Best. Win. Ever.
Ok, so that’s maybe a little strong, but I’ve got to tell you, there was something special about this one. About 40 different times, I threw my hands up and said, “Ppph, annnnd here’s where we blow it.” But somehow, someway, Oklahoma City had one more point than San Antonio in the end, winning for the first time on the road against a plus .500 team, 96-95.
That last minute was kind of a blur. I may or may not have blacked out. I remember Durant missing a shot or something, then the Spurs getting like six offensive rebounds before Tim Duncan tipped it in and then Russell Westbrook did something and then the Spurs threw the ball everywhere before a Michael Finley rainmaker missed. Something like that.
Just like last time, OKC did it with defense. And just like last time, after the first quarter, it didn’t look like there was going to be any defense. The Spurs were backcutting, hitting wide open shots and just ripping the Thunder up as they scored 32 points. Luckily, Kevin Durant re-discovered his awesomeness and had 14 first quarter points, en route to a game-high 31. But defense: After the first, the Thunder just got physical. Duncan was not going to get anything easy. Green, Collison and Krstic did their best to push him around and frustrate him. Westbrook, Kyle Weaver and Thabo Sefolosha were playing up-in-your-face, on-the-ball man-to-man. They were closing out, rotating and best of all, San Antonio was missing shots. That helps.
I know KD was downright dirty tonight with his 31 on 12-19 shooting and eight rebounds, but the player of the game is Russell Westbrook. Forget his triple-double, this is his best game of the season. He had 16 points (6-15 from the field), 10 assists, three rebounds and turned it over just twice. But more than anything, he had complete control of the game. During the second half, I felt like I was watching Chris Paul or Deron Williams control the game. He was calm, he was assertive and he was confident. I really never doubted him. He took good shots and he made better decisions. His drive and dish to Nenad Krstic with about a minute left was absolutely perfect. He let the 24 tick down a bit, hesitated, beat his man, drew the defense and kicked to Krispy for a sweet 22-footer to go up 96-93. Heck, his drive and pass to Jeff Green with 15 seconds left was a thing of beauty but Duncan made a great play on Green’s dunk attempt. And on top of that, he played top notch defense on Tony Parker holding Mr. Longoria to 11 points and four assists. Last time Thabo had to switch over late in the game. This time, Russ had it.
The road to getting this win wasn’t always pretty, or fun. The first half was good with a solid second quarter to take a 54-48 lead into the locker room. Most of the third quarter was great with OKC running out to a 17-point lead. But then the Spurs woke up. Or the Thunder fell asleep. One of the two. Finishing good quarters is something that OKC has major problems with. The Thunder’s up 77-61, then Finley hits a three and then a bad turnover followed by a Roger Mason jumper to cut it to 11. Deep breath. We’re cool. Then another turnover. Then bad offense and a poor rebounding. Kyle Weaver misses two free throws that could have put OKC back up 11. Then a ridiculously horrible call on Weaver that gives Mason three free throws. By the end of the third quarter, the Spurs took a 17-point Thunder lead down to a very manageable six heading into the final 12 minutes. This is the type of stuff that can drive you crazy. But somehow, despite all that, with some cruddy calls, bad rebounding and shaky offense, the Thunder gutted it out. That’s all that matters.
OKC started the fourth on a solid run, ripping off an 11-2 stretch on the Spurs. It was done with pure hustle and effort with the Spurs coming up empty on seven straight possessions with four turnovers. That run settled the Thunder down and really gave them a chance to hold on and win. Maybe they learned something from the Boston collapse Sunday night. Because tonight, they tossed on a tourniquet and got the ship righted with a run of their own.
- I just want to thank the Spurs for another poor outside shooting night. They went 8-25 from three (3-19 in the last meeting), with Manu Ginobili going 1-5, Finley 4-10 and Mason 1-6. At one point in the fourth I was actually hoping Mason would get an open look at a three. They were just uncharacteristically off. Thank you.
