Oklahoma City Thunder finally plays — and wins — a big game

The Thunder rallied from a rocky start, beat San Antonio 106-94, ended the Spurs’ 19-game winning streak and reminded us how great would be a Western Conference Finals series between these river canal rivals.
by Berry Tramel Published: April 3, 2014

Seemed like forever since the Thunder had played a big game. That finally changed Thursday night in Chesapeake Arena.

Seemed like forever since the Spurs had lost. That changed, too.

The Thunder rallied from a rocky start, beat San Antonio 106-94, ended the Spurs’ 19-game winning streak and reminded us how great would be a Western Conference Finals series between these river canal rivals.

“Did feel like a big game,” said the Thunder’s Nick Collison. “There was energy in the building. I think we were really geared up for it. All the games are important, but of course, when you’re playing a team that’s No. 1 in the conference, it’s a big deal.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich blessed us by playing his ballplayers. Manu Ginobili sat out, but the weary Spurs’ other veterans played. So did Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, for the first time in six weeks. So the only missing mainstays were Ginobili and Thunder defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha.

The Thunder hadn’t played one of the NBA’s other elite teams (.600 or above winning percentage) since March 11 and had played only one (Houston) since Feb. 23. The rust showed early.

The amazing Spurs were efficient early, made 19 of their first 35 shots and had the Thunder huffing and puffing just to stay within striking range. The Thunder had won nine of their last 11 games against the Spurs, but San Antonio hadn’t lost to anybody since Feb. 21, and you were starting to wonder if Popovich’s powerhouse ever would lose again.

But the return of a big game or the return of Perkins (sidelined since Feb. 20 with a groin strain) or a sense of late-season urgency had the Thunder ready for such a volley. The Thunder toughened up like we haven’t seen in a long time. Popovich hailed the Thunder’s physicality. The Thunder roughed up the Spurs the last 27 minutes of the game.

“We’re a team that’s going to come and get real physical with you,” said Perkins, who only played 12 minutes but made a noticeable difference just in attitude, as much as anything. “Our energy level was high.”

The Thunder finished with more steals (14) than turnovers. Serge Ibaka, despite his shot not falling, played ferocious interior defense. Perkins made those dozen minutes miserable for Tim Duncan. Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher and Caron Butler repeatedly got their hands on Spur passes and dribbles.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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