With four minutes left in the game, Kevin Durant was stuck on 27 points, and just 1-5 in the frame. And it looked like the fourth quarter Felix Felicis he had drank had finally worn off.
He was missing wide open midrange looks, shots he has absolutely devoured during this month. Any even remotely open, Durant wasn’t missing. But he’d come up short on two 12-footers, and then a third after finishing a backdoor lob from Jeremy Lamb. He now had 29, and not only was his 30-point streak in dire straights, but the Thunder’s own streak was up against it as they were hanging on to a 100-96 lead over the Spurs.
But that’s when The Slim Reaper came for the Spurs’ souls. A right wing pull-up 3 splashed to put the Thunder up seven, and lock Durant into his ninth consecutive 30-point game. Reggie Jackson set up Serge Ibaka for a dunk, but Tony Parker answered with a midrange jumper.
KD had another answer, this one an off balance, awkward launch from straightaway at the top of the key. Dagger planted, and twisted.
Durant finished with a mere 36 on 12-22 shooting, with seven rebounds and five assists (and 11 turnovers, more on that later), leading the Thunder to their fifth straight, four coming against Western playoff teams, a 3-0 record against the Spurs, wins on consecutive nights against the top two teams in the West, and the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference again. All, without Russell Westbrook, in case you’d forgotten.
But Durant’s brilliance tonight was more shrouded in his customary crunchtime closing role, instead of the dominant four-quarter performance that he’s been putting up lately. The reason? Reggie Jackson once again demolished the Spurs.
In three games against San Antonio this season, Jackson’s had games of 23 on 10-14 shooting, 21 on 8-14 and now tonight, 27 on 12-17, plus eight assists. At one point in the third, Durant became the best offensive decoy in NBA history as Jackson scored 11 straight for the Thunder. He finished at the rim. He hit midrange step-backs and pull-ups. He went 3-3 from 3. He had his total offensive package rolling, slicing and dicing through San Antonio’s defensive shell.
For whatever reason, the Spurs just don’t have an answer for Jackson. The previous two games, Jackson was in his bench role, coming in to do damage to San Antonio’s second unit while building momentum and feel for big moments later. Tonight, as a starter, Jackson’s job was to defend Tony Parker for large stretches of the game, and commandeer OKC’s offense. He handled it all beautifully, not turning the ball over once. As he split through Spurs defenders like they were traffic cones on a closed course, I had flashbacks to James Harden’s takeover against the Mavs in Game 4 two years ago. It was some other guy, one not named Russ or KD, making play after play after play in a big spot.
It’s amazing to look at where the Thunder have come in just five games. After losses to the Jazz and Nuggets, things looked desperately wrong, with people questioning anything and everything about the team. The mantra of “Just get Russ back” kept ringing out as the crutch to lean on, but in the present, watching that Thunder team was painful and quite frankly, no fun at all.
Now, there’s an incredible rhythm and flow to everything. The way Durant is owning games while seemingly barely touching them is the catalyst for it all, setting the tone for everyone around him to fit seamlessly in. And when he gets a little help from his friends, the Thunder, even with their All-Star point guard looking absolutely terrific in a suit on the bench, can do some pretty impressive things.
- OK, so KD had 11 turnovers, a career-high. What’s wrong with this guy? He had eight in the first half, and what it looked like to me was that he was trying a bit too hard to play setup man. He forced the pass a bit too much, eschewing open looks eight feet in to instead try and drop a look to Perk or Ibaka. I’m just guessing here, but I bet Durant wanted to prove a little something about his playmaking tonight on national TV as everyone talked about his prolific scoring. Like kind of a “oh yeah, well watch this” sort of thing.
- Maybe the most impressive play from Durant all night was his incredible recovery to block a Belinelli 3 in the fourth quarter. On a flare, Belinelli was WIDE open in the corner, but KD closed the gap instantaneously with his length.
- It’s amazing: With 2:58 the game went to commercial and showed Derek Fisher at the scoretable about to check in. And it didn’t even register with me that Derek Fisher was about to check in with 2:58 left in the fourth quarter. I guess I’m just exhausted by it at this point and I don’t even notice it. But why? Why take Lamb out? He just hit a big shot and is such a helpful rebounder. And if you want to sub Lamb, why isn’t it at least with Thabo?
- Theory: If I say something negative and dismissive to myself about a Fisher shot when he’s in the middle of taking it, it always goes in. This is absolute truth: On all three of Fisher’s 3-pointers tonight, I said some variation of “No no no” or “please don’t shoot that” as he let it fly. The one he missed, I was looking at my laptop and didn’t have a chance to say anything. My bad on that one, you guys.
- Jeff Van Gundy talked about KD encouraging his teammates while on the bench and how impressive that is. I still think one of the most incredible things KD’s done this season was against Denver when the Thunder were getting blown out, but was up on the bench encouraging and yelling for them. So much that he even got his with a tech.
- Ref Mike Callahan took a little ride on Derek Fisher the horsey. But as my little brother noted, Callahan probably just got stuck on Fish’s high butt.
- Reggie Jackson saying “keep-away, keep-away, hot potato!” That was fun.
- Scott Brooks to Heather Cox at the end of his sideline interview: “Good luck with Pop.”
- I feel like opposing teams are on to the fact refs love to call Steven Adams for fouls, so now they’re just intentionally launching themselves in the paint instead of going for rebounds.
- Adams: Seven boards in 14 minutes.
- After being whistled for just 14 fouls against the Blazers, OKC was hit for 25 tonight. San Antonio? Just 17.
- KD saying Manu Ginobili is going to “try and manipulate the refs” was a baller move. He should’ve said “Manupulate” though, but that would’ve been hard.
- Serge Ibaka finished with 14 and nine boards, but came up with five massive blocks. Great supporting game from him.
- Perry Jones did some things! Including a fourth quarter bucket!
- KD tweaked his right shoulder a bit going for a massive poster on Tim Duncan. He messed with it for a long time, grimacing. But he appeared to be just fine. Then again, we’re all gun shy with guys playing through injury with the whole Westbrook thing. So don’t plan on sleeping well tonight.
- Jeremy Lamb very quietly had six assists, tying his career-high. And while he went 4-11 for nine points, he hit some crucial fourth quarter shots, including a nasty rainbow step-back as the shot clock ran out.
- Why didn’t the Spurs foul down five with 38 seconds left? The Thunder ran clock, and Reggie Jackson ended the possession with an easy layup. If that was anyone other than Pop, he gets torched for that. Can you imagine if it were Mike Woodson or even Scott Brooks?
- I mean this in all sincerity: Tony Parker is going to hurt himself flopping so hard to the floor.
- So, Kawhi Leonard broke his finger on Steven Adams’ bicep. Because of course.
- Perk might’ve been feeling it a bit from his jumper last night, but he airballed one in the post, and barely caught iron about three steps in from that baseline spot tonight. Thunder fans were yelling “NO!” last night when he took it, but Spurs fans were probably screaming “YES DO IT DO IT!” when he did tonight.
- Thabo missing all three free throws after being fouls on a 3. C’mon man.
- OKC’s No. 1 in the league in opponent free throw percent. I’d probably have a hard time making one too if I had Perk yelling “DAT’S AUFF” every time I shot one. Kendrick Perkins: Supreme free throw defender.
- Kind of can’t believe the Thunder actually won this game.
Next up: At Boston on Friday