Perhaps it isn’t good for the Spurs to get out to a big lead early. This team just seems to play with a lot more focus when they’re down, and when their great clutch performers are able to take over the game when it’s on the line. The Spurs looked lifeless and flat for much of the game falling down by 21 points in the third quarter, but late in the quarter, Manu Ginobili used his indomitable competitive nature to bring his team back from the brink. They slowly cut into the Thunder lead, until with 4:28 left, the crafty Argentine somehow executed a perfect pass to a wide-open Patty Mills at the three point line while falling down. Mills sank the shot, tying the game at 85.
Feeding off Manu’s energy, the rest of the Spurs squad finished off the comeback. LaMarcus Aldridge was making key defensive stops and hitting his shots, Kawhi Leonard broke out of his shooting slump to make key plays late.
The game started with the Spurs looking exactly how they looked late in the game against the Warriors on Wednesday. In a word, they were discombobulated. They couldn’t hit shots or even grab a rebound. The Thunder rushed out to a 14-3 lead halfway through the quarter and it looked like the Spurs might not even score in double digits by the end of the first 12 minutes. Pau Gasol entered the game late in the quarter and provided a little bit of scoring punch, and the Spurs were only down 25-16 after one quarter. It could have been much worse, but the Thunder were also turning over the ball and missing their shots.
The second quarter was pretty bad for the guys in Silver and Black as the Thunder started to hit their stride, with Russell Westbrook hitting consecutive three-point shots while being guarded by Tony Parker to push their lead to 43-26. The Spurs went on a little bit of a run late, but a slew of missed free throws hindered the comeback. Nevertheless, the Spurs had cut the lead to just 10 points with 17 seconds left, but Westbrook baited Patty Mills into a ill-advised foul which netted him 3 free throws to put the Thunder up 54-41 going into the locker room.
It seemed like the Spurs might be poised for third-quarter comeback, but the Thunder were the more aggressive team as the game reconvened. Missed defensive rotations plagued the Spurs as Westbrook’s penetrations into the lane led to open layups for Steven Adams and Domantas Sabonis. A pair of free throws from Adams put the Thunder up 69-48 halfway through the quarter, and it seemed like the lead was becoming insurmountable.
But when you have a Manu on your side, insurmountable isn’t anything. Manu worked himself open for a three point shot and the Spurs began to show some life. The Spurs started to move better on offense, and before you knew it, the Spurs were on a 20-2 run and had brought the lead down to just three points with just over a minute left in the third. The Thunder were able to fight back with baskets from Jerami Grant and Sabonis, but after a buzzer beater three-point shot from Patty Mills, the Thunder led by just 5 points, 76-71.
The Thunder were able to recover a bit of their lead early in the fourth, as the Spurs uncharacteristically began to turn over the ball leading to easy Thunder points. A Victor Oladipo steal and breakaway dunk led to an early timeout by Coach Pop. The Thunder were able to keep the Spurs at bay, maintaining a 5 to 7 point lead as the teams traded baskets for most of the quarter. But Manu had a different idea, and he took over the game and made the plays that the team needed to get to a win.
He made a crazy off-balance drive to cut the lead to three with 5:26 left, and then he somehow while falling down got the ball to a wide-open Patty Mills to tie the game with 4:28 left. Westbrook did his part to keep the Thunder in the game, driving to the basket to draw fouls or hitting the open man when he was stopped. But the Spurs started to play flawlessly, hitting their free throws and not missing open shot as they had all game long. For the first time in the game, the Spurs led 94-93 with 56 seconds left when LaMarcus Aldridge hit his second free throw. But Steven Adams put the Thunder back in front with a dunk. Pau Gasol, with his dangerous shooting, drew two Thunder defenders and he found Aldridge under the basket for an easy dunk to put the Spurs up by one with just 20 seconds left. This turned out to be all the Spurs needed, as LaMarcus made a key play on the other end, blocking Westbrook’s attempt to put the Thunder back up. Kawhi grabbed the rebound, taking it all the way to the bucket, where he finished over Doug McDermott to put the game out of reach.
- Russell Westbrook stuffed the stat sheet and had another triple double, but his turnovers and poor shot selection were a big reason why the Spurs still had a shot to win the game late. Is MVP about collecting eye-popping stat lines, or helping your team win games? I guess we’re about to find out. Actually, that’s a little unfair to Russell, because he definitely makes the Thunder better with his aggressive play. But sometimes I wonder how much better he could be if his uncontrolled aggression was more under control. I don’t think we’ll ever know.
- Hubie Brown is pretty great as a commentator. I always appreciate his knowledge of the game. He called out when the Spurs went into a zone defense in the third quarter, which led to a key defensive stop.
- The Thunder’s superior rebounding was a huge factor in them building a huge lead, but the Spurs stepped up their effort late and secured the last four rebounds of the game, sealing the win.
- The Spurs free throw shooting is a cause for concern, but during the comeback, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol hit theirs to put the Spurs ahead. Kawhi missed one late on the last possession, but that may have been an intentional miss to run out the last .6 seconds.
- I don’t know why the Thunder fouled Kawhi with less than a second left in the game down by four points, but it helped the Spurs get to 100 points. Before replay, the referees would have just let the clock run out, but instead we had a delay while they determined the time left and then Leonard had to shoot free throws for the last meaningless point. The refs ought to be able to use their judgement and just let those go.
- I hardly mentioned Kawhi Leonard in the recap, but he was great, with 28 points, also making key blocks and stops when the Spurs needed them.
- If you only lead for 37 seconds, it’s best to do it at the end of the game.
- I think this was the pivotal play for the Spurs comeback.
Manu & Patty Thrills tie it up! pic.twitter.com/FJm0RRY4cG— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 1, 2017
This is a little song about processing widgets and earning credits, and how rewarding it is.
The Spurs now have a 58-17 record and can finish no worst than second place in the Western Conference. They aren’t mathematically eliminated from finishing first, but it seems unlikely that the Warriors will lose three more times this season. It’s looking like they’re going to be facing the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round which is going to be an exciting and challenging series for the Silver and Black.
But before the playoffs start, they have 7 more regular season games, starting with a Sunday afternoon game at 2:30 pm in the AT&T Center against the Utah Jazz. There are still some tickets available with a special deal for PTR members. I’ll be at the game, along with some other PTR writers, and if you’re going, let’s meet up and hang out. If you’re on Twitter, tweet at me, or post suggestions in the comments.