San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stood outside his locker room door Monday night inside the Ford Center, describing his team’s 99-96 victory over the Thunder. "That was a great win for us against a helluva team,” Popovich said, shaking his head. "I thought it was one of the finest wins our (coaching) staff has been associated with since I’ve been there.” At this point, Thunder owner Clay Bennett happened to walk past. "Pop,” Bennett said with a wave. "Hey, Clay,” Popovich said, stopping in mid-sentence, walking over to shake Bennett’s hand and share a hug. Popovich returned and finished his thought. "Considering all the circumstances and everything these guys have been through and yesterday’s game and all that, I thought they showed great heart, great tenacity, great perseverance, so I’m really proud of them,” Popovich said. So this is what the Thunder has become to opponents: One of the greatest NBA coaches in history said surviving the Thunder on this particular night ranked as one of the finest moments for him and his staff. Bennett and general manager Sam Presti cringe whenever a Spurs comparison is made toward the Thunder. Monday’s event allows a legitimate opportunity to discuss such matters. Bennett was a principal owner of the Spurs in the 1990s and was on their board of governors while Presti served in the front office from 2000-2007. Despite this connection, Bennett and Presti reiterate the Spurs are who they are and the Thunder is who it is. The San Antonio franchise is what you want to become someday — one of the top four NBA franchises ever. Only the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls rank ahead of the Spurs in all-time achievement, which is remarkable considering the Spurs didn’t even join the league until 1976-77. San Antonio’s all-time NBA winning percentage (.600) ranks second to the Lakers (.619) and ahead of the Celtics (.595). Given this year’s standings, the Spurs and Thunder are a pertinent comparison. When an opportunity arises to compare your team to the Spurs, you jump at the chance. The Spurs and Thunder both have 42-27 records. They reside on the same street and share the same address, though they entered their neighborhood from opposite directions. For the Spurs to get to this point, All-Star guard Tony Parker has missed 19 games due to injuries and Manu Ginobili required a rabies shot after swatting a low-flying bat out of mid-air. Meanwhile, four Thunder starters have yet to miss a start, and the other starter has missed two measly games. Doesn’t matter how you got here. You are what your record says you are. The Thunder was coming off an embarrassing 20-point loss Sunday afternoon against the horrid Indiana Pacers. The Spurs were stinging from a 119-114 overtime loss in a late game at Atlanta. That’s what made Pop so darn proud of his team against the Thunder, which led by as many as 14 in the second quarter. The Spurs led by as many as eight in the fourth quarter, but the Thunder refused to fold. Trailing 98-96, Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha’s 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left rattled off the back of the rim. Russell Westbrook’s potential game-tying half-court heave at the final buzzer flew just under the rim and made the net sway. The Spurs endured a 45-point night from All-Star Kevin Durant, who shot 15 of 24 from the field while constantly being harassed by a franchise built on defense. "Someday he’ll be a good player,” a smiling Popovich said of Durant. "He’s big-time. He’s a franchise player. He’s going to bring a lot more joy to this city. He’s almost unstoppable. At times you’re right in his face and you’re playing great D and he scores it anyway. Beyond that, he’s got great demeanor, he’s got class, he plays with his teammates, he makes people better. He’s the real deal.” Durant is the real deal, as is the Thunder. Just ask Popovich. John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.
On Page 8COne night after apologizing for one of his worst performances, Kevin Durant backed up his words. He just didn’t have enough back up.