullup jumper. Andre Iguodala came back with a layup to bring the Warriors back to within three; Westbrook sank one of two free throws to make it a four-point spread. The mighty Steph Curry somehow missed, Westbrook got two more free throws, Curry sent up another air ball, and all California is stunned: Oklahoma City 108, Golden State 102.

What happened? Defense, something the Thunder apparently had to nudge into position over an extended period, threw a very damp blanket over the Warriors’ offense in that second half. This is not to say that the usual suspects didn’t get their points — Curry finished with 26, Klay Thompson 25, Draymond Green 23 — but they got them early: 60 in the first half, only 42 in the second, while the Thunder squeaked out, um, 61. Durant’s terrible, no good 10-30 night yielded up 26 points; Westbrook closed out with a game-high 27 and 12 assists; but no one stood taller than Steven Adams, 5-8 from the floor, a 16-12 double-double, and +19 for the night.

Notably, Billy Donovan didn’t uproot people from the bench in a desperate search for some combination of five that might work: the only reserves who saw any playing time were Dion Waiters (10 points), Enes Kanter (8) and Randy Foye (3). I read this as Donovan’s conclusion that the Kanter/Adams Real Big combo wasn’t going to be ideal against the Golden State Small Ball unter Alles routine. Which is why he’s the coach and I’m going to stare at the box score in disbelief for a few more minutes.

Game 2 is day after tomorrow in Oakland. Cardiac patients should probably take precautions.


Get outta here, ya knuckleheads

Early in the second quarter, with the Thunder cranking up the intensity, it occurred to me what might have been said in the OKC locker room before tipoff: “Do we really want to play these guys one more time?” The answer seemed pretty obvious at the time, but the third quarter hammered it home. The Spurs, held to a miserable 31 points in the first half, got loose for 34; but the Thunder picked up 36, so San Antonio actually lost ground. So I decided to focus on Tim Duncan, the grand old man in grey and black, who had his best night of the series tonight, and just to make it interesting, the Spurs opened the fourth quarter with a 14-3 run, most of which seemed to come from Kawhi Leonard. The Thunder stumbled around a bit, as they’ve done too often in fourth quarters before, with Russell Westbrook inflicting a Flagrant One upon Danny Green. (Green, obligingly, missed one of the two free throws, and the extra San Antonio possession produced no bucket.) But order was restored to the universe, and Duncan and Andre Miller, possibly on their way to Retirementville, were allowed to finish things up in grand style. (Good call, Pop.) Oklahoma City 113, San Antonio 99, and if you had “Thunder in six,” step forward and claim whatever it is you’re supposed to be getting.

This is the juxtaposition that screamed at me from the box score: the Spurs were 13-16 on free throws. Kevin Durant was 12-12. (KD finished with 37 for the night.) And really, I’m not used to seeing San Antonio get a whole crapton of fouls; Manu Ginobili (how?) actually fouled out. Desperation will make you do strange things. And for a while there, the Spurs were flailing about like crazy. Still, you don’t get this far into the playoffs without something intangible. Maybe it was those two elderly gentlemen, Miller and Duncan, showing how it’s done. (Duncan was +13 for the night with 19 points; Miller dished up four assists and snagged three rebounds in a mere nine minutes.) You have to figure that next season’s Spurs will be plenty tough: they still have Kawhi and LaMarcus and maybe even Tony Parker. But, as the poet said, that’s next season. For now, our attention turns westward, where the Warriors will be waiting in Oakland, and they’re tough and scrappy and incredibly freaking dangerous, the way defending champions are supposed to be.


