SAN ANTONIO — The Thunder entered Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night with a 17-3 record after a loss this season.
Asked to explain his team's sterling record under challenging circumstances, coach Scott Brooks smiled as he delivered his answer 90 minutes before tipoff.
“I don't know,” Brooks said. “I mean, maybe we play nastier after losing games.”
A roomful of reporters broke out in laughter. “I haven't heard that before,” Brooks followed. “I just made that up.”
Brooks had put a counter-spin on the catchphrase that has engulfed San Antonio since Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's uttered “I want some nasty” during a pep talk in the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Sunday.
The Thunder wound up suffering rare back-to-back losses as the streaking Spurs led wire-to-wire for a 120-111 victory in Game 2. San Antonio has now won 20 straight, is 10-0 in the postseason and hasn't lost since April 11.
Roughly three hours after playfully talking about his team playing nastier. Brooks literally turned nasty with 2:32 left in the third quarter.
With his team trailing 82-66 and tired of what he considered to be one-sided officiating, Brooks barked in the face every referee he could find.
Brooks got away with two heated confrontations without getting slapped with a technical foul. The third time was the charm as a ticked-off Brooks finally got teed up.
The normally docile Brooks no doubt was hoping a technical might fire up his team. He also instructed his players to deliberately foul Spurs reserve center Tiago Splitter.
Splitter shot 69.1 percent from the free-throw line during the regular season, but entered Tuesday's game having shot just 32.0 percent (8 for 25) in the postseason.
It might have been considered a desperate move by a desperate coach, but these were desperate times with the Spurs clicking on all cylinders, shooting 60.0 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from 3-point range through three quarters.
“They were making shots,” Brooks said. “I mean, they were spraying them all over the floor and knocking them in.”
Kendrick Perkins deliberately fouled Splitter two straight times, then Nick Collison fouled him, then Durant, the Collison again. Each foul stopped the clock and the game started to crawl, both of which helped slow San Antonio's runaway train.
Splitter converted 5 of 10 free throws before being replaced by Tim Duncan.
Through three quarters, the Thunder still trailed by 16 (92-76), but the Spurs at least began facing some resistance in the final period.
Spurred by 12 fourth-quarter points from James Harden and 11 points from Russell Westbrook, OKC chipped away at the San Antonio lead.
With 5:40 left in the game, the Thunder pulled to within 99-93, but got no closer.
Spurs point guard Tony Parker dissected the OKC defense with surgical precision all night, draining 16 of 21 shots for 34 points and also handing out seven assists. Manu Ginobili added 20 points off the bench.
Afterward, Durant and Westbrook were asked about the team's resilience, but neither took solace.
“We're not here to try to make it a close game or try to make it a good fight,” Westbrook said. “We're trying to win. We lost tonight.”
The Spurs lead 2-0 in the series, which now goes to OKC for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday.
“They did their job of taking care of home court,” Westbrook said, “and now we get a chance to go back home.”
Will the Thunder bring some nasty with them?
“We have to play better,” Brooks said. “We have to do everything better.”