The Norman Transcript

March 17, 2012

Spurs snuff out Thunder’s rally

By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

OKLAHOMA CITY — Fans packed into The Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday expecting to see a clash of the titans. Oklahoma City and San Antonio represent the two best teams in the Western Conference and opposite ends of the spectrum in style.

The Spurs grabbed a giant lead and did everything possible to hold back a surging Thunder squad the rest of the game.

San Antonio beat Oklahoma City 114-105 to take a 2-1 series lead and sent a message that it has not given up its claim on winning the top-seed in the conference.

As well as the Spurs (29-13) played, the Thunder (33-11) still had a chance to claim the victory.

With 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant drained a 3-pointer to get Oklahoma City to within two points. The Spurs Tim Duncan was fouled by Serge Ibaka while making a layup, but he missed the ensuing free throw and Oklahoma City trailed by only four.

However, after a Thunder time-out, Danny Green stole James Harden’s inbound pass and sprinted for an easy layup. The Spurs scored seven unanswered points to close out the game and hand the Thunder their fourth home loss.

"You can’t get down 27 points to a good basketball team, or any basketball team, and expect to come back," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks siad. "It’s tough to do. Give our guys credit. They nearly did that tonight with their toughness and their spirit of not giving up.”

Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 36 points on 13-of-29 shooting. Durant’s shooting night was not as kind. Being guarded by rookie Kawhi Leonard, he was 8 of 19 for 25 points to go along with seven rebounds and five turnovers.

"He did as good as anybody would expect," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Kevin is a future hall of fame player and Kawhi, a rookie, the best part about it is that he doesn't get intimidated and just does his best and he keeps working at it."

Harden scored 19 in the loss.

Tony Parker paced the Spurs with 25 points and seven assists.

The last time Westbrook faced off with Parker, the Spurs guard lit him up for 42 points. Westbrook played the first quarter like that was the only thing on his mind. He had 10 points, but no assists and Oklahoma City trailed 30-19.

Playing without Manu Ginoboli and newly acquired Stephen Jackson, San Antonio picked apart the Thunder’s defense and increased its advantage to 20 points early in the second quarter.

At one point, Westbrook and Ibaka got into verbal disagreement after a defensive breakdown and Durant had to separate them.

Westbrook got his first assist of the game with one minute left in the first half. It led to a James Harden 3-pointer. Yet, the Spurs led 65-48 at half-time.

"They should've booed us in the first half, but they didn't," Durant said of the fans. "They hung with us."

Westbrook attempted to keep Oklahoma City in the game single-handedly late in the third. At times he didn’t even look to pass to a teammate. Most nights that single-mindedness gets the Thunder in trouble. But they seemed to need it as they were able to cut the Spurs’ lead down to 13 points heading into the fourth quarter.

After trailing by as much as 27 points. The Thunder had the lead down to two points with 9:30 left in the fourth. But every time Oklahoma City looked like it was going to break through and take the lead, the Spurs made a play.

"We dug ourselves a hole," Durant said. "But it was encouraging that fought back. There are no moral victories for us. But it was good to see us keep fighting."