Gimme five

After the thirteenth Thunder turnover — still in the second quarter, mind you — you might reasonably have concluded that OKC was going down, and going down hard. You might not have expected that they’d learn some ball control in the second half, but they manifestly did: in those last 24 minutes they gave the ball up only seven times. And with 42 seconds left, the Thunder actually held a one-point lead, 92-91. Danny Green stripped the ball away from Kevin Durant, but the Spurs weren’t able to turn that turnover into actual points, and after a difficult inbound, Russell Westbrook made a mad dash to the rim — “and one,” as Dion Waiters is wont to say — and the Thunder were up four with six seconds left. Kawhi Leonard tried a three, Tony Parker retrieved the miss and Green tried another, but to no avail. Oklahoma City 95, San Antonio 91, the Thunder lead the series 3-2, and suddenly something the local pundits had been suggesting started to make sense: give the Spurs three days rest, and they’re fine, but with only one day — well, Tim Duncan once got a DNP-OLD, and he’s way older than that now.

Then again, Duncan played 28 minutes tonight, and if he’s lost some speed, he’s lost none of his slyness. And Danny Green, held scoreless last time out, sprang for 20 points, tied with Kawhi and six behind LaMarcus. But the San Antonio bench, while it did yeoman work keeping the Thunder away from the cylinder, didn’t make much in the way of shots: five reserves, 11 points. (Then again, the OKC second string managed only 20.) The Spurs wound up shooting just under 40 percent, which doesn’t exactly shine. And they pulled in a mere 36 rebounds, while the Thunder collected 54.

Still, it’s never just numbers. And tonight it was Westbrook, blurry like he’d taken some of those Acme earthquake pills, with 35 points, 11 boards, and nine assists. (And yes, eight turnovers.) Kevin Durant added 23. It took those two 48 shots to get 58 points, but what the heck; Steven Adams went 5-8 from the floor and posted yet another double-double.

Game 6 is in OKC. Day after tomorrow. Suddenly that seems portentous.

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Wrenching torque

You always have to wonder what Gregg Popovich is going to throw at you. Tonight, the Spurs didn’t put up so many treys, and David West was turned loose to wreak havoc. West delivered, Tony Parker turned in another sterling performance, and it was obvious that something was going to have to happen if the Thunder were going to climb back into this thing. That something, like so many times before, was Kevin Durant, with 17 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter, while Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge — and possibly even Pop — wondered what the hell happened. With Durant in the middle of a pair of free throws — he got one — Pop pulled the big men, and it was window-dressing from that point. The Thunder won this one decisively, 111-97, and the series is tied up 2-2. “What was going on here tonight?” asked TV guy Brian Davis. “Basketball,” answered Dion Waiters laconically. And he could afford to be laconic; he’d just played keepaway for 24 seconds to burn up what was left of the clock.

Except for free throws, the Thunder owned the major box-score numbers: 51-47 shooting, 39-17 on treys (the Spurs hoisted twelve, hit only two), 40-30 rebounding, 23-12 on assists. Neither Aldridge nor Leonard got a shot from the floor in the entire fourth quarter. Neither Tim Duncan nor Danny Green got a shot from the floor in the entire game. Still, you want a hero here, you go to Steven Adams, +21 for the night, 16 points and 11 boards, much of this late alongside Enes Kanter, Billy Donovan having concluded that going small late in the fourth wasn’t working. (Kanter checked in with 11, and Waiters was a thumping 7-11 for 17.)

Beforehand, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth: what if this were the last game ever for Kevin Durant in Thunder home white? And we’ll probably hear that again before Game 6. The important thing for right now, though, is that there will be a Game 6.


Another uphill slog

Things were frustrating enough this evening for me to pick out my most transcendent moment early: it was during the second quarter, when the image of Governor Fallin appeared on the big screen at the ‘Peake, and Loud City erupted in a gleeful chorus of boos. Then came the fourth quarter, and with eight minutes left the Thunder, previously down as many as 15, had pulled to within two. Then Serge Ibaka knocked down a trey — his fifth! — and Russell Westbrook added another one. Suddenly it was Thunder by four. The Spurs, of course, were not going to take that lying down; with 1:19 left, having scored on eight of nine possessions, were up seven. Over the next thirty seconds, Westbrook would knock down five; two Tony Parker free throws ran the Spur lead back to four. It took most of the clock for OKC to respond, with a Dion Waiters bank shot; Kawhi Leonard hit two more free throws, and time ran out on the Thunder. San Antonio 100, Oklahoma City 96, and now the Spurs are near, if not precisely in, the catbird seat.

