Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game Five

Thunder-Spurs Game 6: Spurs know what to do, but it may not matter

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It’s not that the Spurs don’t know what they have to do to win — this is a smart, veteran team with the best coach in the land. Intellectually, they know what they need to do.

But there comes a point where athleticism trumps that plan, and for three games in a row now the Thunder have had that advantage. It’s not that simple — the Thunder also have executed well enough, got their role players to step up and used the long arms of Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka to disrupt what the Spurs are doing. But the more athletic team is winning this series because of their advantage.

San Antonio will figure out how to deal with it Wednesday night, on the road, or they will be golfing on Thursday. Well, except for Gregg Popovich, he’ll go back to drinking fine wine.

Popovich has to come up with a scheme — and the Spurs have to execute — a game plan that gets Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili into the paint breaking down the Thunder defense. Ever since the Thunder started trapping the ball handler off the pick in Game 3 (and not letting them reuse that pick) the Spurs have struggled to score efficiently enough to win. San Antonio hasn’t made the Thunder pay with the pick-and-pop, their ball movement has been stagnated, and then it becomes a matter of isolations.

Part of that is Duncan himself — he cannot hesitate to shoot on the pick-and-pop. Same is true for the Spurs role players, who seem to hesitate before taking their jumpers against the Thunder, and that give’s OKC’s long athletes time to recover.

And with all that the Spurs still score. They put 103 points (104 points per 100 possessions pace) in Game 5. That would be the seventh best in the NBA last season, but is 4.5 points per 100 worse than what they did in the regular season.

The Spurs have to score and score big because they cannot stop the Thunder. San Antonio can play better defense on the pick-and-roll, they can slow the Thunder, but they have nobody who can stop Kevin Durant, they are not able to shut off Russell Westbrook. With Ibaka knocking down midrange jumpers and James Harden doing his thing the Spurs are not going to clamp down on the Thunder like they did the Clippers.

If San Antonio is going to push this to a Game 7 they will do it with their offense.

I just don’t know if they can because we’ve seen such growth from the Thunder these playoffs. They make their mistakes, but their ball movement is better, their effort level consistently higher — they are playing like we expect a veteran contender to do. They have been amazing.

And at home, in front of that crowd, they will be incredibly difficult to beat.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: