Saturday, November 26, 2016

Spurs sweep Westbrook's Thunder, defeat Warriors in Game 1.

The Spurs were simply too much of an obstacle for Russell Westbrook's OKC Thunder, sweeping them in relative ease. Westbrook visibly struggled against the defending champions, only scoring 8 points in Game 3. Westbrook would go down valiantly in Game 4 with 20 points and 15 assists, but the Spurs fearlessly double-teamed him all night, with OKC simply not having enough firepower other than Steven Adams. Victor Oladipo struggled.

Against OKC, Danny Green had 27 points in Game 1 (132-115) to match Westbrook's 27. Game 2 was led by Pau Gasol with 27 points in a closer 118-113 win by the Spurs. Surprisingly turning back the clock, Kevin Garnett had 16 points off the bench for San Antonio. OKC might've stolen that contest, but Westbrook had a poor performance on 5-19 shooting. In Game 3, Westbrook struggled again despite the series switching locations, with his team losing 116-103. Kawhi Leonard had 25 points then, followed by 40 combined points from Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol. In Game 4, the Thunder only lost by 6 points after a remarkable 35-18 run, but by that time the Spurs had already pulled their stars out of the game after dominating the earlier quarters, leading by 25 at one point. Manu Ginobili had 23 points in the decisive match, as the Spurs' defense suffocated OKC's chances to prolong the one-sided series.

The Spurs took a hard swallow, knowing what lay in wait: the Goliath #1 seed led by the hydra: Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant (formerly of OKC) and Steph Curry himself. Somehow, in dramatic fashion, the Spurs were able to play hard, tough all night and cling to a small lead. It wavered at times, and Warriors almost got out and running, but the Spurs were able to quell each swing of momentum, hitting clutch shots late in the final minutes.

This win was huge for the Spurs, and they'll need to use it as a blueprint to beat the Warriors (who never laid down, fouling to the end and utilizing their unrivaled perimeter mastery). The Spurs, however, were just as efficient from distance. Danny Green had 31 points, leading the Spurs, making eight three-pointers, matching the 8 total long balls made by Curry/Thompson/Durant. To say the Warriors were a bit 'off' with shooting is a fair observation. The Spurs had a few lapses on defense due to the A+ ball movement by the Warriors, but the ball just wouldn't go in.

The teams were separated by only 9 points all night, to emphasize how contentious this series will be between the top two teams (record-wise) in the league. Despite struggling with shooting, Curry/Thompson/Durant combined still for 70 points, but Kawhi Leonard and Green combined for 61 together. Michael Carter-Williams got the starting position at point guard over Tony Parker, whose defense has been a concern for the Spurs, and MCW was able to make Curry's night more difficult. Curry had 15 assists, though, to make up for 10-23 shooting.

Tony Parker still made some shots when counted on, finishing with 11 points in the close 125-118, strong road win by the Spurs, who certainly feel vindicated but cannot allow to rest on laurels. Pau Gasol made a clutch 3PTer late, but only had 8 points. The Spurs will need to utilize him better once the shooting suffers, and without a doubt, the Warriors will rev up the defensive effort to make sure as best they can to not surrender Game 2 to the Spurs, knowing it would send them to Texas with an 0-2 deficit.

Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, had some furious dunks and MCW finished with 12 assists. The Spurs made 10 more three-pointers than the Warriors, too, which is unlikely to continue. Both teams played neatly, combining for only 12 total turnovers. The Spurs' bench carried the day though with 46-26 points. In a close game, it is crucial to capitalize on any advantage and the Spurs earned three more free throw attempts than the Warriors and had 3 more steals as a team and one more block than the Warriors.

But oh boy, is this going to be a great series for the ages. Per the league's slogan, that's why we love this game.