To the Thunder, Thursday’s win over the Spurs didn’t do anything but add another game to the win column. To everyone else, it did a whole lot more.
First, the obvious part: The Thunder now control their own destiny for the top seed in the West. Now the other part: The Thunder beat a top four team for the first time in almost two months. Seems like a nice little shot of confidence, right?
“We never lost confidence, that’s one thing,” said Kevin Durant. “We lost a few buzzer-beaters to some of these teams. I know we lost to Denver, we lost to San Antonio at their place, but we never lose confidence man. It’s the regular season. We just want to continue to get better and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
And coming off a four-day layoff, the Thunder looked like a rested, ready and extremely confident group. They started hot turning defense into easy points. They didn’t turn the ball over and didn’t allow the Spurs an offensive rebound in the first quarter. The executed in the half court, took good shots and defended the Spurs’ pick-and-roll well.
And sparked by a barrage of 3s by Derek Fisher, they opened things up in the late first and early second quarter, putting the Spurs in a hole that they couldn’t ever dig out of. The Thunder led by as many as 20 in the second half, and playing at home in front of one of the most energetic crowds of the season, they were playing at that kind of level that makes you say, “Yeah, these guys can be pretty darn good.”
As the Spurs tend to do though, they methodically trimmed that lead to a manageable number late in the third, and eventually worked it down to three in the fourth. And while a blowout would’ve looked nice, I think the game tightening up was actually a good thing. It forced the Thunder to sort things out on the fly, to get right, to get things back together. More pressure to execute, more pressure to defend and do the little things. There was no coasting to the finish line — the Thunder had to shut the door themselves.
The Spurs had it 87-84 with 5:50 left, and 89-86 with 4:41 left. But over that final 4:41, the Thunder closed on an 11-2 run, punctuated by a dagger Durant 3, a splendidly executed where KD fed Serge Ibaka for a layup, and then a Russell Westbrook jumper that closed the book. The Thunder defended the halfcourt with a lot of urgency, took away second chances, and ran their stuff to near perfection on the other end. The Thunder were put in a situation where they’ve had problems this season, but they responded wonderfully.
“I liked our poise, the way we stayed composed, withstood the runs they were making and made plays,” Durant said, basically summarizing this recap in 18 words.
Three big thoughts to wrap this thing up:
1) Derek Fisher was fantastic. Credit where credit is due. This doesn’t validate the insanity of playing him nightly for 15 minutes, but there’s no doubt Fisher was a massive difference maker. He hit four 3s in the first half, hit a big stabilizing 3-ball in the fourth, finished a runner in the lane, and even played quality handsy defense. He was great. I’m just going to leave it at that.
2) That was the kind of Serge Ibaka that can be a postseason X-factor. His final line was solid — 11 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks — but his presence was noticeable. He was everywhere contesting shots, he eliminated Tiago Splitter’s impact and he involved himself in OKC’s offense. If that kind of Ibaka shows up 16 times, the Thunder might raise a banner.
3) I think the Thunder showed a little something. I’ve never thought the Thunder were really slipping or showing signs of weakness necessarily, but a loss tonight would’ve been hard to ignore. And not that a single win changes anything, but I do think the Thunder showed what they can be when they’re really keyed up and locked in. The Spurs weren’t ready for the Thunder to start this game, and they never could catch up to OKC’s intensity.
The Thunder has that old familiar look of just outclassing a really, really good team. It’s funny: When the Spurs execute in the halfcourt and space the floor beautifully, it has that look of “how do you guard that, that’s not fair” to it. And while it’s not always as pretty for the Thunder, they can be more unfair than anyone when Westbrook and Durant are scoring, and they get help. The bench was an asset, Ibaka was tremendous, the defense was solid and shots dropped.
When all that adds up, the Thunder are the best team in the West. It’s still a question of being able to piece that together consistently, and then figure out ways to get it done when it doesn’t come together so well, but tonight these guys showed there’s still something there when they really want it to be. Have faith.
