In place of Darnell Mayberry’s traditional postgame nuggets…
1. Impressive win - Kawhi Leonard was out, which is too bad. I was really hoping these heavyweights would lock up at full strength, giving us as much a measuring stick game as you can expect in mid-December. But for long-term projection purposes, Leonard’s absence provided an asterisk. That said, this was still a big-time win for the Thunder. Maybe their best of the season. Coming in, they had lost six straight regular season games in this building. And the Spurs are plenty capable, even when one (or all) of their big players is out. Gutsy, end-to-end, statement win from OKC. The Thunder is 2-0 against the Spurs this season, winning by a combined 19 points.
2. Nightmare matchup - I think we’ve identified a glaring issue for San Antonio should these two meet at some point late in the playoffs: They have NOBODY that can stick with Reggie Jackson. Earlier this season in OKC, Jackson torched Patty Mills repeatedly (watch these highlights). Then on Saturday, after Jackson abused Mills on a couple of first half possessions, Gregg Popovich switched Danny Green onto him. Didn’t matter. Jackson finished with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, giving him 44 points on 18-of-28 in two wins over the Spurs this season. He’s a nightmare for all teams, but particularly the Spurs second-unit.
Popovich on Reggie Jackson: “He has done a great job. He really has. He has been a big factor in both games. He has improved, sure, but his confidence level and his aggressiveness at both ends of the floor have been fantastic. He has been a real problem for us.”
KD on Reggie Jackson: “That guy is unbelievable. The stuff he does, the shots he makes, just his aggressiveness. Tonight, he was great. I’m glad we have him, man, because there’s not too many people in this league like him.”
3. Star watch - Russell Westbrook (31 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds on 13-of-22 shooting) continued his fantastic December. Serge Ibaka (14 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks) compiled his 13 double-double of the season. He had 15 all last year. And Kevin Durant (18 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) was held to a relatively quiet night. For Durant, it’s a great sign that those numbers are considered quiet. And for the Thunder, it’s a great sign that they smoked one of the league’s best teams without a huge night from their superstar.
4. Kiwi strong - Kendrick Perkins picked up his fifth foul pretty early in the third quarter, leading to a quicker than usual entrance for Steven Adams. And that meant an extended showdown with Tim Duncan, a legend who entered the NBA before Adams’ fifth birthday. But Adams, like he’s done all year, held his own in the paint, even blocking a Duncan shot (seen below, h/t @JDonSports). At times, he still gets a little lost on both ends of the floor. But he more than makes up for it with his energy, effort and rare athleticism for a big guy. In the last two games, he’s been a defensive force on the interior, compiling four blocks, five steals and 13 rebounds in limited time. With some expected development, this guy has a chance to be special.
5. Where the game was won - The Thunder scored a season-high 40 points in the second quarter on a ridiculous 16-of-23 shooting. Gregg Popovich called it the Spurs ‘demise’: “Those 40 points just really put us in a hole.” The craziest part about it: This month, OKC now has a 40-point quarter, a 38-point quarter, a 113-point game and a 118-point game against Indiana and San Antonio, the league’s two best defenses.
BONUS -> 6. San Antonio - Logistically, this trip started out a disaster. Because of the impending weather, my flight to San Antonio was canceled on Saturday morning. So I packed into a rental car on Friday night and started the long eight-hour trek down I-35. The first leg was spent in the eye of an ice storm, the last leg hydroplaning in an East Texas monsoon. But somehow, with the help of two five-hour energy drinks and probably a little luck, I made it. And once I arrived, I thought San Antonio was great. The Riverwalk was expansive and packed (like Bricktown’s on steroids) and The Alamo was cool. You can just feel the history when you’re in there. Plus, the arena atmosphere was by far the best I’ve visited this season. The crowd was filled up and fired up more than 10 minutes before tip and stayed engaged throughout. I feel like it’s not mentioned much, but from what I witnessed, it’s hard to believe San Antonio isn’t at least a top-five NBA atmosphere.
Up next - The Thunder is 22-4, winners of 17 of 18. And here’s the next three: Raptors, Knicks, Bobcats. So it’s likely OKC enters that intriguing Rockets-Blazers back-to-back home showdown at 25-4. Sign me up.