Oklahoma City’s James Harden might have won this year’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, but it was the San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili who made the difference Sunday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Coming off the bench, Ginobili scored 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter to help the Spurs overcoming a nine-point deficit to defeat OKC 101-98 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. And so, San Antonio’s winning streak reached 19.
“Our defense turned it up in the fourth quarter,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “And on the other end we didn’t turn the ball over.”
And that was that.
OKC’s speed and shot-making for much of the game seemed to overwhelm the Spurs. Keven Durant (27 points) and, to a lesser degree, Russell Westbrook (17, 7 of 21 shooting), used explosive plays to build a 73-64 lead early in the fourth quarter. San Antonio seemed flummoxed by the Thunder’s youthful energy.
But after a timeout, during which Popovich urged his team to be “nasty,” the Spurs clamped down on the defensive end, limiting the looks for Durant and Westbrook. Five straight possessions OKC forced up hurried, contested shots or turned over the ball. And San Antonio took advantage by moving the ball unselfishly and precisely, creating open shots.
The results? The Spurs generated an 18-3 run in the fourth quarter to turn the nine-point deficit into an 82-76 lead with more than five minutes to play. They built the lead up to as much as 10 points and it took some late three point shots by Oklahoma City to make it a three-point final difference.
The differences in the game were obvious. OKC hoisted several forced shots and turned the ball over on out of control plays. On the other end, the Spurs, who had 14 turnovers in the first half, handled the ball with care and scored on many easy baskets off fundamental plays like pick-and-rolls.
In the end, the veteran, disciplined team executed to precision and the young, athletic club was flustered and broke down under the fundamental onslaught.