- On the flip side, OKC went 5-8 from three, including 5-7 in the first half. The second half’s only three was a full court heave by Chucky Atkins at the end of the third and one miss in the first half was a 35-footer by Durant at the half. The Thunder took smart shots and were efficient when they had open looks.
- More on Westbrook: One play that really stood out happened with about four minutes left in the first. Russ drove around Parker and got near the free throw line. He stopped and held his dribble and let Parker run up on his back. Krstic rolled to the top of the key, but Westbrook held Duncan in place because he still had his dribble. Then Westbrook slipped a slick bounce pass to Krispy for a cash-money 20-footer. For a second, I thought that was Chris Paul. That’s the type of stuff I’m talking about with Westbrook. With more time and more experience, we’ll start seeing this all the time coupled with his unreal desire and ability.
- One more thing in my mini-Russell lovefest: How about that offensive rebound he had over Ginobili in the fourth quarter? That’s the stuff I’m talking about. Just total effort and it resulted in two points. He came out of nowhere and went way up and over Manu to grab an offensive rebound and put it down for a huge two. These are the reasons that I think Westbrook is going to be a special player and a winner.
- I’d like to welcome Nenad Krstic’s jump shot back. He went 8 of 11 from the floor for 16 points and grabbed eight boards. He was back to his near-automatic self from the outside.
- While the result was much like last time with a big defensive stop to ice it, the way we got there was much different. Both teams shot over 47 percent (OKC was 49 percent), when last time both shot under 40 percent. A big number is that the Thunder turned it over just nine times and had solid possessions throughout the game.
- Kyle Weaver is an excellent ball handler. He really controls his dribble well. Plus, he just continues to make smart basketball plays. His two three pointers in the first half were great shots, but his hustle play breaking up a San Antonio fast break in the fourth quarter was huge. Thabo is absolutely wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but Weaver may start sinking his teeth into some major minutes in the future. Remember, he’s just a rookie too…
- I’m glad Manu Ginobili is back to remind everyone how much we hate him. He flops, he whines, and he flails and kicks to get calls. He’s like the NBA version of Tyler Hansbrough. He gets the job done and is a fantastic player no doubt, but he can drive his opponents nuts in the way he does it.
- Rebounding and free throw shooting nearly cost the Thunder. OKC went 17-24 from the line, but was 3-8 in the fourth quarter. And OKC was outrebounded 40-36 and the Spurs grabbed 12 offensive rebounds including eight in the second half. Safe to say, the combination of those two things nearly made me swallow my remote.
And before you ask, “What’s the deal? Why do the Thunder play the Spurs so well?” know that I have no clue. Maybe it’s because the Thunder know the Spurs play great defense so they ratchet it up too. Maybe it’s because Sam Presti gives them an awesome pep talk. Maybe Malik Rose has some awesome super-secrets. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence. But whatever the reason is, probably OKC’s two best wins of the season are against the same team, which happens to be one of the best in the league.
Lots of people have been talking about the rise of the Thunder, but this game is your best example of what’s to come. Durant plays like a superstar, Uncle Jeff makes winning plays, Krstic hit shots, Westbrook owned the game and the team played excellent defense. They withstood a major 13-2 Spurs run in the fourth quarter to just gut out a win. The last possession was a mess and when Finley’s shot was in the air I felt like I just jumped out of an airplane with no parachute. But it rimmed out and OKC had an awesome win. The thing kind of hit me in the face because the whole fourth quarter I was preparing for a loss. But just like that it was over and OKC had more points. I was stunned and excited at the same time. Easily the best win of the year (hey, when you don’t have a lot, it’s easy to top the last one) and another great baby step in the journey to respectability.
That’s two of three against the SAN ANTONIO SPURS. How do you like that? Maybe the Suns should give us a call and ask us how to beat these guys. Hi-oh! Oh, and that’s No. 21. One more than last year. Cha-ching