A few years ago, on NBA TV's Open Court, Hall of Fame forward and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley told a hilarious, anecdotal story about a conversation with former All-Star Larry Johnson. After Johnson and Barkley – both undersized – had been robbed of their athleticism, by injury (Johnson's back) and age (Barkley), Chuck says he had a stark realization. He made comment to Johnson, in reference to the generally bigger players they'd exploded over, but later found themselves lost in jungles of arms and shoulders. Rather plainly, in Barkley-speak, he said, "These boys big out here."
This is where San Antonio, specifically their skilled front line, is today. "These [Oklahoma City's Steven Adams and Enes Kanter] big out here." Following the Spurs' 95-91 loss to the Thunder at home, it's never been more apparent. The Thunder are manhandling the Spurs, especially former Texas standout LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, and Boris Diaw on the boards, now at +35 for the series – including +19 in Game 5 alone. Adams and Kanter combined for 24 rebounds.
OKC turned the ball over 20 times in Game 5, yet the Spurs managed seven points off those mistakes. However, the Thunder managed 18 points on only eight Spurs turnovers. What this, and the rebounding differentials, suggests is Oklahoma City has exposed the Spurs' lone shortcoming: dealing with overwhelming physicality.
After a 41-point outburst in a Game 4 Thunder win, former Texas great Kevin Durant was held in check, with 23 points on 21 shots. Russell Westbrook (35 points, 9 assists, 11 rebounds) dominated with his ability to blow up the vaunted Spurs defense, especially in the fourth quarter – where the Spurs led 88-82 with four minutes left. The Spurs' offense, now curiously centered on isolation play and no connecting on open looks, has sputtered terribly the last two games.
It may be time for coach Gregg Popovich's project center Boban Marjanovic to rumble. For the Spurs to get back, the continuity offense must rise from its shallow grave. Lastly, time is undefeated. With great sadness and respect, we must admit that it's almost arrived to take the great Duncan's game to the other side.