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Spurs 105, Thunder 93

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 12, 2013 at 6:46 pm •  Published: March 12, 2013

Nuggets from my notebook from Monday's loss at San Antonio.

  • Well, at least nobody can blame this loss on the alternates.
  • I asked our man Berry Tramel after the Celtics game whether a loss down here in San Antonio would be a bad loss given that the Spurs are without Tony Parker. He said no. The Spurs being at home essentially eliminates that characterization. Then I asked what if the Thunder lays an egg? What if OKC gets dominated and run out of town in embarrassing fashion? All bets are off, Tramel said. Unfortunately for Thunder heads everywhere, that's what happened here tonight.
  • Thunder coach Scott Brooks estimated his team played 16 to 18 minutes of quality basketball. Those came in the opening 12 and the from the nine-minute mark of the second quarter until the three-minute mark of the same period. "That's not good enough when you're playing against the best team in basketball," Brooks said.
  • You could roll out a laundry list of things that went wrong: bad defense, poor shot selection, too many turnovers, marginal ball movement, questionable rotations, even spotty officiating. But none of that gets the award for my most alarming takeaway. That hard-to-achieve honor on this night belonged to the battle of the benches, though it wasn't much of a battle. San Antonio has long been more disciplined than the Thunder. Now, the Spurs look deeper. Perhaps they've always technically been deeper, and James Harden just happened to be there as the great equalizer. But now that Harden is gone, a rematch of the Western Conference Finals is a frightening proposition.
  • The Thunder has now lost six straight regular season games in San Antonio. The last two have been without Manu Ginobili in one and Tony Parker in the other. It doesn't get more discouraging than that. It says San Antonio is so good that it only needs two of its best three players to beat the Thunder down here. Whatever the Spurs might be missing, they just make up for it with depth, smarts and their vaunted system. Each time we travel south, the Thunder looks like it has no counter for it.
  • OKC is now 1-4 against Miami and San Antonio this season. A season that has a singular goal of atoning for the shortcomings of yesteryear continues to get bleaker with the passing of each game against the top two road blocks.
  • The Thunder had a chance to overtake the Spurs for first place. The loss dropped the Thunder two games back. But OKC still has 18 left to play, including the final head-to-head meeting with San Antonio on April 4 in OKC. Home-court advantage is still very much up for grabs. Fortunately for the Thunder, the Spurs will come into that game on the second night of a back-to-back. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Spurs host Orlando on the first night. That one could be over by halftime.
  • Back to the benches. Each time the Thunder's reserves were put in, the Spurs took control. OKC started the second quarter with Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison. A 10-point lead soon shriveled to a 42-42 tie. The Thunder tried to weather the storm. It was too late. San Antonio built a seven-point halftime lead. With those same four reserves and Serge Ibaka starting the fourth quarter, a nine-point deficit ballooned to 18 in the first three minutes. Russell Westbrook replaced Jackson for the final minute and change of that final Spurs spurt.
  • K-Mart: nine points on eight shots in 20 minutes. Fish, Collison and Jackson: a combined seven points on 3-for-11 shooting.
  • Spurs bench 34, Thunder bench 16.
  • Jackson: -15, Fisher: -21, K-Mart: -22, Collison: -24. That was your ballgame, folks.
  • Brooks: "In order to win in this league, you need your bench to come through and they’ve come through many, many, many times. And they’re going to come through again. But we didn’t play well as a team. It wasn’t our second or first unit. It was our team."
  • Fisher: "The guys that started the game really set a good tone and really were making it difficult for the Spurs to score. And as the game moved on, especially in that second quarter in particular, the game just became too easy for them. Their confidence got going. The crowd got into the game and it was tough to recover from there."
  • Durant: "That's my fault. I started the second quarter with the bench, and I didn't do a good enough job. That's on me to get those guys going. That's on me to be talkative on defense. That's on me to make sure they get open shots and shoot good shots myself. It wasn't those guys. That was me. I've got to start off better for us to be a good team if I'm out there playing with the bench."
