The Thunder did a decent job when it was important tonight, but the Spurs are just too good at late game play to let a Thunder win happen. The Thunder still don't have a definitive go-to guy for late game plays, and they refuse to feed the hot hand. Other than that, it was a great challenge of the NBA's best team at home.
But the one image that sticks in everyone's mind is the terrible end-of-game play by Jeff Green. With 7 seconds left, he chose to shoot it from extremely deep and completely airballed. If the Thunder are to be a contender this season, they can't let plays like that fly. The Thunder also need to not let emotional plays disrupt their rhythm, as the double technical did in the second. It led to a 11 point Spur lead that wasn't overcome until midway through the fourth.
But overall, it was a great game. The Thunder dominated from mid-range, and shut down some of the Spurs best scorers in Ginobili and Blair. The Spurs had to rely on backups like McDyess, Neal, and Bonner in order to score their way to victory, and very nearly lost the game. Anyway, let's hit the recap.
The first quarter of this game was simply fantastic. The Spurs looked like they might jump out early while Kevin Durant struggled, but the Thunder quickly caught up. Krstic was hitting his jumpers (exploiting Duncan staying on the inside), and Durant had a excellent dunk in transition way over Manu Ginobili. The height on the dunk was just insane. The Thunder could have gotten a decent advantage, but Richard Jefferson had a couple of open threes for San Antonio, making for an easy 6 points. Overall though, the mid-range jumper was king, and both teams were consistently getting open looks. Late in the first, both teams went small, but the Thunder's small lineup (with Durant at PF) is much smaller than the Spurs small. This allowed the Thunder to exploit their size and take a 6 point lead. The Spurs quickly changed their strategy back, but it was too little, too late, and the Thunder finished the quarter with a 6 point lead.
Below: The Rest of the Recap, Future Analysis, Awards!
The fairytale of high field goal percentage ended in the second quarter, as the game got much more physical. The first points of any kind were on a put-back by Ibaka 2 and a half minutes in. This gave the Thunder a 8 point lead, and prompted a Spurs timeout. It was just what they needed, as they responded with a quick Bonner three out of the break and continually attacked the rim. The Thunder were still doing reasonably well, but they couldn't get much going inside, and the Spurs slowly chipped the Thunder's lead down to 2. But the Thunder refused to go down, and even though they weren't as successful as the Spurs offensively, they got the offensive rebounds that the Spurs didn't, allowing them to keep up.
But off of a Thunder turnover, the Spurs had gotten to within 1 with about 4 minutes to go. Unfortunately, Tony Parker was grabbed by Nick Collison as he drove to the rim. Collison stood by Parker as he was on the ground. It was unclear what his intention was, but Antonio McDyess shoved Collison, while Duncan stood by and shouted, and Durant shoved McDyess. Brooks and Popovich laughed about the affair, but the final ruling was a flagrant foul 1 on Collison, and double technical fouls on Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan. Durant an Duncan proceeded to whine with the officials. The end result was two sunken free throws by Parker, and a one point San Antonio lead.
It proved to be a game changer, as San Antonio got a three point play courtesy of Gary Neal one possession later, and Jefferson was fouled, leading to another two points. The Spurs continued to get to the line, and pushed their lead. Their surge was capped off by a Hill three and more Parker free throws, pushing the Spurs lead to 11. The rest of the quarter was lots of running around the floor like headless chickens, which resulted in no points. Tony Parker minorly injured his knee and Gary Neal had blood streaming down his neck as the game went to break, but that was of little consequence to the Spurs, who were still up by 11.
The third quarter saw the resurgenge of the Thunder. Oddly enough, the Thunder opened the quarter with a couple of threes, and got back to within 3 with some great transition play. The Spurs were almost completely shut down offensively, with several bad outside shots falling out of the rim. The Thunder had gotten the deficit down to two before the Spurs were reinvigorated with a Tim Duncan layup and a Gary Neal three in transition. The Thunder continued to take the ball to the hoop though, and they were constantly threatening to tie or take the lead. They lost their swagger towards the end of the quarter though, as a Hill three, a Neal three, and a Bonner almost three gave the Spurs an 8 point lead going into the break, as the Thunder missed a couple of jumpers of their own.
