It’s been 46 days since the Thunder and Spurs played each other in both their season openers. Oklahoma City struggled mightily that night on the offensive end, grinding out just 84 points while shooting under 40 percent. It was four days after the Thunder traded James Harden and maybe only the second or third time the team was on the floor together with their remade roster.
Things are the same, but different now.
The Thunder trotted out the same team Monday night, the same players to take on essentially the same Spurs team. This time around — again 46 days later, that part’s important — the Thunder didn’t look like the same disjointed, discombobulated group that choked in crunchtime. It’s like the Thunder got better or something.
One thing that very clearly was different this time around: Serge Ibaka. In the first meeting, he had only four points. Tonight, he tied a career-high with 25, started the game 7-7 (finished 8-16), had 17 rebounds and three blocks. One play really said it all: With 2:30 left in the third quarter, Ibaka went up for an offensive rebound and darn near ripped off Tiago Splitter’s arm pulling the ball away from him. Ibaka got fouled and went into one of his primal rages, strutting to halfcourt to bellow out to a roaring crowd.
Ibaka’s no stranger to energy and emotion, but with his performance tonight, it was only natural to wonder if he had a little something extra going. You know, what with Stephen Jackson out there, the guy who made a promise to go in Serg Abaka’s mouth.
“I respect your job, but I don’t want to talk about [that],” Ibaka said when asked if he was a little more motivated. “It was a great win for us and we needed that. It was about the win. Team win.”
Asked a little different way, Ibaka still didn’t bite.
“I just said, I respect your job but I don’t want to talk about it … I’m just trying to help my team get win.”
Either way, the only person that had anything in their mouth tonight was Jackson, and it was his own foot. Fueled by Ibaka, the Thunder shredded a strong defensive San Antonio team, most notably with an explosive third quarter where OKC outscored the Spurs 29-16. It was one of those defense-to-offense type of runs where the Thunder turned the Spurs over, forced long contested shots that became long rebounds/outlet passes and ran away with the game.
“You have to give Oklahoma props,” Jackson said. “They gave us an old fashioned butt whooping today.”
With the Spurs playing their seventh game in 10 days, Gregg Popovich saw enough of it I guess and decided to let his bench try and close in on the Thunder in the fourth. They cut it down to seven, but OKC had too much and finished it out well.
Popovich talked pregame about the Western Finals and what changed after Games 1 and 2 and he said basically the Thunder stole their identity and did it better. They shared, they made extra passes, they didn’t play in traffic and they knocked down open shots. On Monday, the Thunder did it again. It was a very Spurs-y performance by OKC, especially when you consider that for the first time in 12 games, Kevin Durant didn’t lead the Thunder in scoring. In fact, he only had the fourth highest output. Ibaka led with 25, Russell Westbrook had 22 and Kevin Martin had 20. Meanwhile, the Spurs’ top scorer finished with 14.
The way Durant didn’t force anything was impressive. He could’ve, and probably should’ve, looked at the box score to start the fourth quarter and saw Perk had taken three more shots than him and gone out and start chucking. But he continued to let the game come to him, continued to trust his teammates and just stayed in the flow.
“Me and Russell, they load up so much on us and make those other guys — K-Mart, Serge , Nick — they make those guys beat them,” KD said. “They do a great job of taking the main scorers out of the game, basically, and not let them get their average or have big nights on them. So that’s when you have to step up.”
Eleven straight, a 20-4 record, three games up on the Spurs in the loss column and evened at 1-1 in the season series. But this little chapter for the Thunder is complete. They now go on the road for 15 of their next 22 with big tests ahead like in Atlanta and Minnesota and Miami. The Thunder have come a long way since that first meeting. It’s still early though, and there’s still a lot to prove.
- Westbrook took an ugly spill in the second half, one of those where you say, “OK for real, this time he HAS to be hurt.” Except he got up holding his left wrist, shook his hand a bit, made two free throws, then made a left-handed layup on the next possession. Russell Westbrook, terminator.
- Westbrook had a brace on his left wrist after the game but said his wrist was fine. As if he’d say it wasn’t.
- Excellent tweet from @channeke5: “Sick Iballison (Serge/Collison) 14/23, 33 points, 27 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals.” Need a Sick Iballison shirt right now. Or a Nerge Collibaka if you prefer that.
- The Spurs doubled KD on basically every post touch he had. Most of the time it came from one of the bigs, as Tim Duncan had no issue leaving Perk.
- Ibaka’s line was pretty: 25 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks.
- Thabo went 0-5 from 3 tonight. Regression…?
- You gotta watch Wade Boggs grooving at the game tonight.
- For whatever reason, Eric Maynor doesn’t throw lobs any more. He had two excellent opportunities to do so tonight, once to Hasheem Thabeet, once to Ibaka. Instead, he fired passes way too hard at their heads. That’s the type of stuff that seems to be missing from Maynor. That incredible feel he had where he seemed to be playing in slow motion.
- It might be getting close to time to start talking about Westbrook’s shooting percentage. Another rough outing tonight (just 6-18).
- You know who ain’t bout dis life? Matt Bonner ain’t bout dis life.
- Two huge statistical edges for OKC tonight: Rebounding (49-37) and free throw attempts (30-21). And just 12 turnovers for the Thunder too.
- That Perk pose after his jumper.
- It has to be noted that yes, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard didn’t play. But Ginobili has been far from himself so far this season and while Leonard is a very nice player and a good defender to throw at Durant, I don’t think he changes the outcome or anything tonight.
- It’s the little things: At the end of the first quarter, the Thunder had possession with 26 seconds left. Scott Brooks was screaming “One! One!” as in one shot, but either the team didn’t hear him, or ignored him. Thabo hoisted a 3, which missed, the Spurs gained possession and Danny Green hit a 3 to finish the quarter. Basically, a free three points for the Spurs there on an extra possession they shouldn’t have had.
- Nick Collison went for eight points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes. And yes, it was pretty hard to wait this long to mention that.
- Kevin Martin is probably the least ready player to come in games there is. He’s got his shirt untucked, his shorts untied, he has to get his shoes clean — he basically spends the first two possessions he’s in getting dressed.
- Perk is just so slow getting off the floor to rebound. He boxes out well, but a few times Duncan was just able to get off the floor quicker than him and tap a rebound.
- I thought it was a really weak reaction by Thunder fans to Stephen Jackson. Little to no booing when he checked in. Either fans weren’t aware of the situation, or didn’t care. He should’ve had it laid on thick.
- Starting lineups never get old to me. It’s one thing that I just love about the NBA. As a kid, it was always one of my very favorite things about Bulls games. And watching the Thunder tonight, there’s just something about hearing, “No. 0, from U-C-L-A… Russ-ell WESTbrook,” that I absolutely love.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “Perk looked like my Uncle Willy at the bowling alley with the body English after that jumper!”
- Bonus BD Line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “Every time you say that ‘man-sized whatever’ I get hungry! Don’t know why! I think about a man-sized sandwich!”
Next up: At Atlanta Wednesday.