  • Put another way, Durant simply needs to be more aggressive with the second unit. In the six minutes that he was on the court with the reserves while the wheels came off, Durant attempted just one shot, a pair of foul shots and had only one assist. It's a delicate balance for Durant to figure out. The Thunder is at its best when the ball is moving. But this was a game where the flow was far from positive, and KD has to read that and react to it if the whole purpose of him being out there is to subsidize the second unit.
  • I asked Fisher about whether there is any concern with how the Thunder's bench was an advantage against the Spurs last year and San Antonio's second group now appears to have the upper hand this year. "Those things average themselves out in a sense in terms of which guys are starting, which guys are coming off the bench," he said. "I think ultimately, the better balanced team in terms of whether it's eight, nine or 10 guys that are playing, that averages out. You don't have to try to statistically keep up with certain guys that play certain positions or come off the bench. So for us, we don’t have to try and become different people, or try and do what James did for the team last season. We just have to be effective at who we are. And tonight we weren’t able to do that as well."
  • K-Mart replaced KD with 4:28 left in the first quarter. K-Mart generally replaces Thabo Sefolosha, and that substitution was about a minute earlier than Durant typically sits for the first time. That told me Brooks was planning on having Durant help the bench. Obviously it didn't work out the way he might have hoped.
  • Serge Ibaka had eight points and eight rebounds in the first quarter and finished with 13 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, his 11th double-double of the season. Book him as one of the few bright spots for OKC in this one.
  • OK, so about Westbrook. He actually was awesome in the first quarter. His shot wasn't falling. But he was putting pressure on the Spurs' defense in that period by attacking the rim, setting up teammates and hitting the glass. He had six points, two rebounds and five assists in the first frame. Then things went south.
  • For some strange reason, the Thunder stopped doing what worked so well in the first quarter. Ball movement was replaced by hero ball. Shots that came in the flow in the first quarter quickly took a backseat to individual games of beat-your-man. And it backfired. The Thunder began taking one wild shot after another, trying to cool off the suddenly hot Spurs by returning fire.
  • OKC had nine assists in the first period and seven for the rest of the game. No stat tells the story better.
  • Not coincidentally, the Thunder had four assists in the third quarter, the period in which it clawed back within one point.
  • Westbrook had 27 shots and will no doubt be blamed by many for this loss. I didn't see his shots as selfish or all that detrimental. Maybe not the best decisions at times, but, again, most of the ones he took were putting pressure on the Spurs' defense.
  • Westbrook took four fewer shots than the rest of the starters combined. When you look at it that way, however, it's hard to not shake your head.
  • Durant, meanwhile, scored a game-high 26 points (one more than Westbrook) on just 13 shots. Someone asked Durant about his low number of shot attempts, which set up this answer that was delivered as Westbrook sat one locker stall over. "I can do whatever I want on the offensive end," Durant said. "I can come down and take 30 shots. That's not the right brand of basketball for me, to just come down and shoot. It's not because of the defense limiting me to 13 shots. I could have shot more than that, but I was trying to make the right basketball play."
  • It helps that Durant was getting calls and Westbrook was not. Durant took 11 foul shots, making all 11, and Westbrook took just three. You could probably go back and see any number of possessions where Westbrook was fouled three times on the same possession.
  • By no means am I insinuating that Durant was calling out Westbrook or suggesting he should have been. But at times, Westbrook could stand to take heed to Durant's above logic.
  • Westbrook's 27 shots are the third most he's attempted this season. He's got one game of 28 attempts and one with 29. The Thunder is now 3-3 when Westbrook attempts 26 shots or more.
  • There was a moment of extraordinary growth seen between Durant and Westbrook, one that anyone who questions the relationship of the two All-Stars should have seen. And it centered on the controversial topic of shot selection and ball distribution between the two. With 7 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Westbrook led a fast break with Sefolosha on his right and Durant to his left. Westbrook over-dribbled a bit and finally dished to Sefolosha. Durant threw up his hands and threw one of those 5-year-old fits he likes to give. Sefolosha missed a corner 3, but Westbrook corralled the rebound and nailed a 17-footer. The Spurs immediately called a timeout. Just before reaching the bench, Westbrook and Durant stopped in front of the scorer's table and talked about that possession, specifically why Westbrook didn't give it up. The brief exchange was filled with what appeared to be both positive dialogue and body language, Westbrook motioning with two fingers from his eyes to Durant and back, and Durant slapping Westbrook on the chest as if to say "it's all good." It was a classic moment that those that like to trumpet the Avon-Stringer Bell narrative never seem to see.
