The Thunder got a huge win Sunday night, defeating the San Antonio Spurs 108-96. Like the Rockets game last Friday, this final score does not fully explain how completely the Thunder dominated the Spurs in the second half of play. Heading into the final quarter, the Thunder were up on the Spurs by 22 points and only a late surge during garbage time allowed the Spurs to make the final score respectable. As a result of the win tonight and OKC's two previous wins against the Rockets, the Thunder completed the league's first back-to-back-to-back sweep.
The Thunder came out strong in the game, despite the fact that the loss of Eric Maynor for the season has cast a pall over the organization. After the last game in which Maynor got injured, his teammates were emotional in describing the effect that his loss would have on the team. Often referred to as "Thunder U," OKC's brotherly bonds forged out of youth and companionship do run deep and it is a testament to their dedication to each other that they would hold up their fallen brother in such a way and still maintain focus against a good Spurs team.
Coming off of a competitive game last night, I honestly expected the Thunder to be a bit gassed against the Spurs and the waves of quickness they could throw at the Thunder, but the Spurs were likely winded as well. They were playing their 4th game in 5 nights, and the athletic aggressiveness I expected to see was nowhere to be found. Instead, the Thunder played at their natural 3/4 speed pace, never really feeling overwhelmed by the Spurs' guards. The Thunder kept the Spurs at bay in the six to 10 point lead range for most of the first half, demonstrating that OKC was finally able to deal with the Spurs' attack (OKC had previously lost six straight to San Antonio).
The pivotal moments of the game occurred when the Thunder pushed a modest seven point lead to a 22 point lead during the final six minutes of the 3rd quarter. Interestingly enough, the Thunder's sudden roster woes in losing Eric Maynor were immediately put to the test. Who would step up in the backup point guard role? Would it be James Harden sliding from the SG to the PG position? Would Russell Westbrook be forced to play more minutes? Would reserve Royal Ivey be forced into action? Or would the solution come in the form of rookie Reggie Jackson, who is brimming with confidence but still has much to learn about the NBA game?
In this game at least, the call went to the rookie. James Harden came into the game along with Jackson in the backcourt. This move was both logical and paid off well, because Jackson was able to play with the steady hand of Harden and experience meaningful game situations. As a result, Jackson was free to look for offensive opportunities, and in the final three minutes of the 3rd quarter he buried two jumpers, one of which was a 3-pointer. Jackson remained in the game for the remainder, totaling 11 points and four assists. It was a great opportunity to see what Jackson had, and despite some miscues late in the game it was evident that Jackson is going to be eager to take on the backup role.
A few random notes:
- The team is dedicating their season to Eric Maynor. He may be a backup, but he's every bit a part of the Thunder ethos as anybody on the team.
- Kevin Durant recorded a double-double along with seven assists. Perhaps it is just me, but it does seem like KD's rebounding numbers have turned into a good measuring stick for his overall performance. If he is grabbing rebounds, it means that Durant is playing closer to the rim and is active in the offense and defense. When Durant plays closer to the rim, it usually means he is getting better shots and shooting a higher percentage.
- Thabo Sefolosha got off to a hot start, hitting two 3-pointers in the 1st quarter. The team is so much more dynamic when they know they have an extra shooter on the court. It would be great if they didn't so often forget about Sefolosha after those early shots.
- Tony Parker and Tim Duncan logged low minutes in the game. Coach Gregg Popovich is notorious for not staying with his veterans longer than necessary if he foresees a rout, and that appears to be what happened tonight.
- The Thunder recorded 25 team assists on the night, which I do believe is a season high. The team was led by Durant's seven, and Westbrook tossed out five and Jackson had four of his own. It is always a positive sign when the team records more assists than turnovers.
- Nobody logged more than 30 minutes in the game, which means coach Scott Brooks once again demonstrated exceptional balance in his rotations to keep the team fresh. They get a day off, but coming up Tuesday will be another slugfest with the Grizzlies.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 21 points, 7 assists, 10 rebounds
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison 12 points, 10 rebounds
Thunder Blunder: Nobody
Thunder Plunder: Gary Neal, 18 points, 3 assists
Next Game: Sunday, January 10 vs the Memphis Grizzlies at 7PM CST