Game 30 Vs. Oklahoma City: Thunder 114, Spurs 106 Rec: 18-12 4th in Southwest, 7th in West Streak: L-1
And that, ladies and germs, was a lovely, thoroughly frustrating two-and-a-half hour display of one Russell Westbrook stuffing a big lump of coal down your stocking. The Spurs were out-hustled, out-executed, outworked, out-rebounded and definitely out-Westbrooked, and it led to a Christmas Day home loss for the second consecutive year.
"I don't think the score is indicative of how badly we were beaten tonight," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich afterward, and I doubt anyone dared to argue with him in the locker room afterward (though however one-sided that conversation was, let the record show it was the longest of the season as Pop took forever to get to us). "If you looked up at the score and if Danny (Green) hit the three at the end and it's a three point game, it would really send someone the wrong message. I thought they outplayed us in every facet of the game. When somebody retrieves 50 percent of their shots, you can't say that you're focused and playing competitively in any way, shape or form. When we add turnovers to that and missed assignments defensively... it's a pitiful performance."
In a game where once again the Spurs forgot to hit the snooze alarm for an afternoon start, the Thunder quickly made sure to let everyone at the AT&T Center know that they had no designs on cashing this one in just because Kevin Durant was unavailable, missing his fourth straight game with a sprained ankle. OKC roared out to a quick 17-8 lead while the crowd was still settling in, and the most galling aspect for the defense had to be that Westbrook actually started relatively slowly, with just five of the Thunder's 29 points in the first quarter and 1-of-8 from the field. After the sluggish start by the starters, Manu Ginobili rallied the reserves, playing the playmaker role just as he had in the win over the Clippers on Monday, when he finished with 10 assists. Against OKC Ginobili had seven dimes in the first quarter on his way to a season-high 13, the third-highest of his career, the first time in his career he's notched consecutive double-doubles (though he did it three times in a row once in the 2007 playoffs).
The Spurs got up by as much as five, 40-35, in the second quarter but once the starters checked in for the Thunder they quickly heated up, Westbrook in particular, and the Spurs had too many dry possessions, turning it over and forcing too many passes into Tiago Splitter, where OKC's trapping defense was laying in wait to ambush. The biggest problem by far, however, was the way they were getting demolished on the glass. Consider the fact that at half time, where the Spurs went in trailing 50-47, they had 12 defensive rebounds to their name while the Thunder had 13 offensive boards.
A part of it was that the Spurs had to play Matt Bonner far more than usual with Boris Diaw out, due to a combination of a 100-degree fever and a scheduled rest by Pop. Diaw had been the only Spur to play in every game so far this season and with the team on the first end of a back-to-back and just starting another brutal FIGASENI, it made sense to sit Diaw, especially when he wasn't feeling well. Bonner was hardly the only culprit however, as the whole team was soft on the glass in the first half from Tim Duncan, who just didn't have it today in this early start, to Splitter, to Aron Baynes, whomever.
Popovich decided to start Bonner in Splitter's stead in the second half and that move backfired early on as OKC raced out to a 71-60 lead. Again, the Spurs clawed back only when their reserves entered the game, the trio of Ginobili, Splitter and Cory Joseph, specifically, and with Westbrook and Steven Adams exiting for the Thunder. Splitter was fantastic in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 points and securing all the available defensive boards. San Antonio closed the quarter with a 17-5 run and had a 77-76 lead going into the fourth.
They led by four with 8:40 to go, but once Westbrook checked back into the game, the tide turned in the Thunder's favor for good. Every so often he has monster games like this, as we saw in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals last year, and today he was incredible, with 34 points (on 14-of-28), 11 assists and 5 steals, completely dominating a listless Tony Parker in the process, to the point where Popovich played Joseph more than Parker for the game. Westbrook manhandled, repeatedly poked and prodded and goosed both Parker and Joseph at every opportunity, bullying both of them mercilessly like during recess at elementary school. Joseph to his credit at least jostled back now and again, while Parker just wanted no part of it.
"The sad part is Tim Duncan comes out and plays every night and he can't find a group around him to consistently compete and execute," Popovich lamented. "It's got nothing to do with injuries or schedule or anything like that. It's the same mistakes over and over again and Tim's got to live with them the same way we do, the coaches, and it gets old. Tonight was a good example of that, the other team was more physical, more focused, they wanted the basketball game, and I think we floated around, as if we were entitled, so that was disappointing."
The thing is, Duncan was one of the guiltiest parties tonight (a team-worst -34 in an eight-point loss), just coming out flat for whatever reason. He seemed to tweak his knee late in the fourth and went out for a bit, but then returned to the game. Still, I would expect him to sit tomorrow and for the most part Pop's point is valid. The effort and consistency is not there with the group around Duncan, who got his Christmas goose handed to him by Adams today on both ends of the floor.
As one colleague suggested afterward, this could be a case of Pop throwing Duncan a bone after all the times of throwing him under the bus and questioning the team's effort in games even when Duncan himself wasn't to blame. This time he made sure to exclude Duncan even though it was one of his worst games of the year. There isn't any other suitable explanation, right?
Diaw's absence hurt, surely. You need a stretch four against the Thunder at all times to open up the paint against Serge Ibaka --who was also a force offensively tonight but lost defensively-- and Adams and you can't leave that job up to Bonner for too long because of his obvious limitations. Diaw also gives another viable post-up option against their switching defense and can pass from anywhere on the floor, lessening the play-making burden on Ginobili and Parker. In the 16:12 Bonner sat tonight, the Spurs were outscored by 17.
In the end though, the game was further proof that despite their record the Thunder remain the biggest threat to the Spurs chances of repeating. If they can do this to the Spurs on the road without Durant, imagine what they're capable of with him. The length and athleticism of Ibaka and Adams give them problems inside, Durant is an impossible cover when he's on, and Westbrook so thoroughly owns Parker at this point that Kawhi Leonard will pretty much have to be matched up on him the entire time, as it's the only way to prevent him from getting to the paint all night.
Scott Brooks hardly played Kendrick Perkins at all today and Nick Collison never got off the bench. We don't have Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher to kick around anymore either, as they've been replaced by competent people like Anthony Morrow and Perry Jones. The world is a frightening place indeed when Scooter Brooks isn't playing terrible players on purpose anymore. He was even responsible with Westbrook's minutes, limiting him to 34:40, even without Durant, and who knows, maybe Westbrook is even taking to some coaching, as he tossed up just one three-point attempt today. If it ever sinks in for him that he should never shoot outside of 15-feet, look out.
So another Christmas ruined by the Grinch for the Spurs. At least we can say that it worked out okay in the end when it happened last year, right?
Your Three Stars:
3. Matt Bonner (7 pts)
2. Tiago Splitter (4 pts)
1. Manu Ginobili (34 pts)