The last thing Gregg Popovich did before turning and walking off the court to a stream of orange-and-blue confetti was seek out an old nemesis.
Derek Fisher stood at the other end of the floor, on the same hunt for the San Antonio Spurs coach.
The two pointed at each other.
Popovich even smiled.
“I respect the hell out of him,” Popovich said, shortly after Fisher helped tear his team to shreds. “I've known him a long time. We've had dinner before when he was thinking about signing contracts, I mean, 10, 15 years ago. … So it was just fun to give him a little credit and let him know that we noticed. How could you not?”
In a battle of the best two teams the Western Conference has to offer, it was Fisher, the polarizing 17-year veteran, who stepped up as the unexpected protagonist and dealt yet another defeat to one of his biggest rivals.
Fisher scored 17 points off the bench to help power the Thunder to a 100-88 victory over the Spurs on Thursday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. In 15 minutes, Fisher made six of eight shots, including five of seven from 3-point range, with each subsequent basket bigger than the previous one.
“We never worried about Fish when he was missing some shots. We knew we were going to keep going to him and giving him confidence,” said Kevin Durant. “And tonight, he came up big.”
Fisher's sharpshooting helped the Thunder break a recent slump from behind the arc and finish 12 of 24 from 3-point range.
The victory also allowed the Thunder to pull within a half-game of the Spurs in the race for the conference's top seed. Oklahoma City now controls its own destiny and can secure home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs by winning out.
That's all Fisher was focused on after what was by far his best performance in a Thunder uniform this season.
“That's pretty much the only thought going into every game is that we win,” Fisher said. “You can look at a stat sheet after a game and single out certain things. But at the end of the night. It's about our team winning the game. And so when that happens, I'm not as concerned about what I did in particular as long as I helped us win.”
The Thunder got off to a fast start, using a near flawless first quarter to jump to a 29-18 lead. Seven Thunder players scored in the period, a sign of just how in sync the offense was. The Thunder had nine assists on 12 made field goals in the period, with Russell Westbrook dishing five in the frame.
Nothing illustrated the precision and attention to detail with which OKC played in the early going quite like the Thunder's ball security and rebounding. Through the first period, the Thunder didn't have any turnovers and didn't yield a single offensive rebound.
The early good fortune continued to flow when Fisher, who had scored nine points on 2-for-23 shooting in his previous eight games, provided his unlikely spark. He hit two 3-pointers in each of the first two periods for a team-high 12 points at halftime.
Perhaps sensing how much Fisher's first basket meant given his recent slump, the crowd went crazy as Fisher's first shot splashed through the net.
Even then, he wasn't sure it was his night.
“Hitting the first one doesn't always symbolize how the rest of the night's going to go,” Fisher said. “But I think that for sure helps, especially when you're not a high-volume shooter. To see that first one goes in for sure gives you a little pick-me-up.”
Then he hit his second … and third.
“Just trusting that the ball will find me or the right guy,” Fisher said.
The final two first-half 3-pointers from Fisher came during a 12-3 spurt to start the second quarter and help the Thunder build a 41-21 lead with 7:58 remaining in the half. San Antonio managed to cut the deficit to eight at the break, going into the locker room trailing 52-44.
A 17-6 Thunder run to start the third quarter pushed OKC's lead back to 19, but the Spurs battled back throughout the rest of the night, a night that belonged to Fisher.
“I think it just speaks to when you're one of the best, when you're a champion, when you consider yourself to be part of greatness, there's an appreciation for others who have been there and done that before,” Fisher said. “And I think that's what we enjoy between the two of us.”