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Tony Parker’s clutch buckets late help Spurs take down the Thunder

Nov 2, 2012, 1:23 AM EDT

Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka

This was a game the Thunder could have won, and watching how the last few possessions played out, it’s one the Thunder should have won. But in the end, San Antonio had the execution that Oklahoma City did not, and the Spurs came away with a buzzer-beating 86-84 win over the Thunder to give them their second win in as many nights to open the 2012 season.

This was a close game that went back and forth all night, but it wasn’t a particularly well-played one. The teams combined for 31 turnovers, and the Spurs’ 44.3 percent shooting seemed high compared to the 37.7 percent that OKC posted.

A lot of the Thunder’s problems offensively can be traced directly to Russell Westbrook, whose shot selection was atrocious for most of the night, and yet despite rarely connecting, he kept on firing — 21 times, the most from any player on either team. Westbrook hit on only six of those shots, which came mainly on his patented pull-up jumpers from mid-range, while seemingly not even considering time left on the shot clock or the overall game situation.

Westbrook is a double-edged sword, however, because on nights like this one, he’s typically the only one on the team making a point of being aggressive. The rest of the Thunder looked largely passive for most of the game, playing at a slower overall tempo which played right into the Spurs’ hands.

Oklahoma City debuted its sixth-man replacement for James Harden in this one, and got a decent performance from Kevin Martin, who scored 15 points off the bench, and chipped in five assists in his 32 minutes of action. It’ll take some time for Martin to learn where to go on the court to get the easiest looks, and of course, he’ll need to adjust to playing with his new teammates. But he can definitely score, so as the season progresses, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his offensive numbers surpass even those of Harden’s.

But while Martin is a scorer, Harden is a better overall playmaker. And with that second unit, OKC will need to have someone step into that role to be successful — over time, maybe that’ll be Eric Maynor. But it isn’t likely to be Martin.

On the Spurs’ side of things, San Antonio got a lot of positive contributions from a lot of guys you don’t necessarily expect them from. And isn’t that just like them? Kawhi Leonard did an excellent job defensively on Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan played big on the second night of a back-to-back, and Tony Parker drained the shots that mattered down the stretch for the second straight night. Danny Green hit timely shots from three-point distance, and Gary Neal came in and got buckets efficiently in limited minutes.

This game had wild swings both ways, with the Thunder leading by as many as eight, and the Spurs leading by as many as 10. But it came down to the final few possessions, and the Spurs were supremely prepared to execute while the Thunder couldn’t get out of their own way. Let’s review:

- OKC led by three with 1:02 remaining. They had a chance at converting an alley-oop, but Westbrook should have known he was too close to the rim to convert it, and should have simply caught the ball and come down with it instead of forcing the shot attempt. It was a quick possession for the Thunder when they didn’t need one, and the Spurs immediately responded.

- On the ensuing possession, Boris Diaw found himself under the basket and nearly falling out of bounds along the baseline, but gathered himself enough to kick the ball out to Parker up top, who drained an open three-pointer to tie the game at 84. It was a classic Spurs possession in the sense that once the defense collapsed and things seemed to break down, someone made the heady play to find the open man, who calmly knocked down the shot.

- No problem for the Thunder now, theoretically. Kevin Durant is among the game’s purest scorers, so get the ball into his hands and let him go to work. Except, you have to actually get the ball into his hands. The Thunder failed in this regard, because as Durant flashed to get the ball (somewhat lackadaisically), Leonard was able to head off the pass and get the steal. It wasn’t all on Westbrook for making a poor read on the pass, because Durant should have showed a little harder and sealed his defender. But it was a blown opportunity for the Thunder nevertheless.

- This brings us to the final possession. Watch it again for yourself, but it appears that Westbrook had no intention of guarding anybody during this play — either that, or he got completely lost. Parker creeps along the baseline, then curls out to the wing to receive the pass, while Westbrook casually heads to the middle of the paint for no apparent reason. Big-time shot from Parker to be sure, but you can’t tell me that the Thunder did all they could defensively to prevent that wide-open look.

