Enes Kanter and Russell Westbrook.

Enes Kanter believes Oklahoma City Thunder's physicality has given them the edge

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The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs in a pivotal game five of the Western Conference semi-finals despite shooting under 44 percent and losing the turnover battle by 12 on the road.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were very good, especially in the case of the point guard down the stretch but although they combined for 48 of the Thunder's 95 points, they didn't do it with a beautiful offensive showcase - the two Thunder stars hit only 20 of their 48 attempts (41.6%).

Going into a game, any team in the NBA would probably take that and feel pretty good about their chances of a victory over OKC. Yet the Thunder prevailed in a gritty affair. A huge key to their win came from completely dominating the boards and finishing with 54 rebounds to the Spurs' 36.

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That works out nice and even to Oklahoma City securing exactly 50 percent more rebounds than San Antonio. After an embarrassing loss in game one, the Thunder have been the tougher, hungrier team of the two and, in Tuesday's encounter, that toughness, fight and hunger was on full display.

After playing only 18 minutes per game in the first three outings, Enes Kanter's role has increased greatly to nearly 30 minutes a night in the last two games; both wins for OKC. The rotation change has worked out well, as evidenced by Kanter's two-game total of 19 points, 21 rebounds and a telling +17 during his time on the floor.

Rebounds are, in a sense, hustle stats. Obviously, size, height and forcing misses are important to winning the rebound battle, but so many times over the course of a game it's the little things about crashing the boards that garner the reward of a possession.

Fundamentally, boxing out, footwork, timing, even something as simple as shifting an opposing player a half a foot can lead to a change of possession, or in the case of the Thunder on Tuesday night, the retention, and extension of a possession. Or two. Or even three.

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game Five

To say that rebounding is a strength of the Thunder's is a vast understatement. Their ability to out-board their opposition is in a league of its own, humming to the tune of a plus 8.4 edge per contest during the regular season.

That's even more impressive when you consider that the Thunder were a pedestrian 17th in defensive rebounding percentage. It's their 31.1% offensive rebounding percentage, a ridiculous number that is seven percentage points higher than the 15th ranked Brooklyn Nets, that provides their edge.

But the Spurs aren't exactly slouches on the boards, they finished the regular season with the third-highest defensive rebounding percentage and the fourth-highest total rebounding percentage in the league.

So, on paper, it is somewhat surprising to see the Thunder completely own the glass, grabbing 15 of their 44 misses, against a Spurs team that really prides themselves on defensive rebounding. Unfortunately for the Spurs, the games aren't played on paper and Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, and company cleaned up the boards all night.

"Right now we are playing with a lot of energy, a lot of physicality," said Kanter after the game and he followed that up with a rhetorical question, "It's one thing to want it, but the question is, do we want it more than them?" It sure seemed like it in this game.

Oklahoma City showed their heart, and their desire for success, with a huge win on the road. Kanter noted his team's plan and execution: "We knew that was going to be a tough, physical game tonight.

"We came out with a lot of energy, a lot of physicality, and when we were down 12 we didn't fall apart, we stuck together. We stuck to the game plan, just did our jobs and played our basketball."

Sometimes the winner of a competition comes down to something as simple as who wants to win more, who most successfully imposes their will. Kanter reiterated the key to OKC's success: "We knew what we wanted to do and just kind of went out there and played our basketball," he said. It's a pretty stock answer but that doesn't make it any less true.

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game Five

It's not that the Spurs were bad. Again, they played solid defence and forced 20 turnovers. It's just that when the game was on the line, the Thunder came up with loose balls, 50-50 balls and buckets while the Spurs paid tribute to their horrific performance during the end of game four.

The encounter at the Chesapeake Energy Arena saw the Spurs score just six points in the final seven minutes and in game five San Antonio scored three points in the last four minutes, missing eight of their nine shots. The Thunder capitalised on San Antonio's troubled offence for two straight wins.

The Spurs look far removed from the juggernaut that cruised to a record number of regular season blowouts, but they won't bow out quietly in a win-or-go-home road game.

With five future Hall-of-Fame players and a Springfield-bound head coach, there's far too much pride in the organisation for anything like that.

On Thursday in Oklahoma, the Thunder will be ready for a desperate, champion-laden team battling for t only its playoff life. It should make for some very compelling, very physical basketball.

San Antonio Spurs
Southwest Division
Western Conference
NBA Playoffs
Oklahoma City Thunder
Northwest Division
Enes Kanter
Russell Westbrook
Steven Adams

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