SAN ANTONIO -- With another lopsided victory in the books, the Spurs are beginning to look like they will power their way to the fifth title of the Tim Duncan era.
Wednesday's result was the most vicious yet: a 112-77 defeat that left Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook bickering on the court in the second quarter and saw Duncan and Tony Parker resting for the entirety of the fourth. The 35-point victory margin was the largest of San Antonio's postseason; the Spurs have now won their last six home playoff games by a staggering average of 23 points. The defeat was also the worst playoff loss for the Thunder since they relocated to Oklahoma City, and it seems cruel to ask any team to "adjust" its way out of that type of hole in a matter of days.
"We got our butts kicked," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, looking dejected and overwhelmed for the second time in three nights.
There is an intense paranoia behind everything these Spurs are doing and saying, a refusal to ease up after letting their last two seasons slip way in heartbreaking fashion. San Antonio remembers being up 3-2 against Miami in the 2013 finals, and they repeatedly referenced their 2-0 lead over Oklahoma City in the 2012 Western Conference finals on Wednesday. Nothing inspires fearful vigilance quite like memories of an advantageous position frittered away, and the 2014 Spurs are proving to be ruthless and insatiable once they get out in front.
Game 2, like many other Spurs games of late, was blown open in the second quarter: San Antonio closed the period on a 22-8 run, a stretch that featured two three-pointers from Danny Green and another from Manu Ginobili. The looks were conjured out of discipline and a little magic, nine points in less than two minutes that were produced by a drive-and kick from Parker, a gorgeous crosscourt pass from Ginobili to Green and a fearless "Oh, what the heck" quick-trigger launch by Ginobili.
"They kind of blitzed him in the corner, he was stuck further away than I expected, I didn't think he was going to throw it," Green said of Ginobili's highlight-reel dime. "He still threw it because he's Manu. It was a curveball and I got it."
The sequence was so inspired, so impossible to stop that it left the Thunder broken, even after the halftime break. The third quarter started with another 18-6 Spurs run and that was that.
"I messed up the game at the end of the second quarter," Durant said after scoring 15 points (on 6-for-16 shooting), tied for his lowest output of this year's playoffs. "I got hit on a screen and Danny Green got open for a three. I over-helped, and he got another three, and then Ginobili hit the three. All those plays were on me. It was my fault. ... We shouldn't have been down that much at halftime, but I made three bonehead plays."
Although Durant shouldering the blame was admirable -- and predictable -- it sells short the Spurs' overall quality of play, both on Wednesday and in recent weeks. Game after game, they are simply picking apart their opponents and leaving them for dead. Here, San Antonio put up 54 points in the paint, dished 27 assists on 41 baskets, got seven three-pointers from Green, and held Durant and Westbrook to a combined 13-for-40 shooting and just five free throw attempts.
Switch all of Durant's "bonehead" defensive plays to spectacular stops and we're still talking about a blowout victory. Let any of the Thunder's role players have a career night and it still wouldn't have mattered. Just don't try convincing the Spurs of that fact.
"Nobody was really satisfied after the game," Parker said, after finishing with a game-high 22 points (on 10-for-17 shooting) and five assists. "Everybody is very focused and we respect that team. We know that they're very capable of a comeback, and that they did that against us in 2012 ... The next one is going to be the hardest one."
Gregg Popovich's perfectionism runs through Parker's words, and everything else the Spurs are saying and doing. Ginobili told reporters that his teammates were discussing their 2012 defeat during their postgame showers, and Green was quick to point out that Durant is the "MVP for a reason, he's capable of winning games by himself."
A Spurs collapse in this series is just about unthinkable. The offense is whirring too smoothly and the defensive effort is too high. The matchups advantages -- in the post, from beyond the arc and on the bench -- are too great. The injured Serge Ibaka has proven to be irreplaceable for Oklahoma City, and traded 2012 sixth man of the year James Harden is watching the playoffs at home with his Rockets teammates, unable to help change the series for the Thunder as he did two years ago.
Their "Big 3" may be older, but the Spurs are unquestionably better than they were when they last collapsed to the Thunder. Green is an impact player, Kawhi Leonard isn't a rookie any more, Tiago Splitter is having his way with defenders on the block, and the bench is deeper. Meanwhile, Durant and Westbrook are even more dangerous than they were two years ago, but they're playing naked without Ibaka and Harden and carrying three fellow starters (Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha) who scored a combined four points on 2-for-9 shooting.
If anyone should be worried, it's the Thunder, who must use their extra off days to rediscover their mental edge, their foul-drawing ability, their outside shooting shooting touch and their play-to-play discipline on defense. Yet it was the Spurs who were raising the alarm bells, looking and sounding like Ben Stiller's character Chas from the "The Royal Tenenbaums," who compulsively timed his children as they practiced their fire drill responses.
"It is dangerous, we are going [to Oklahoma City] now feeling like we are so great, and we know that we aren't," Ginobili said, after scoring 11 points (on 2-for-4 shooting) and dishing four assists. "It's never over until you win the fourth game."
Nobody has learned that lesson more painfully than San Antonio, a team that seems consumed by proving that it has taken those experiences to heart.