This one came down to execution; once the season is finished, should these two teams meet again, things will likely end up differently. But at this early stage of the season, with the veteran crew the Spurs have in place, and with one of the best in the game running the show there in Gregg Popovich, the fact that San Antonio was able to get the win the way that they did shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

  1. savvybynature - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:34 AM

    “San Antonio got a lot of positive contributions from a lot of guys you don’t necessarily expect them from. And isn’t that just like them? Kawhi Leonard did an excellent job defensively on Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan played big on the second night of a back-to-back, and Tony Parker drained the shots that mattered down the stretch”

    You didn’t expect contributions from Leonard, Duncan or Parker?

    Have you heard of the Spurs, or did you learn about the NBA from the posters at the local sneaker shop, like I did when I was 8 years old?

    Wait ’til you see this Ginobili guy play he’s pretty good too. Might have a real future in the sport.

  2. rickyspanish - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:51 AM

    savvybynature

    This site seems to forget that the Spurs even exist. They’ve been excellent for the past 10+ years and somehow they still fly under the radar. No one gives fair coverage to all the teams in the NBA, definitely not this site, if your a fan of a small market team, the best option is the putrid local news. The Knicks are terrible but because they’re in New York, they are crammed down our throats. NBA TV doesn’t even give proper coverage to all the teams, they’d rather show twenty year old playoff games. I understand that most people aren’t concerned with the Bobcats, but there’s only thirty teams in the whole damn league, I don’t think fifteen minutes out twenty four hours is a lot to ask for.

  3. e39er - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:08 AM

    Memphis & Spurs two dark horses in the western conference

    • letangusespertplus - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:52 PM

      how are the spurs a dark horse? the were the #1 seed last year and nothing has changed.

  4. heathater4lifeson - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:15 AM

    Rickyspanish I like yo style. I’ve got a show for nbcsports network. 5 minute report on every nba team, equal coverage for all. And to please mr stern, you can show all the “d rose return” and “lebron galaxy s” commercials u want.

  5. progress2011 - Nov 2, 2012 at 4:32 AM

    This game provided a shinning example of a Championship Coach vs a Coach that tries to be BFF’s with his players !

    Westbrook was allowed to BLOW this game, for the Thunder, without any real visible reprimand or COACHING from the Head Coach / BFF / Brooks !

    Popovich has benched ALL of his players (the Admiral, Duncan, Parker, Ginobli…..EVERYONE) if they didn’t run his offense, play the right defense, or just appeared out of control.

    Ask yourself, if Westbrook played for San Antonio, if he would have been allowed to BLOW the game, the TEAM fought so hard to win !

    Popovich, Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Spo and other Championship coaches would have been seen visibly COACHING the out of control Westbrook and he would have spent significant time on the bench, until he ran, what they wanted.

    Until Brooks can turn the corner and reel Westbrook in, they will continue to loose games, they should win. They should have won this game.

    • rtfinch - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:55 AM

      I was with you……….. until you threw Spo in there……

      • nycalldayz - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:14 AM

        Not sure about Spo, but I get what you’re saying.

    • scalfor3 - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:03 AM

      I recall Westbrook getting pulled after a particularly bad stretch in the third (three straight possessions with him either shooting a forced pull up j or turning it over trying to break down his defender). However, you can’t fault Brooks for putting Russ back in at the end of the game. You need your best players on the floor when the games on the line and, as infuriating as he is, Westbrook is clearly the Thunder’s second best player

      • progress2011 - Nov 2, 2012 at 12:54 PM

        I agree with you Scalfor,

        Westbrook is the second best player on the Thunder. I am a fan. I enjoy watching the guy EXPLODE to the basket.

        However, he lacks discipline and is a bit selfish. If he had a coach, that got after him and worked with him, he would be further along in his progress.

        Maybe Brooks will be able to develop him. Time will tell.

  6. patfic15 - Nov 2, 2012 at 6:42 AM

    It was one game. After getting whipped last year in the Con Finals, I hope they had a chip on their shoulders. OKC will beat again this year if the Spurs make it that far again.

  7. therealgts - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    The spurs as a dark horse? Way to put your balls on the line with that prediction

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