It wasn’t easy, but the San Antonio Spurs are headed back to the NBA Finals to again face the Miami Heat.
The Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Spurs all they could handle for four quarters, but Tim Duncan and company finally prevailed in overtime, winning 112-107 to close out the Western Conference Finals.
Ironically enough, it was Duncan who led the Spurs to the win.
Duncan played well and leading San Antonio to victories isn’t all that uncommon — he’s been doing it for more than a decade. On Saturday night, though, the future Hall of Famer wasn’t having a great game. Duncan wasn’t horrible, but for four quarters, he mostly looked like just another player.
At the end of regulation, he had an impressive 13 rebounds, but had scored a modest 12 points. Duncan was particularly ineffective in the second half, getting limited touches and shooting only 1-5 from the field. He had done some good work on the boards, but San Antonio is at their best when he’s more involved offensively.
Despite Duncan’s struggles, the Spurs still were in good position to win the game. After knocking down a three-pointer to give San Antonio a 100-99 lead guard Manu Ginobili had a final stretch at the end of the game to forget. Following a Kevin Durant turnover, Ginobili missed the second of two free throws, extending the lead to only two instead of three. Ginobili then committed a costly foul at the other end, sending Russell Westbrook to the line. Westbrook knocked down two free throws to tie the game and with a chance to win it at the end, Ginobili missed a jumper at the buzzer.
Fortunately for him, Duncan’s play dramatically changed in the game’s extra session.
The forward looked like a completely different player in overtime, willing the Spurs to victory. After San Antonio fell behind 105-103, Duncan made his move. On the offensive end, he drew a foul and knocked down a free throw. On the team’s next possession, he scored on a layup, forcing the Thunder to call a time out. Westbrook scored to give the Thunder another quick lead, but Duncan then scored four more consecutive points, putting San Antonio ahead once and for all.
When you factor in two big rebounds by Duncan off of Oklahoma City misses during those sequences, he was involved at both ends of the floor. While Duncan was hot in the last five minutes, the Thunder’s stars disappeared. Westbrook and Durant had an excellent night, scoring a total of 65 points. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, the two were nowhere to be found in overtime, shooting a combined 1-for-10. The duo couldn’t buy a bucket and you can also expect to hear all kinds of criticism in the coming days as the MVP Durant took only three shots in the extra period.
One significant casualty for the Spurs was the loss of Tony Parker, who missed the second half and overtime with some ankle pain. If San Antonio wants to knock off the Heat in the Finals, they’ll almost certainly need him back on the court. For now, though, Duncan’s big overtime performance gave fans plenty of reason to celebrate.