Officially, the Spurs won the game against the nemesis Thunder around 11 p.m. local time at the AT&T Center. In reality the outcome was decided as soon as the final buzzer sounded the night before at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, a humiliating come-from-ahead loss to a so-so Mavericks squad. Oklahoma City, playing without their most efficient scorer in Kevin Durant, their best interior defender in Serge Ibaka and even their best perimeter stopper in Andre Roberson, had no chance against a motivated Spurs squad as healthy and hungry as they've been all season.
To give you an idea, when Boris Diaw puts up 15 shots in 24:42, almost all of them inside the low post, against a cattle call of callow Thunder big men, it's going to be make for a happy locker room for the home side.
"Boris plays whenever he wants to play," joked Diaw's best friend and countryman Tony Parker afterward, but it's been striking how aggressively the enigmatic Land Walrus has been looking to score near the basket. He's taken at least seven shots now for eight consecutive games and has scored at least eight points in all of them for a bench badly in need of consistent production.
"It depends on the team, it depends on the way they play, if they are going to double-team, if they're going to send help or not, this team doesn't like to help much so we took advantage of that," explained Diaw about his rash of strong performances, but it can't be a coincidence that a string of so many opponents are all happening to play against the Spurs the same way. For whatever reason, he has more impetus to go at people rather than standing idle at the three-point line, where over 30 percent of his attempts had come from for most of the season. Only 21 of his past 107 shots have come from downtown, over the last 13 games.
Against the Thunder Diaw was quick to put his ample rear end to use, most noticeably against Enes Kanter and rookie Mitch McGary, backing them down, spinning around them or using the up-and-under. McGary in particular seemed to regard Diaw as one would a copy of War and Peace written in Chinese. "What am I supposed to do with this?"
It was Parker though who set the tone. He went right at Russell Westbrook, noted NBA scoring-leader, triple-double racker-upper, MVP candidate and all-around ray of sunshine from the opening tip, with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He was democratic in his carnage with three driving lay-ups and three long jumpers. Parker finished with a game-high 21 on a tidy 10-of-14 to go with six assists, six rebounds, and most importantly, no turnovers. More surprising than his statline, however, was his work in his own end against Westbrook, against whom Parker has struggled more conspicuously than any of his modern rivals. Gregg Popovich usually elects to start off with the traditional match-up before switching Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard onto Westbrook for the meat of the game, and he did give Parker some time against D.J. Augustin when he played alongside Westbrook, but Parker had the assignment for the lion's share of the first and third quarters and fared quite well.
Really the only portion of the game Westbrook --who finished 5-of-16 with 16 points, seven assists and four turnovers in 25:52 before taking a seat for good midway through the third quarter-- had any success was late in the first quarter when Popovich curiously paired Diaw with Matt Bonner. Aron Baynes was still out with a sprained ankle, but really Pop should've seen to it stagger Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter so at least one was on the floor against that frothing rage monster at all times.
Overall there isn't much to say or take away from the game. Nearly everyone in the home whites played well --even Patty Mills-- but that isn't news. It was the 14th consecutive game they've held a double-digit lead at some point of a game and the Spurs have had the league's best scoring margin in that stretch, even better than the Warriors. They moved the ball, played with pace and energy and paid attention to details for the most part on defense. The issue is that they've "only" gone 11-3 in those 14 games, blowing three of those aforementioned double-digit leads. The other 11 they won, they did so by 10 points or more.
"That consistency is what we are looking for and we have not gained that yet," confirmed Popovich. "We see that nights like this, or in Atlanta where we played the way that we need to play and hope to play, we are a pretty good basketball team. We just have not been consistent."
That was the buzzword in the room, with Parker and Manu Ginobili lamenting it as well, but I guess knowing that you're capable of greatness and wondering why you can't repeat it is better than having doubts about being able to play well at all. The Spurs took delightful advantage of every Thunder miscue and bout of over-aggressiveness and lit it up from the three-point line, sinking 13-of-21 in all, with even Duncan canning one from the corner, supposedly after making a bet with a friend.
The more interesting story is the Thunder, specifically what Scott Brooks hopes to accomplish with that defense. He's obviously been dealt a bad hand with the injuries, but not having Ibaka doesn't explain away a 44 point deficit and the worst loss in franchise history. I don't know if they're not calling out screens or whether Westbrook just moves too fast tor the warnings to register for him, but he was an absolute maniac out there, just wildly careening into one screen after another. It was as a twitch of Parker's eyebrow could get him to lunge 15 feet to the side. His wild gambling put the other perimeter defenders out of position time and again and the Spurs took advantage to swing the ball to one wide open shot after another.
Enes Kanter is another hopeless case inside. He has reignited his career playing with a marquee team and a talent like Westbrook who sucks up all of the opponent's attention, but in reality he's Brook Lopez with a couple more rebounds. Nobody is going to win anything with that guy anchoring a defense and it will be a grave mistake for Thunder GM Sam Presti to hand him a multi-year contract at eight figures per season.
You look up and down their roster and it's a team of designated hitters. Kanter, McGary, Anthony Morrow, Steve Novak, Jeremy Lamb and Dion Waiters are all unplayable defensively. Waiters offers horrendous shot selection to boot. Roberson can stay in front of people but he's a non-entity offensively. Kyle Singler and Steven Adams are decent in their own end but extremely limited as scorers. Westbrook hurts his own cause defensively and Durant, when he plays, falls asleep off the ball and wants no part of contact down low.
It makes my head hurt thinking about them. I simply don't understand what they're trying to do. The telltale sign the roster was constructed poorly is that Brooks played the same five guys all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter of a rout. That's a clear delineation of your labor force: "Here are the guys that are valuable to us, here are the others."
It's reminiscent of Mike D'Antoni's "Seven seconds or less," Suns and the great-grandchild of the Pat Riley "play seven, rotate six, trust five," philosophy, which is completely outdated in the modern NBA. When a coach treats half of his team in such a fashion, it stops being a team and becomes what we've seen out of the Thunder the last few years, a few great players and a collection of guys in sweats halfheartedly cheering them on. Good luck building a sustainable culture and demanding any degree of accountability with that.
On a brighter note, with the win the Spurs have now defeated all 29 other teams at least once this season --sadly just once in most cases-- a feat they haven't accomplished since 2005. It's a goofy bit of minutiae that doesn't mean anything, but no matter how the season ends, at least we can say that nobody had their number.
Your Three Stars:
3. Tim Duncan (96 pts)
2. Boris Diaw (33 pts)
1. Tony Parker (76 pts)
[Players receive 5 points for first star, 3 points for second star and 1 point for third star. The numbers in parentheses are their accumulated totals for the season.]