  • Though the Thunder lead by 10 in the first quarter, nine Spurs scored in the opening period. Nine!
  • I was only kidding with the alternate jersey line at the beginning. Well, sort of. At any rate, the Thunder was scheduled to wear its alternates tonight but didn't, as the schedule was always subject to change. A team official said the Thunder likely will wear the alternates at a later date.
  • This was supposed to be the 10th of 12 games the Thunder was scheduled to play in the alternates. For those keeping track, the Thunder is 4-5 in them.
  • The Jackson-Manu Ginobili matchup was interesting to say the least.
  • Manu hit Jackson and somebody else (I forget who) with that old man game, creating separation without even putting the ball on the floor. All he needed was a few different jabs and fakes and voila. Manu doesn't put the ball on the floor until he's good and ready. And when he does, he always seems to know exactly what he's going to do. Kind of reminds me of someone we used to know.
  • Who knew Stephen Jackson holds career averages of 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and 1.7 steals against the Thunder? Spurs game ops crew showed that on the big screen. I'm not sure if that includes the Seattle era. But those are some darn good numbers.
  • No team gets back into a game against the Thunder faster than the Spurs. Seems like they always hit at least two consecutive 3s to turn momentum. That's exactly what happened tonight. Doggone Danny Green.
  • The Thunder missed 11 of its final 15 shots in the second quarter. Four of those makes were from Kendrick Perkins, a sign of just how out of sync the team's offense was during that stretch.
  • I'll never question the fanhood of anyone still reading these.
  • Durant drew a charge on Tiago Splitter with 4:10 remaining in the second quarter, which drew two reactions out of me.
    1. Whoa!!
    2. Why didn't anybody on the Thunder's bench even budge? The franchise player, who is still rather frail, put his body in harm's way and the blank stares on the bench made it seem like nobody even noticed.
  • Kawhi Leonard would fit NICELY with the Thunder. I realize you can say the same thing about him on roughly 25 other teams. The thing is I don't cover 25 other teams.
  • Perk was elbowed flush in the chin by Tim Duncan and Perk was called for a foul. You'd have to see it to believe it.
  • Did I mention the Thunder had 19 turnovers? Well they came in just about every way imaginable: sloppy passes, illegal screens, 3-second violations, charging calls, losing the ball on drives, a backcourt violation, a kick ball and a travel.
  • Westbrook launched a halfcourt shot with 18 seconds on the shot clock inside the final three minutes of the third, and later Durant refused to let it fly as the third quarter clock was running out. True story.
  • I have no doubt that Westbrook was trying to throw up a shot as he thought he was being fouled by his defender. But it wasn't a good decision, and when you look at how the score changed -- a three-point deficit turned into a nine-point hole -- you can't help but think that was a momentum killer. The Thunder had just clawed back from an 11-point, third-quarter hole. And right after that fling, the Spurs ended the period on a 10-4 run.
  • A clear sign of the Thunder's lack of discipline, in general but mostly tonight, was seen in the final three minutes of the game. Ibaka had two consecutive cracks at a corner 3-pointer. The first was a decent look, a shot he has made regularly this season. But when Westbrook rebounded the miss and fired it back out to him in the same spot, Ibaka fired up the same shot. Meanwhile, Sefolosha and Durant were standing all by themselves at the top of the arc. Know what Boris Diaw and the Spurs would have done on that possession? Diaw would have kicked it to Leonard (think Sefolosha) and Leonard would have made the extra pass to Green (think KD). And the Thunder would have been toast on yet another 3-ball on yet another possession. Those are the habits the Thunder is striving to build.
  • Up next. Utah on Wednesday.
-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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