- Tony Parker only played 25 minutes and sat the entire fourth quarter. He was noticeably limping in the second half, so Gregg Popovich pulled him and played Nando de Colo instead. Said Pop: “His leg was bothering him and he just couldn’t go. I wish he had told me before the game. When he started out, it looked like he had no energy to start the game and then as he went, he looked to me like he was limping. And then to start the second half we saw him coming across halfcourt actually limping one time and that’s when we pulled him and I said to him, ‘Tony, you got to stop.’ So, we’ll just figure out what it is, but he just couldn’t go.”
- Can I just take a minute to salute Kawhi Leonard for being a fantastic player? Awesome game from him. He’s a Spurs player to really fear. I feel like he could be a series-changer.
- Nick Collison on if this win helps their confidence: “Yeah I think so. Late in the year, you want to be playing well and any time you can get a win over a playoff team, it’s big for your confidence. It’s not going to win us any game in the future, but all those things help.”
- So, Derek Fisher again. He hit four 3s in what felt like 10 seconds. And then appropriately heat-checked on a really deep one that just missed, hitting back iron.
- I bet Jeremy Lamb would’ve made that fifth one though. And probably wouldn’t have hit rim on the first four either.
- Seriously though, Fisher was great.
- Westbrook and Durant were terrific. Durant went for 25-9-6, Westbrook 27-7-7. As Tom Haberstroh wrote today, the Thunder are good enough to beat anyone in the NBA when those two guys play like that, James Harden or not.
- Tim Duncan was really good, but Perk had some really excellent defensive possessions against him, especially in the second half. Perk picked up two really ticky-tack fouls in the first three minutes and got sat down, but came back in the second half and never let Duncan get anything easy on the block, or from midrange.
- Good game, Nick Collison.
- An odd game for the Thunder in the sense that they didn’t abuse their opponent from the free throw line. Just 13 free throws for OKC, about 14 under their average. The foul count finished 10 for the Spurs, 17 for the Thunder. But about halfway through the fourth, San Antonio had only been called for six fouls, which is kind of incredible.
- And really, I didn’t think the officials were missing much either. There were a few calls that went against OKC and a couple iffy no-calls, but nothing egregious. The Spurs just didn’t foul.
- One more time about KD’s pass to Ibaka for that late layup. Just a brilliant decision by Durant. That’s the kind of trust that makes Miami so good. That’s a big time play right there.
- I wish I wasn’t going to mention this, but Fisher made such a dumb decision to end the third. With Scott Brooks screaming for one shot to finish the quarter, Fisher jacked a corner 3 with 10 seconds on the clock, which then turned into a Gary Neal jumper on the other end at the buzzer. Instead of at least an eight-point lead, it was six, just because of Fisher’s shot. #VeteranLeadership #Experience
- The halfcourt execution coming right out of halftime was just outstanding. A little misdirection play, KD drove and found Thabo in the corner who canned a 3. Perfect start to the second half.
- Ibaka creating off the dribble and dishing to Thabo? What?
- That play where Danny Green blocked Perk. It took Perk roughly six and a half minutes to take a dribble and get off the floor. I think an usher from Loud City could’ve run down and swatted that thing.
- Thabo just seems to have a knack for making things happen against the Spurs.
- Kevin Martin was non-existent. Just two points on 1-6 shooting. But it didn’t cost OKC at all.
- William H. Macy was in the house tonight.
- More shocking: That Fisher hit four 3s in the first half, or that he didn’t have a toe on the line for a single one of them? OK, I’m done now.
- One more: Fisher made his first basket at The Peake since March 15 tonight. He went three games, and 0-11, between made buckets at home.
- Unicorn guy was sitting directly across from me and had me completely distracted the entire game.
- Hinder performed at halftime. That’s the joke.
- Pop pregame was asked if he thought the Thunder were better, the same or maybe worse without Harden. His answer: “I’m not going to evaluate if they’re better or worse or whatever. They’re a championship caliber team, and they’re capable of winning a championship. That’s what matters.”
- KD played 45 minutes tonight, play against the Pacers in about 16 hours.
Next up: At Indiana Friday night.