Thoughts on the Thunder as News 9 pal Steve McGehee and I mosey on down to San Antone for the latest-and-greatest "biggest game of the season.
*No one was going to slow down the Big Blue juggernaut the in Game 4 home route of the Spurs.
*The second quarter explosion produced two-way megastar play from Russ, KD in-the-zone with repeated nothing-but-net perimeter jumpers, Serge playing the Human Eraser either blocking or altering every foray into his forest, Jeremy Lamb anything but meek, flying around on defense—yes, defense, Perk blocking shots and making a basket, Steve Adams catching and slamming and defending like a 10-year vet and Scott Brooks pushing all the right buttons.
*Mid-game and postgame notes that you never see: Russ and KD 50 Spurs 53; 17-0 OKC fast break advantage at half, 21-0 for the game; 20 steals and blocked shots for OKC; and Russ 40, Spurs starters 39.
*A grand total of 24 thumpers played. Eleven Spurs got double-digit time with Ayers and Mills each getting over 9 minutes.
*Only Hash Thabeet and Thabo sat on their haunches the full 48 for OKC.
*Still hard to comprehend the Thunder dominance when Serge is in the lineup against a talented SA team that is still the odds-on-betting favorite to win the West: 9 straight wins over SA at home; 12-of-14 overall; and 7 straight. Key caveat being 'with Serge.'
*Imagine the blow-back on Scott Brooks if he dared pull a pop and pull his starters with 5:33 left in the third. And not put them in when the 27-point lead was cut to 12 early fourth.
*Brooks didn't come close to a smile in his post game presser. Defiant in victory, Brooks found an opportunity to say he didn't want to get "ridiculed" for a decision to play the injured Reggie Jackson. Clearly, the likable Thunder boss is sick of catching local and now national criticism for a "simple offense," questionable in-game adjustments and leaving in starters—including injured Ibaka—in too long. Imagine the personal satisfaction if the Thunder win this series. Brooks would have beaten the revered Pop, pushing all the right buttons with different starting lineups and unexpected playing time for players like Jeremy Bosh.
*4 games. 4 routes. 4 pathetic performances by the losing team.
*Crowd and Collision kudos for the full-throated ovation for the quintessential professional who didn't play a second in Game 3 with family in attendance and got only 4:51 in Game 4. Instead of pouting and becoming a detriment, the former Jayhawk and local favorite showed his unselfishness and team-first mentality encouraging and passing along pointers to less-experienced mates throughout the game. Just because OKC was blown out when Collision started the first two games for the injured Ibaka it doesn't mean he's not valuable now. And next year. Every team and every coach would want Collison in the role he plays in OKC.
*A friend who was recently in the office of Greg Popovich tells me stories about the oft-ornery SA ball coach. Says he's very "respectful, polite…a minimalist. Has nothing on the walls except a picture of John "Hondo" Havilicek. No clutter anywhere and nothing on his desk or tables except for the book he was currently reading on Putin." My friend says Pop pulled out his famous index cards with plays written on them and showed them to him. Everything organized and uncomplicated.
*The final Game 4 stat line of Ibaka was far from overwhelming: 4-8 FG, 1-4 FT, 8 RBD, 3 BLK and 9 points. But he altered some ten shots and used his length and athleticism to close out and disrupt perimeter shooters. And his timing and extraordinary rim protection allows mates to be aggressive which led to 12 steals. And his playmaking and mere presence provides confidence to mates and energy to the building. Oklahoma fans have always loved defense and Thunder fans like nothing more than a Serge swat leading to a transition bucket on the other end.
*Referee Joey Crawford was once again his usual/showy self, forgetting the game is about the men in trunks and not the trio in stripes. The skobbed-knob whistleblower continued his trend in slowing down the game with his look-at-me theatrical and unneeded shenanigans. Reviewing my game notes shows a handful "JOEY HORRIBLE! AGAIN!"
*Lost by most in the euphoria of seeing their Thunder win is the fact that Reggie Jackson is somewhere right now with a purple right ankle that does not want to run and jump for 2 1/2 hours tomorrow night. An 80 percent Reggie won't cut it. His newfound strong defense can't excel without explosion. Drives to the basket require acceleration and cuts that don't work with the wounded. You saw Tuesday night how ineffective he was en route to the hole. Jackson may say and writers may write he's "fine." Some have questioned Jackson's toughness and this will give him a chance to silence the critics. Like his warrior teammate Ibaka, Jackson must gut it out through inevitable pain. Watching ESPN's 30 For 30 series on the Bad Boys would be a good idea. A personal non-favorite, Isiah Lord Thomas III, scored a Finals record with 25 points in one quarter—43 in all—with a horribly sprained ankle in a Game 6 win over Magic's Lakers in the 1989 NBA Finals. Bad news for Zeke then and a concern for Jackson moving forward is that two nights later Thomas couldn't hardly move and was ineffective in a Game 7 loss.
*Let's see, six days ago were you thinking the Thunder would contemplate a starting lineup including a ruled-out Ibaka and the playoff-forgotten Jeremy Lamb? And be as confident as many are right now? Crazy. But true.
*Lamb did a great job defensively but was otherwise only 2-7 with 7 points and nothing special. If he's the fifth wheel or sees around 15 minutes of playing time he'll need to pull his weight. Well, hopefully more than that as I'd guess Jer tips in at about 175. I'm not nearly as worried about Steve Adams, who consistently shows soft but strong hands, the ability to catch difficult passes and quick-jump his way to a slam before opponents can react, and play winning defense.
*Russell's defense was more impressive than his 40-point/10-assist offensive performance.
*The Thunder has become a good two-for-one team but does not take advantage of fouls they have to give before an opponent is in the bonus. It's not rocket science.
*Sounds like Pop is making a starting lineup change. Perhaps two. To create more space for Tony Parker and Co. to have more driving lanes and less Ibaka, word is Manu Ginobli and Boris Diaw might start. The objective is to get Serge away from the basket.
*Eight days ago there was talk of this being the best of some great Spurs teams. Now there's talk of this being the final series for the Big Three and Pop.
*I'm not buying that but people who should know are suggesting it as a possibility. But what I am buying is this being a must-win game for the home team. OKC will surely win at home. So, it seems like a 6-game series with OKC winning or a seven-game series with the real chance of a home court sweep in the series—much different than we saw when these playoffs tipped off a month ago.