SAN ANTONIO — If you’re searching for a silver lining from the Thunder’s showing in Game 1 of the West Finals — and why wouldn’t you be — look no further than the first seven minutes of the third quarter.
While much of the focus in the aftermath of Oklahoma City’s 122-105 loss to San Antonio has been on all that the Thunder did wrong, those first seven minutes of that third period showcased plenty that OKC did right.
As the Thunder prepped for Wednesday night’s Game 2 back inside AT&T Center, that one stretch stood as the blueprint for how to get back in this series.
“We saw a little stretch where we played better,” said forward Nick Collison. “So that needs to be our new normal, and that needs to be how we play for the majority of the game.”
In the first seven minutes of the third, the Thunder buckled down defensively and stormed back from an early 11-point, third-quarter deficit. OKC swarmed to the ball, tightened its pick-and-roll coverage and turned defense into offense.
San Antonio shot 3 of 12 over that stretch and committed three turnovers.
When the Spurs suffered from the same stagnant start that plagued OKC in the opening minutes of the first period, the Thunder peeled off a 17-5 run to take an improbable one-point lead with 5:09 remaining in the frame.
“I think what we did in the third quarter is what we have to do throughout the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We can’t let them feel comfortable. I thought the majority of that game they were feeling comfortable.”
The third quarter ultimately was the Thunder’s best defensive period. By far. San Antonio scored just 22 points, the only period the Spurs tallied less than 30 points, and went 8-for-22 in the frame.
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard combined to score just three points on 1-for-10 shooting in the period. Parker, who was scoreless in the quarter, dished only two of his 12 assists.
Nothing better illustrated how uncomfortable the Thunder made the Spurs like San Antonio going 1-for-7 from 10 feet and in during that stretch. San Antonio’s other two baskets were from beyond the arc.
Equally critical but perhaps forgotten was how the Thunder’s defensive pressure, for the first time, dictated the matchup and forced Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to insert Manu Ginobili for Danny Green only 21/2 minutes into the quarter.
“We put bodies on people at the right times and really made it difficult for them to score in the third period to start out,” said Derek Fisher. “They made some lineup adjustments, got a couple different guys in there, but for the most part, until the last minute-45, 50 seconds of the third quarter, we were great on the defensive end. Only a couple mistakes that cost us baskets.”
The Thunder took a second one-point lead on a runner by Durant with 4:44 remaining in the period. It was the Thunder’s final lead of the night. The Spurs closed the quarter on a 12-4 run, but the road team got a taste of something it could replicate in Game 2.
Brooks said the Thunder simply played tougher on defense in that period and used speed and athleticism, mostly supplied by Russell Westbrook, to create havoc on offense.
“That's always a good recipe for our success,” Brooks said.
The biggest problem was the Thunder just didn’t do it consistently in Game 1.
And everyone could see it.
Fisher: “You can’t always win just by playing hard and playing with great effort, but that definitely was a problem for us last night.”
Kendrick Perkins: “It was like night and day watching the first quarter and watching the third quarter.”
Kevin Durant: “That was our best stretch right there. We only played eight minutes of good basketball last game.”