Despite holding Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to a combined 12 of 39 from the field (and only seven free-throw attempts), the San Antonio Spurs fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 94-88, on Wednesday night. With the loss, the good guys dropped to 13-2 on the year and will have to start a new winning streak as they watch this one end at 11.
The game began well for San Antonio, who went up 21-19 through 12 minutes while overcoming a horrid shooting start. The team went 1 for 10 from long range in the opening period, but remained active enough on the offensive glass and in the paint to retain the lead into the second quarter.
Defensively the Spurs forced the Thunder's two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, into difficult outside shots on nearly every possession. When they weren't settling for jumpers they were able to count on block-specialist (and noble Wookie) Serge Ibaka, who picked up some of the slack with jumpshots and put-backs. Ibaka was also a menace on the defensive end all night, turning away seemingly every shot around the rim.
The two benches faced off in the second quarter. The Spurs' second unit has looked strong to start the season, but struggled against the young and still-untested (the prehistoric Derek Fisher notwithstanding) Thunder guys. Aside from a couple of buckets by Boris Diaw, the Spurs reserves were able to muster very little in the first half, giving up a lead that San Antonio only got back once the starters came back in.
The aptly-named Thunder are indeed a storm when Durant and Westbrook are on the floor at the same time, driving, pushing the ball in transition, and generally testing the integrity of their opponent's team defense. But like a storm they can be weathered, allowing for spot moments while the two are resting that the opposing team needs to capitalize on. That wasn't the case tonight, as it was the Thunder's bench play that kept them in the game in the second quarter.
OKC received a big push from backup point guard Reggie Jackson and second-year player Jeremy Lamb. Lamb, who's looking to prove that he's more than the remaining flotsam from the James Harden trade, showcased his improved jumper, going 4 for 5 from the field in the quarter. His lengthy wingspan makes his shot difficult to defend, while also giving the impression that he doesn't quite know what to do with his elbows when running the floor.
In the third quarter the Thunder's stars finally reeled off enough plays to regain the lead and pull away. Serge Ibaka scored from all over, Russell Westbrook was able to create for his teammates and, once Durant slammed it home on a fast break, the Spurs quickly found themselves down 59-52 midway through the period.
Once the teams turned to their benches, it was Reggie Jackson who once again came up big, helping the Thunder extend their lead to double digits. With Patty Mills defending him, Jackson had no trouble getting into the lane and scored at will on his way to a career-high 23 points. Eventually Pop put Danny Green on him, but by then the damage had been done.
In the fourth it was more of the same, as San Antonio was only able to get as close as 76-79 before the Thunder went on another run. The Spurs continued to battle, but costly turnovers kept them from putting together a major run of their own.
The play that finally put the game out of reach was aptly the one that got Durant some of his first free throws of the game. Facing up against Leonard, he turned to his patented rip move, drawing the foul on Kawhi and allowing him to make it a nine-point game with less than two minutes to go. From then Oklahoma City was able to hold on.
- Serge Ibaka had five blocks but affected at least twice as many shots. He continues to be a thorn in the Spurs' side.
- Kawhi played solid defense on the all-world Durant while also making him work on the other end of the floor. Poor shooting night aside, you have to like what you saw out of him leading up to the next matchup with OKC.
- Timmy, who's already been struggling to start the year, seemed overmatched by Ibaka for most of the game. He finished 5 of 14 from the field, with 11 points and 8 rebounds.
- Derek Fisher, who once upon a time scored a heart-breaking two points in the longest 0.4 seconds in Spurs history, reeled off four personal fouls in under four minutes of play.
- Tony Parker had 16 and 7, but on only 6 of 16 shooting from the field.
- The Spurs had some gutsy plays at the end of the game. Ginobili had an incredible steal and save with just over two minutes to go, which helped put the Spurs within 7 once again.
Despite the loss, the team has plenty to be thankful for heading into the holidays: a still-best-in-the-West (thanks Phoenix) 13-2 record, good health, and a potential bounce-back game in Orlando on Friday.