Even before Game 6 tipped off, it seemed like Wednesday was going to be A Stephen Jackson Night. With his San Antonio Spurs facing elimination at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the man who once legendarily claimed to "make love to pressure" capped a pregame TNT interview with a confident jaw-jut/bobblehead-nod combo that'd make Kobe Bryant jealous, clearly eager for the moment as he headed back to warm up. Then he came out and started raining.
Captain Jack came off the San Antonio bench to coolly knock down four first-half 3-pointers, informing the TNT broadcast team that the Spurs weren't going anywhere, showcasing a Cheshire cat grin after finding the bottom of the net and telling anyone who'd listen how much fun he was having as he helped pace San Antonio to a 15-point halftime lead. Of course, as you know, all of it — that dominant moment, that 15-point lead, that grin — disappeared in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
OKC opened the second half with an 11-2 run to get within six at the 7:48 mark of the third quarter, followed that with a 19-12 spurt to take a lead with 1:39 left, and went into the fourth down just one point. From there, Scott Brooks' squad stormed to a 107-99 win, a 4-2 series victory, an NBA finals berth and perhaps the dawn of a new era of greatness.
Jackson was stellar in defeat, finishing with 23 points on just seven shots in 32 minutes. But in perhaps the cruelest irony for Spurs fans, the same thing that made them laugh early made them cry late — with San Antonio down 103-99 and in desperate need of a basket with 43 seconds remaining, Stack teed another one up from long range ... and came away with his first, and only, miss of the night.
After the game, Jackson held court with members of the media on the floor of the visiting locker room. There, he offered a succinct, accurate and quintessentially Jack description analysis of the evening's proceedings. From ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
"It sucks," Jackson said after the media crowd around him dispersed, not quite believing that his near-perfect evening didn't do more to stop the young-no-more Thunder from closing out the Western Conference finals.
"But those mother------s," Jackson quickly conceded, "were just better than us."
I'm betting you can fill in those blanks without my help.
It's not the most flowery prose, but it's a pretty spot-on characterization. The Thunder turned in an offensive performance for the ages in this series, scoring an average of 110.4 points per 100 possessions — better than their already stellar, second-best-in-the-NBA regular-season mark — during the six-game series win, according to NBA.com's statistical tool.
That mark — which included a sterling 57.2 percent True Shooting percentage, which measures shooting efficiency and takes into account field goals, 3-pointers and free throws (league average this season: 52.7 percent) and an even more ridiculous 61.6 percent TS% in second halves of games (thanks, ESPN.com's Zach Harper) — came against a team that had not only won 18 straight games coming into the Western Conference finals, but had held the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers (lesser competition, to be sure, but still very efficient regular-season offenses) to just 95.3 points per 100 possessions in two postseason sweeps.
The numbers get even sicker if you look at just the last four games, which the Thunder swept after falling into an 0-2 hole to start the series. In putting the Spurs away, Oklahoma City averaged a scorching 112 points per 100 possessions on offense and held a San Antonio attack that had been producing at a historically high rate over the course of its 20-game winning streak to just 102.6-per-100. Over the course of the regular season, 102.6-per-100 would have come in a tick below the scoring rate of the New Jersey Nets, who were not exactly an offensive juggernaut; they finished with the eighth-worst offense in the league, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Heading into this series, I didn't see how the Thunder would be able to slow that league-best San Antonio offense enough to outscore them four times. I was wrong. The Thunder did it by packing the paint, taking away Tony Parker's penetrate-and-kick game, working their tails off on pick-and-rolls, closing out hard on ball swings and making the Spurs' "don't think, just shoot" role players have to take an extra beat rather than simply firing. It was brilliant to watch.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were fantastic on both ends of the floor over the past four games, and that's why they're going to the NBA finals. Those mother------s were just better than the Spurs. Captain Jack recognizes real when he sees it; now, the whole basketball-watching world does, too.
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