ATLANTA — It was supposed to be a battle of Western Conference heavyweights.
Instead, it turned into just another Thunder thumping.
Monday night's matchup between the Thunder and San Antonio got out of hand in the second half, as the short-handed Spurs struggled to keep up with the hottest team in the league.
The eventual blowout left us unsure of what to believe about where exactly this Thunder team stands compared to its closest competition in the conference. Given the circumstances, much can be misconstrued when looking back on the Thunder's 107-93 win. But a handful of happenings from that game can be considered as good as counterfeit.
It's unlikely that the gap between the Thunder and Spurs is as wide as it appeared in the second half Monday. So here are a few take-aways from what turned into a tainted clash of conference titans, a cheat sheet of sorts to help you decode what we really learned and what we probably should just leave in the rearview mirror.
Leave it: The second half
There were some positives in the final 24 minutes and perhaps even a few valuable take-aways. But the problem is only the first eight minutes or so mattered. San Antonio was playing its seventh game in 10 days and was on the road for the fifth time in six games. Soon after the Spurs got down by 15, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich yanked Tony Parker and Tim Duncan for good, knowing his troops were scheduled to play in Denver 24 hours later. The game was only a formality from there.
Love it: Serge Ibaka's big night
We all remember Ibaka's huge Game 4 in the Western Conference Finals, and for a moment, Monday was reminiscent of that 11-for-11 shooting performance. But there's a reason for that. Ibaka has some of his best games against the Spurs — averaging 11.2 points and 9.2 rebounds for his career against San Antonio — because the Spurs make it a point to take away the Thunder's first and second options, which of course are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Ibaka generally has been the biggest beneficiary, but now he's grown to the point of being capable of making defenses pay.
Leave it: The runaway victory
As previously stated, the Spurs were short-handed. They were without Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, two of their best four players. That would be like the Spurs blowing out the Thunder without Ibaka and Durant. Stephen Jackson also was playing for the first time in 15 games. Therefore, that lead that got as large as 18 before ending in a 14-point victory should be taken with a grain of salt. Three of the Thunder's wins against the Spurs in last year's conference finals came by five, six and eight points. OKC won by 20 in Game 3 only when its back was against the wall. The Thunder is clicking right now and benefited from both the schedule and San Antonio being short-handed. The Spurs historically have made things tough on the Thunder.
Love it: OKC's ball movement and balanced scoring
Popovich talked before Monday's game about how the two teams reversed roles in last year's West Finals. The Thunder on Monday again seemed to outplay the Spurs at their own game, which relies on nonstop ball movement that leads to open shots. Much like it's been for most of the year, OKC's ball movement was again good against the Spurs, and that led to high-percentage shots and balanced scoring. The Thunder finished with 22 assists and came within one Durant point of having four players score at least 20. That's long been the recipe for success for OKC, and if the Thunder can do it against San Antonio, it can do it against anyone.
Leave it: Russell Westbrook's shooting percentage
Westbrook made just six of 18 shots against San Antonio, and some are starting to get concerned. Westbrook is now shooting just 41.1 percent, his worst accuracy since his rookie season. But what's been much more significant than Westbrook's shooting percentage is his passing and maturity. He's led the Thunder's improvement as a passing team and is taking care of the ball better than he ever has. He's currently posting a career-best 2.73 assist-to-turnover ratio and has been great at playing within himself. The way he never made Monday's matchup with Tony Parker a personal battle is a prime example.
Love it: The Thunder's rebounding dominance
Oklahoma City out-rebounded San Antonio 49-37 on Monday night. Anyone who's been paying attention understands how rare it is for the Thunder to bully an opponent on the boards. But that's now two straight games that the Thunder has owned the glass against the Spurs. In the first meeting, the Thunder won the rebounding game 48-39. It took monster rebounding nights from Durant, 14 in the first meeting, and Ibaka, 17 on Monday, to do it. But we believe there's something there. In last year's West Finals, the Thunder won the rebounding category 244-239. So these first two games aren't just aberrations.
Thunder at Hawks
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37/HD 722, DirecTV 679, Dish 443, U-Verse 754/HD 1754).
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* The Thunder has won 11 straight, an Oklahoma City era franchise record and an NBA best this season.
* Atlanta defeated the Thunder 104-95 in Oklahoma City on Nov. 4. It was one of only six times that the Thunder failed to score at least 100 points this season.
* Kevin Martin scored a game-high 28 points against the Hawks in the first meeting. Martin is averaging 16.1 points, third most on the Thunder.