Any rational Spurs fan or blogger should have known that without Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker; the San Antonio Spurs had no real chance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night.
It's not a big deal though, right? It's only one game out of 82, and the Spurs had already locked up the 2-seed in the Western Conference playoff race. What's so bad about lobbing one game up to the opposition in favor of resting the team's best players?
We can have that mentality. As much as we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we have no real association with the team. Most of us don't personally know the guys playing for our city. When they lose, other than having a bad mood for the next day or two, or losing bragging rights over a friend, it doesn't really affect us.
Players, though, cannot have that laissez faire attitude when their teammates are out. They can't just sit back and say "Well, our defensive anchor and leading scorers aren't playing today, so I guess we're just going to lose, huh?" Because they're professionals, they still have to go out and perform to the best of their abilities, even if the circumstances aren't ideal.
The stand-ins of the Spurs did just that against the Thunder. They fought, scratched, and clawed their way up to a 9-point lead in the first half. The lead was built by being tough in the lane on defense, working the glass relentlessly, and taking advantage of Oklahoma City's turnovers. Eventually the Thunder would win in a blowout, but that's not the point here. It's that San Antonio showed heart, played with max effort, and tried to rally itself to a win.
While everyone that played for the Spurs against OKC showed heart and gave their best effort, there is no player that embodies that trait more than 13th-year NBA veteran David West.
For his entire career, West has played with a level of tenacity and toughness that few in the NBA can rival, and he gives the Spurs an element they haven't had since Stephen Jackson.
Like Jackson in 2003 and 2011 (even though SA didn't win a title that year), and Mario Elie in 1999, West brings an level of inttensity and emotion rarely seen from the usually calm, almost robotic Spurs.
It's not necessary to the Spurs' process. San Antonio has proven time and time again that they're far from "soft", and can win championships without a fiery display of emotions. But West gives them an extra edge, another option they can go to if the usual isn't working for them.
In an NBA where Draymond Green's intensity and IQ at the forward position can be so dangerous for the Golden State Warriors; and where the elite athleticism of the Thunder has gotten the best of the Spurs before, that extra option is not a bad one to have.
Throw West in against the Warriors or Thunder, and you'll have someone who won't be intimidated and will be eager to bang with them.
As West showed on Saturday, he is relentless on the boards. If he's not snatching them up himself, then he's back-tipping balls to guards on the perimeter. He thrives mainly on open mid-range jumpers, but can also be an offensive hub posting up on the block for stretches. Defensively, he keeps his man from scoring, and teammates draw strength from his constant energy.
David West didn't keep San Antonio's heart beating single-handedly, but he was the catalyst. And when the Spurs are playing in big moments as the season progresses and the playoffs start, you better believe he'll be ready when needed.
David West - 17 points on 7-16 from the field, 6 boards, 3 assists, and 1 block
For as much energy as he brings with his defense and rebounding, the most impressive thing about West might be how good he still is offensively. He might not be able to carry teams for entire games like he used to, but he doesn't miss open jumpers, and can still score out of the post.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
60.5: The combined shooting percentage for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The dynamic duo shot 23-38 from the floor, and as a result, they scored over half of Oklahoma City's points.
19: 2nd-chance points for the Spurs. When you have guys like West and Boban Marjanovic on the floor, you know they're going to crash the offensive boards. They combined for 7, and created opportunities for others to get in on the boards as well. San Antonio took advantage of these second chances, and built a good lead in the 1st half up because of them.
17: Points for Jonathon Simmons. A good portion of his points came after the game was already decided and the Thunder's defense wasn't giving great effort, but Simmons put his athleticism on full display.
- Enes Kanter absolutely ripped the Spurs to shreds in this game. He went for 20 points and 10 boards in just 21 minutes of action, and earned his 3rd straight double-double against San Antonio. Kanter has certainly proven his worth as a member of the Thunder this year, and has built a strong campaign for the 6th Man award. He works tirelessly on the offensive glass (as evidenced by the 6 offensive rebounds he racked up vs. SA), and he knows what to do when he gets the ball in his hands. Kanter's athleticism gives him a special edge versus a team like the Spurs, who have great size, but can't jump as high, or get off the ground as quickly as he can. He can still be taken advantage of in pick-and-roll, but putting a guy like Serge Ibaka with him helps to mitigate damage. If these two squads meet in the playoffs, Kanter will certainly create problems for San Antonio.
- Again, the Spurs performed pretty admirably. They held their own in the first half, and even built up a healthy lead through their ability to take advantage of offensive boards and Oklahoma City turnovers. However, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are too good to lose to San Antonio's leftovers. You just knew at some point that they'd blow the doors off of the building, and that's exactly what they did in the second half.
- Boban dunked angrily, and it was awesome. Boban is the best.
GOT IT! pic.twitter.com/WsOg3c3vse— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 27, 2016