For the first 24 minutes Sunday night, the San Antonio Spurs had bottled up Kevin Durant. He had 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting and the Thunder were struggling.
The second half the Kevin Durant the rest of the NBA fears — and wants to recruit this summer — showed up: 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting for the half, 17 of those points in the fourth quarter when he shot 6-of-6. And some of those were ridiculously contested.
“You gotta give him credit, he was great. He was great,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I don’t know how else to say it. He was fantastic.”
Durant’s 41 points on the night — with some big help from Dion Waiters and Steven Adams — helped the Thunder pull away late for a 111-97 Game 4 win. That ties the series at 2-2 and makes it a best-of-three heading back to San Antonio for Game 5 Tuesday night.
Durant was connecting with teammates and connecting with the crowd. He didn’t look like a guy with one foot out the door. We know he will play at least one more game.
He also got some help. This was by far Dion Waiters’ best game of the series scoring 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Steven Adams had 16 points, rolling to the rim after setting pin-down picks for Durant — the Spurs were so focused on the hot KD that Adams got clean looks. Enes Kanter had 11 points off the bench, and his defense wasn’t as bad as normal. Overall, it was the best performance by the Thunder role players we have seen all season, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“They were more physical, I think it was easy to tell today,” Manu Ginobili said postgame. “They got way more loose balls, offensive rebounds, down the stretch especially. They were way more physical defensively, that’s who they are… it worked for them, we were not comfortable all game.”
Russell Westbrook added 14 points and 15 assists. But it was Durant who starred. In the fourth he was hitting contested shots over Kawhi Leonard, and the Spurs switched picks that too often left David West on Durant and KD either shot over or drove around him. You can expect the Spurs to adjust their defense accordingly.
Tony Parker had 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting, as the Thunder oddly decided to chase him over the top on picks all night. Parker is not a great threat from three but let him get going downhill into the midrange and he will hit shots and find teammates. There was some of that in the first quarter, as Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge were doing their thing and the Spurs defense was clicking. It was a 10-point, 27-17 lead for the Spurs after one and they were executing their game plan.
Then in the second the Thunder got some stops, got out in transition off the misses and put together a 10-0 run that evened the game up again.
The scariest part of the night for the Spurs was when Kanter accidentally rolled up on Leonard’s knee. Leonard stayed in the game, but he was not as effective after that. Part of it likely was the Thunder put Durant on Leonard and KD’s length bothered Leonard.
What the Thunder defense kept the Spurs from doing was moving the ball, or when they did finishing the shot. The Spurs had just 12 assists on the night, as opposed to 19 and 39 in their wins. The Spurs also had 12 turnovers.
This series is exactly what we’d expected and hoped for — a close one between two evenly matched teams. It’s been the best series of the second round, easily. And now it’s a best of three.