Moral victories, of course, are still recorded as losses, but the Thunder did manage to hold LaMarcus Aldridge down to a mere 24 points, after 38 and 41 in the first two. The problem with that, though, is that it gave Kawhi Leonard more space, and Leonard was really good at using more space, collecting 31 points and 11 rebounds. (Leonard was 9-17 from the floor; Russell Westbrook also scored 31, but he went a startling 10-31.) OKC had the rebounding edge, by five; but they also fouled a whole lot, and they should probably consider themselves fortunate that the Spurs somehow missed 10 of 34 free throws.

The maddening inconsistency of this Thunder squad proved, once again, to be its undoing: they can put together runs, but they still yield them up much more easily. They know this. Pop knows this. Everybody knows this, except possibly Governor Fallin.


An ominous omen

Radio guy Matt Pinto served up that tautology early on, while the Spurs were busily digging out from an early hole. And he seemed prescient, because whatever holes the Thunder were able to push the Spurs into, the Spurs managed to escape with seeming alacrity. While OKC wasn’t quite so disorganized tonight as they were in Game 1, there were enough discouragingly familiar lapses to keep Thunder fans anxious, and one question remained unanswered: “What the heck do we do about LaMarcus Aldridge?” Billy Donovan seemed reluctant to double-team him, perhaps fearing that if Aldridge were doubled, Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard — but mostly Green — would just collect that many more treys. Maybe not Leonard; with the Spurs down three with 48 seconds left, Leonard put one up, and Steven Adams took it away. So Aldridge made the next trey himself, giving him 38 points. (Where have we heard that number before?) At :18, it was OKC 98, San Antonio 94; four seconds later, having persuaded Serge Ibaka to buy a pump fake, Aldridge went to the stripe to shoot three and got them all. The last Thunder possession went nowhere, Green swiping the ball from Dion Waiters; then Patty Mills readied a corner trey, and when the ball somehow ended up on the floor, Ibaka jumped on it. Ninety-eight to ninety-seven, the Thunder go back home 1-1, and suddenly it’s a whole new series.

In the meantime, we can enjoy a few OKC lines: Russell Westbrook, 29-7-10; Kevin Durant, 28 points; Steven Adams, 12 points and 17 rebounds. Only two Spurs besides Aldridge climbed into double figures: Leonard, of course, with 14, and Manu Ginobili, because he’s Manu Ginobili, with 11. And San Antonio ended up with only six treys in 23 tries; Green made half of them. Still, Aldridge has 79 points in two games. What the heck do the Thunder do about him? I guess we’ll find out Friday.

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Torched and then some

Everyone pretty much figured that the Spurs would come out breathing fire. What they didn’t figure was the temperature of that fire, which would turn out to be somewhere between Texas fire ants — dipped in sriracha, no less — and a Bessemer converter. After the first quarter, it was 43-20, and things would only deteriorate after that. Now one could reasonably expect that some of the calls, or lack of calls, would go the home team’s way, the home team having won 40 of 41 during the regular season; however, I don’t think anyone anticipated that the Spurs would be hitting better than 60 percent of their shots all night. There is dominance, and there is being crushed like, well, a Texas fire ant. Tonight, the Thunder were flattened under San Antonio’s sneakers, 124-92, and you have to wonder what sort of adjustments are going to have to be made for Game 2 on Monday.

At the very least, OKC is going to have to figure out some way to contain LaMarcus Aldridge, who went 18-23 for 38 points in less than 30 minutes. (Thirty-eight points, by coincidence, is twice the production of the Thunder’s leading scorer, Serge Ibaka, who managed 19.) And maybe they’ll have to glue Danny Green to the near end of the floor; Green was 5-6 from beyond the arc and took only one other shot. The Spurs certainly seem to have figured out how to render Enes Kanter relatively ineffective. And any night in which Kevin Durant finishes -31 (16 points on 6-15 from the floor) would seem to be devoid of hopeful signs.

Still, this is only Game 1. This is about as badly as the Thunder spanked the Mavs in that Game 1, and Dallas came back to win Game 2. I wouldn’t recommend going beyond that for an example, though, since the Mavs dropped the next three. And I can’t really deny this:

Right now, though, I’m trying to remember what it’s like for the Thunder to have a 12-point lead.


And they’re outta here

Desperate times, as the phrase goes, call for desperate measures. The Mavericks, facing elimination, kept finding strength at exactly the moments they had to. One of those moments was at the beginning of the fourth quarter: down ten, Dallas hit all their shots for the first four and a half minutes, pulling to within a single possession. But there was one factor neither the Mavs nor Rick Carlisle had considered, and that was some head-steam emitted from the Dallas front office:

Westbrook, who never reads the papers, obviously read this paper. And with 27.2 left, Justin Anderson dropped an elbow in Westbrook’s face. Frustration will do that to you. Oklahoma City 118, Dallas 104. If you had “Thunder in five,” take a bow. The Only Superstar had a creditable 33 points for the night; but Westbrook racked up 36 (on one fewer shot) and came one dime short of a triple-double. And this despite high-meh performances from Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter, who accumulated fouls nearly as quickly as they did points.

Still, if I’m Rick Carlisle, I’m looking at all five of my starters in double figures, Dirk, sweet Dirk, with 24, and I’m asking: “What just happened here?” If anyone asks Westbrook, he’ll say something to the effect of “I dunno, man, I just play the game.”

Like hell.

The Spurs are next.

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This way to the brink

During the two middle quarters, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder 61-56, which demonstrated that they’re not entirely out of this series; what’s more, the Mavs, who had not shot well early on, brought their shooting percentage over 50 percent in the fourth. But the dreaded Injury Bug paid Dallas a couple of visits: Deron Williams, who did not look at all well, was pulled within a minute and a half, and Salah Mejri, who’d been effectively bothering the Thunder, bruised his hip in the second half and did not return. With J. J. Barea reduced to a nonfactor — Andre Roberson pestered Barea all night, leaving him 0-7 from the floor — it was left to Raymond Felton and Dirk Nowitzki to carry the Mavericks’ banner, and that’s a big flag for just two guys, even two guys with that much court cred. With two and a half minutes left, radio guy Matt Pinto pronounced the Mavs, then down 13, “exhausted,” and maybe they were. But at the 50-second mark, Kevin Durant disappeared in a wholly unexpected manner: a Flagrant Two at the expense of Justin Anderson. With KD thumbed, the Mavs had an opening, and by 0:38 they’d shaved that OKC lead to a mere eight. They would not get further. Oklahoma City 119, Dallas 108, the Thunder are up 3-1, and the series goes back to OKC on Monday.

And really, KD wasn’t missed that much; he was having a fairly mediocre (for Durant) night, with 19 points on 7-20 shooting. And he only hit four free throws, out of eight. But being the third leading scorer for the night didn’t hurt, with another Russell Westbrook double-double (25 points/15 dimes) and a spectacular showing, especially in the fourth quarter, from Enes Kanter, who finished with 28 on 12-13, including four free throws. Out of four. Yeah, Dirk had 27 for the night, but it took him 40 minutes; Kanter, the most expensive sixth man in the NBA and darn well worth it, did it in 26.

Still, the Mavs do not roll over and play dead. If Dirk’s okay Monday, and there’s no reason at the moment to think he won’t be, he’ll be a factor. And Raymond Felton, who’d never seemed like quite the A-list guard anywhere else he’s played, has absolutely blossomed in this series; tonight he had 19 points and 11 assists. The reliable Wesley Matthews continues to be, well, reliable. And the Thunder still have ways of giving it away: they missed ten free throws tonight. Still, it’s do or die for Dallas at the Thunderdome on Monday. Whatever tricks Rick Carlisle may have up his well-tailored sleeve, he’d better have them ready.