“Our ability to make plays tonight, we struggled in the beginning,” Harden said.
With San Antonio notching a blowout victory at home over New Orleans — their 10th straight victory — the Thunder dropped to second place in the Western Conference, marking the first time in recent memory OKC hasn't held the top spot.
“All we can control is how we play so we got to finish these games out strong,” said Kevin Durant, who scored a game-high 44 points. “The Spurs are a great, great team and have been playing well all season. We knew that they were closing in on us, but we can't worry about that. We just got to come out and play our game and we'll see what happens at the end of these next 11 games.”
The Thunder fell behind by as many as 24 points midway through the third quarter but made a too-little-too-late rally in the final 17 minutes.
It was sparked only by Brooks finally pulling the trigger on a small lineup that featured Westbrook, Fisher, Harden, Durant and Kendrick Perkins. With that unit, the Thunder peeled off a quick 9-0 run before closing the quarter on a 13-3 spurt to pull within 14 going into the final period.
In the fourth quarter, the Thunder then got within 10 on seven occasions but couldn't get it to single digits until a fast break layup by Westbrook with 1:41 left to play made it 96-88.
“Give them credit,” Brooks said. “They made a timely shot every time we had a chance to get it under 10. They either got to the free throw line or made a big bucket.”
The Thunder got as close as three when Westbrook banked in a 3-pointer with 5.5 seconds remaining. But Danny Granger (team-high 26 points) iced it with a pair of free throws with 4.7 seconds showing on the clock.
“We dug ourselves a big hole,” Durant said. “We fought and fought but just couldn't get over the hump.”