If adversity builds character then the Spurs may want to remember the first 42 games of the season. With 32 wins and a four game lead in the Southwest Division, San Antonio is the best team who hasn’t been able to beat the better teams.
That trend continued on Wednesday, Jan. 22, when the Oklahoma City Thunder (33-10) defeated the Spurs (32-9) 111-105 for a second time this season at the AT&T Center and third straight time against them overall.
Thunder All-Star and MVP candidate Kevin Durant had 36 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The game marked Durant’s ninth straight game with at least 30 points.
The Spurs are now 1-9 against what some call the elite teams (Thunder, Blazers, Rockets, Clippers, and Pacers) that they have played so far. The only win was over a Clippers team playing without All-Star Chris Paul.
Spurs Head Coach Greg Popovich seemed practical after the game when discussing the teams approach despite the startling record.
“Just go to the next game,” he said. “That’s all that is important is the next game. You just keep playing and you get ready for the playoffs.”
The Spurs stayed in the game on the back of Tony Parker who scored a season-high 37 points. But San Antonio lost starting forward Kawhi Leonard late in the second quarter to a hand injury. Leonard was being heavily relied upon to guard Durant, and without him the Spurs had to use a combination of Corey Joseph, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw to defend him.
“We are dropping like flies right now,” said Tim Duncan, who notched his 16th double-double this season with 14 points and 13 rebounds. “Losing Kawhi was huge in a game like tonight, but other guys stepped up…but hopefully the guys we have down right now can get healthy and get back out there.”
Both the Thunder and Spurs are without some key players. Russell Westbrook is still out with a right knee injury for Oklahoma City, while Danny Green (fractured left index finger) and Tiago Splitter (sprained right shoulder) aren’t expected back for a few more weeks for San Antonio.
That didn’t stop either team from finding help where needed. Thunder guard Reggie Jackson scored 27 points to go with his eight assists, while Diaw, Ginobili and Patty Mills combined for 37 points off the bench for the Spurs.
“He’s really improved a lot through the three years,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said of Jackson’s performance. “Give him a lot of credit. He continues to work with our coaches. He wants to get better every night. He has had great games against the Spurs.”
Jackson’s 13 points in the fourth quarter combined with Durant’s nine points helped the Thunder outscore the Spurs 35-30. Both teams shot over 60 percent in the final period. Parker tried his best to keep the Spurs in the game with 12 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting.
“(Kevin) Durant hit some big shots. He hit some big three’s down the stretch and it just got away from us,” Duncan said of the fourth quarter. “Offensively Tony (Parker) was great but he needed some help for a little while, we just did not get it to him.”
The Thunder came out streaking to start the game with a 6-0 run highlighted by a steal by Jackson that lead to a Durant fast break dunk. The Spurs finally got on the board on a Marco Belinelli layup, followed by a Leonard 3–pointer that cut the lead to one point.
But the Thunder got hot again and went on an 8-2 run in a two minute span, and later in the first, Serge Ibaka hit a jumper that gave the Thunder their first double-digit lead of the game at 19-9.
With just over a minute left in the first, Parker took over scoring seven straight points for the Spurs to help cut the lead to 30-24. Durant was 4-for-5 shooting with 10 points and four assists and Jackson added seven points on 3-for 3 shooting in the quarter.
The defensive woes of the Spurs were exploited by a Thunder team who shot 65 percent in the quarter.
The Spurs corrected some of those issues in the second quarter, holding the Thunder to 25 points on 9-of-22 shooting and forcing seven turnovers for 12 points. Down 43-40 at the 5:50 mark, a Durant turnover lead to a Diaw 3 to tie the game, and he would hit another one about a minute later to give the Spurs their first lead of the game.
But the Thunder kept answering. Down 49-47, Durant hit a pair of free throws and Jackson hit a 3 that put the Spurs behind again. Durant would score once more on a jumper that was a no call when he made contact with Ginobili. That lead to a Popovich technical foul and Durant hit the free throw to give the Thunder a 55-53 lead at the half.
Durant finished the half with 17 points and Parker matched him with 17 points of his own, including a 6-for-6 effort from the free throw line.
The Spurs head out on a three-game road trip, starting with the Atlanta Hawks (22-19) on Friday, followed by a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals with the Miami Heat (30-12) on a nationally televised game on Sunday, and ending with the third meeting this season with the Houston Rockets (29-15) on Tuesday.