1st in Southwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference Streak: L-1
You knew the Spurs would run out of miracles eventually. It’s just common sense that you can’t fall behind by double-digits game after game after game and expect to win. If it was easy, more teams would do it. It’s still annoying as all heck though that the streak had to end to the Thunder —always the blasted Thunder— and for the Spurs to lay another egg at Chesapeake Arena, which might as well be in Transylvania for how much suckage we’ve borne witness to over the years.
I don’t want to lay blame solely on the schedule here, although it was San Antonio’s sixth game in nine nights. And you don’t need me to point out that they missed Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker quite a bit. Frankly those excuses would carry more weight if the Spurs lost the game in a different fashion than the way they lose every game they play against the Thunder, with OKC forever playing volleyball at the rim, dominating the paint, always making the Spurs look older, slower and gravity-bound.
The dumb narrative about the game is going to be that Russell Westbrook outplayed Kawhi Leonard in their mano-a-mano duel for the MVP, but that didn’t have much to do with anything. Sure, Westbrook registered the first triple-double of his career against the Spurs, but he also made just 7-of-21 shots. You want to do cartwheels because he came up with 13 rebounds in a rock-fight of a game where the two teams combined to miss nearly 100 shots between them, go right ahead. Leonard wasn’t any better, mind you, but he was having a “C-” kind of night and keeping the exhausted Spurs within hailing distance.
As it turned out, the biggest impact Westbrook had on the win was on one of those proverbial “didn’t show up in the box-score” plays. He inadvertently elbowed Leonard in the head late in the third quarter during a drive to the basket. The knock on the noggin was serious enough for Leonard to be examined by the trainer and Gregg Popovich sat him the rest of the way as a precautionary measure. With the other playmakers already out, the result was decided.
The fourth quarter was like that Simpsons episode Homer pitched to the writers of “Itchy & Scratchy.” Even when Kawhi wasn’t on the bench much less the floor all any of us were wondering was “Where’s Kawhi?” Nothing going on on the court mattered at all.
So yeah, the Spurs kind of hung around for a while, and then, ironically enough, things started slipping away from them early in the second quarter with Westbrook on the bench. Arvydas Sabonis’ kid crammed one on Dewayne Dedmon, and then Doug McBuckets got a couple of jumpers to drop and the deficit ballooned to 12. From there, the Spurs never could get closer than five.
As with most of their, ugh, memorable games with the Thunder over the years, OKC’s offense got the hype, even though they didn’t do anything at all extraordinary. When the Spurs lose to these guys, more often than not the problem is they can’t throw it into the ocean. Guys accustomed to getting open looks see onrushing hands in their mugs, the drivers find the lane too crowded to verge into and the bigs suddenly don’t look as big.
In other words, the Spurs couldn’t win again in a game where Leonard wasn’t Superman, the way they did against the lowly Kings on Wednesday. LaMarcus Aldridge had a meh 17 and 6, Pau Gasol added 18 off the bench, but there just wasn’t any support from the perimeter guys. 24 points from the back-court isn’t going to work very often. It seemed rather odd, for example, that Danny Green only took five shots and Patty Mills took seven. Popovich protected Dejounte Murray in the Westbrook match-up as best he could, letting other people guard the superduperstar, but even then the 20-year-old rookie was unable to provide much help offensively.
All in all, it wasn’t a very enjoyable way to spend a Thursday night, and I’m kind of glad we only get 20-25 of these every year. The Spurs have a way of giving us one of these games —especially on national TV— whenever people start suggesting that they might be the best squad in the league, just to throw everyone off their scent again for another week or two. Still, it warrants mentioning that as hot as they’ve been and as close as they are to Warriors, their 50-14 record is four games worse than it was at this point last year.
Are these Spurs four games worse than last year’s edition, the one that featured Tim Duncan on zero legs and no Gasol, no Dedmon, no Murray, no Davis Bertans? That doesn’t sound right, especially with Leonard even better this season, yet it’s so. Tonight’s probably not the time to ponder such a macro-scale question. All we can say for now is that both the 2015-16 Spurs and these Spurs continue to find OKC irksome. Future Spurs teams probably will too, and I’ll keep grumbling about it like a dummy.
If Leonard turns out to be okay and the Spurs look more like themselves on Saturday then this game will quickly be deleted from the mental DVR. However, if a through exam back home reveals something more dire and lingering... well it’ll just be another reason to remember Oklahoma City less than fondly when we already have plenty.
Up Next: Saturday, Vs. Golden State Warriors (52-12)
While the health of the Spurs’ small-forward is up in the air, that’s not the case with Kevin Durant (remember him?) on the Warriors. He’ll continue to be out, with a sprained MCL of his left knee and a bone bruise of his left tibia. The Dubs have struggled a smidge without him, losing three of five, including their first two-game losing streak since 2015. Boston thrashed them —at Oracle Arena no less— on Wednesday in their most recent game. You might recall Golden State suffered another rather lopsided loss at home in the season opener. Leonard had 35 in that one, Aldridge added 26 and Jonathon Simmons chipped in with a career-high 20. The Warriors have had their own hellish schedule to deal with of late, a five-game East Coast road trip, a return home for just the one with Boston and then back on the plane for a back-to-back at Minnesota and then the Spurs. They’re on fumes, their shooters don’t have their legs underneath them on threes and Steve Kerr has hinted he may rest some people for the Timberwolves game. That San Antonio dropped this one to the Thunder may may that decision even easier for him.