But the fourth saw yet another Thunder renaissance. The quarter opened with a beautiful Daequan Cook three, narrowing the Spurs lead to 5. McDyess hit a layup, but it was answered by another Cook three. Gary Neal gets an easy layup, but the Thunder responded with a pair of Harden free throws. Before you knew it, the deficit was down to four. Another Harden three a few moments later led to a three point deficit, and yet another three from Harden on the next possession tied the game for the first time since the second quarter.
What happens next? James Harden draws another foul, and gives the Thunder a two point lead. At this point, it became a see-saw battle, with both teams scoring back and forth. The Thunder were getting great plays, but the Spurs were struggling on second chance points. But a water shed moment came with about four minutes to go. Durant got a good look at a three, but it fell to the right of the rim. The Spurs immediately responded on the other end with a open Bonner three in transition, giving them a three point lead and prompting a Thunder timeout.
That three point play would prove to be deadly, as the Thunder couldn't get any offense going and had to rely on free throws, helping the Spurs keep their slim lead. Eventually, the Spurs slipped up on offense though, and split free throws allowed the Thunder to tie the game with a minute and a half to go. The Thunder missed a close shot, and Parker splitting his free throws on the other end gave the Spurs a quick one point lead. Durant missed a mid-range jumper, giving the Spurs got possession with 45 seconds left. They called a timeout.
San Antonio's possession, trying to trade the two for one. Ginobili's layup went way wide, but Parker got a wild rebound and hit a quick jumper, giving the Spurs a three point lead with 26.1 seconds to go. On the inbounds play, it initially looked like a Thunder three, but the ball was quickly dished to Ibaka inside for an easy jam. The Spurs got the ball back, and proceeded to run about 8 second off the clock, with the ball flying out of bounds after being deflected by Ibaka on a pass. Ginobili was fouled on the floor after getting the ball, and he went to the line with 13 seconds to go. Both shots went in perfectly, and the Thunder called a timeout.
Thunder ball, down three with 13.1 seconds to go. The ball goes into Westbrook, who passes it to a heavily-covered Jeff Green. He stutter steps two times, dribbles, and shoots a extremely deep three. It falls way short, Tony Parker gets the easy rebound, and gets fouled. He hits the first, and puts his team up by four. He misses the second and the Thunder get the rebound with 6 seconds to go, but they didn't attempt to run down the floor. The Spurs had won for the third time this season, in an almost convincing fashion.
Moving forward, the Thunder get their 20th loss of the season and have only a 4.5 game lead over Portland in the battle for the Northwest Division. The Spurs get a quality win in a bit of a disappointing February, and keep a 6 game lead over Dallas in the battle for the Western Conference. These teams don't see each other again this season, but if they happened to meet in the playoffs, it would be a fantastic affair.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 30 Points, 9 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 1 Steal, 1 Block. Another fantastic game from our best player. I did cringe every time he shot a three though, especially the one he missed late in the fourth.
Thunder Down Under: James Harden, 16 Points, 1 Rebound, 2 Assists, 1 Block. Harden willed the Thunder back into this game, and it's not his fault that they lost. We should have relied on him more late in the game.
Thunder Blunder: Daequan Cook, 6 Points, 2-7 Shooting, 5 Rebounds, 1 Assist. Could have given this to Westbrook, but Cook's play could have been better tonight. Not a terrible performance, but a couple of layups isn't too much to ask.
Thunder Plunderer: Gary Neal, 19 Points, 3 Assists. I hated on him in my preview of the Rookie-Sophomore game, but his clutchness tonight is just too much to ignore. Hardly any missed shots, and his made shots were always at the right time. Definitely a nice scorer to have off of the bench.
Next Game: At the Orlando Magic, Friday, February 25th, 7PM Central Standard Time