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Spurs sure look like contenders in 12-point win over Thunder

Mar 12, 2013, 12:21 AM EDT

Tim Duncan Getty Images

There are two, slightly contradictory take aways from this game:

1) There are a lot of people that watched the Spurs look great in the regular season the last couple years but then look very beatable in the playoffs who think this Spurs team is like those. But there is a key difference — this Spurs team is a top three defensive team in the NBA. They are allowing 99.7 points per 100 possessions coming into this game (third best in the NBA, last season they were 11th).

Monday night the Spurs held a Thunder team averaging 107.1 points per 100 possessions to 99 per 100.

2) Don’t read too far into this one game as a playoff preview. This was the Thunder’s fourth game in five nights and it showed when Russell Westbrook is settling for jumpers and shoots 11-of-27 from the field. It shows when the Thunder have to play Derek Fisher 12 minutes (the more you see of him, the worse news it is for OKC). The Spurs bench was much fresher and better. And by the way, the Spurs were without Tony Parker.

The result of all this was a comfortable 105-93 Spurs win over the defending Western Conference champs.

The only message — don’t assume the Thunder will be facing the Heat in the NBA finals just yet. The Spurs are not young but they will not go quietly into that good night. Manu Ginobili still rages against the dying of the light.

Early on this looked like it might be very different. The Thunder went on 16-2 run midway through the first quarter to go up by 13. The Spurs were the ones that didn’t look crisp, giving too much space on defense, not rotating with energy and not hitting the glass (OKC opened on a 12-2 rebounding edge). It was 32-22 Thunder after one quarter.

But the Spurs bench was changing the energy of the game — Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili started making plays. Kawhi Leonard started knocking down jumpers (he had 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the second quarter. The Spurs went on an 11-0 run to tie the game, Gary Neal got in got in the act with a couple shots and suddenly the Spurs had won the second quarter 35-18.

The Thunder were settling for jumpers while the Spurs were getting the ball inside to Tiago Splitter — he shot 9-of-11 on the night for 21 points to go with his 10 rebounds.

Still, this was a three point game with 2:20 left in the third quarter because Westbrook found his touch and scored 13 in the quarter.

Then the benches came back in. And it was all Spurs. Boris Diaw knocked down a corner three. Manu Ginobili drove the lane for a lay-up bucket then stepped back off a pick and knocked down a three.

The Thunder turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions and didn’t close out well on shooters all night (particularly the corner three). Do that and the Spurs are too good and too disciplined — they will make you pay.

What was disturbing mostly for Thunder fans was they just didn’t have a lot of fight off their bench. San Antonio did a good job with their length of making it hard for Kevin Durant — he still had 26 points on 13 shots — but not Westbrook or anyone else could pick up the slack.

Danny Green added 16 and Leonard had 17 for the Spurs, who in their very Spurs way had six guys in double figures. No Tony Parker, no problem, everybody steps up. The Spurs have beaten the Thunder eight of the last nine in San Antonio, and with this win the Spurs are a full two games up on the Thunder in the race for the top spot in the West.

And that is another reason to consider the Spurs a serious threat to the Thunder when the playoffs start in a few weeks.

  1. andrewproughcfe - Mar 12, 2013 at 12:52 AM

    Crazy second quarter. I walked through the living room and saw the Spurs were down by 18 points, 40-22, and I thought the Thunder would run them out of the gym like the Trailblazers did a couple days ago. Then, about 6-7 minutes later I was walking back through, and I heard the score “53-46”, and I thought, “good, the Spurs are pulling back into it”. But then the announcer repeated the score – “Spurs 53, Thunder 46”.

    Kind of unreal to do that to a team, the Thunder, who could legitimately be considered the #1 or #2 team in the NBA.

  2. funktron2x - Mar 12, 2013 at 3:23 AM

    This is so much fun right now. Wasn’t sure what to expect with no Tony out there, but I think the real x-factor showed up tonight for the Spurs – their secondary, role and bench players. Deep for days, young, battle-tested after last year and really understand Pop’s system. Kawhi and Splitter are upgrades at their positions over previous Spurs to play next to Big 3.

    • andrewproughcfe - Mar 12, 2013 at 8:09 AM

      According to the stat sheet, Splitter, Kawhi, Danny Green, and Gary Neal scored all 27 points in a 2nd quarter spurt when they took the lead.

      This team will live and die with its young guns in the playoffs this year.

    • pistolpete0903 - Mar 12, 2013 at 10:03 AM

      You shouldn’t be calling their bench the X-factor.
      They have been real good all season (most of their bench players would be starters on other teams, credit to them and the Spurs organization for having them checked in their egos at the door).
      The concern is in the playoffs, the rotation becomes shorter and the starters (from OKC and Miami) would be playing longer minutes.
      The good thing is the Spurs are good defensively this season (couldn’t say the same for last two years); so hoping they win it all.

  3. davidly - Mar 12, 2013 at 4:46 AM

    Popovich set this up by relenting to that fourth quarter drubbing the other night in Portland. Different coaches have their little ways, especially the great ones: PJ would let the team play through long pathetic stretches without calling a time out, and Pop and is apt to sit his guys when they aren’t playing well, especially when they have a more meaningful game in a few nights.

    Well played, Spurs. Well played.

    Still, they got that twenty-tens’ play-off primate to get off their back, but I wouldn’t bet against them.

  4. Foul Dwimmerlaik - Mar 12, 2013 at 5:04 AM

    Laker fan here.

    Spurs are underrated.

    And they prefer it that way.

    Just like the Big Fundamental himself. I find that cool. Well done, San Antonio.

  5. mj1818 - Mar 12, 2013 at 6:45 AM

    Not a big NBA fan but aren’t they number 1 in the conference? They needed to win that game in order to make believers out of people?

  6. gatordontplay - Mar 12, 2013 at 7:15 AM

    favorites to win the west until david stern calls the fix in.

  7. patfic15 - Mar 12, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    Yeah…like he did with the Spurs advancing for so many years against the Suns? Please.

    • azarkhan - Mar 12, 2013 at 5:45 PM

      One problem for the Suns was they played zero defense. The other problem was that the Spurs were so good back then, they could not only play great D, but they could outscore the Suns.

  8. pl4tinum514 - Mar 12, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Great work Russell Westbrook, continue to shoot 25+ times a game, hot or cold bro. You’re killing your team out there.

  9. gatordontplay - Mar 12, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    there’s a difference in david stern fixing games and the suns not knowing how to play defense dumbass.. that group of guys couldn’t gaurd the chair im currently sitting in

  10. iamjimmyjack - Mar 12, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Headline says “spurs look like contenders” hahahaha come on. What is that supposed to mean? They have the best record in the nba! Get outta here with that man.

  11. lakerluver - Mar 12, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    Even though I think my beloved LAKERS will give the Spurs everything they can handle if they meet in the playoffs, I still think the Spurs are the league’s best team. The Heat might appear to be world beaters now but if they meet the Spurs in the Finals they could be in trouble.

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