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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

With three minutes left in the first half, the Spurs led 46-38 and were shooting 54.2 percent from the field. Over the next 15 minutes, San Antonio made just nine of 33 shots, and the Thunder had an 80-71 lead. When the Spurs committed turnovers on three straight possessions to open the fourth quarter, capped by Jackson’s hustle steal and layup, the Thunder was up 13 and in total command.

“I think we were really locked in defensively, particularly the second half,” said the Thunder’s Nick Collison. “When you’re engaged like that defensively, you put guys in tough positions. You’re swarming around the ball, makes decisions more difficult.”

That kind of defensive ferocity has mostly been missing from the Thunder since the all-star break. Good to see it return.

Of course, the Spurs certainly had reason to run out of petroleum. This was their fifth game in seven days. They had been playing at such a high level — their closest call in the 19-game win streak was five points, and only five of the victories were by single digits — that a comedown was due. Especially with the West’s No. 1 seed all but assured.

And despite the Thunder’s four-game series sweep — the first of the Spurs in four years, since the 2009-10 Jazz — the Spurs found reason for optimism. Kawhi Leonard bothered Kevin Durant into a sub-par shooting night (11 of 26). Durant didn’t reach 25 points until 3:31 left in the game, extending his streak of at least 25 points to 39 games.

Leonard was saddled with foul trouble but showed that the Spurs are better suited to corral Durant than they were in the 2012 West finals, won by the Thunder in six games.

So this game was not necessarily a referendum on a potential West finals showdown. The Thunder remains a bad matchup for the Spurs. But the Spurs remain a proud and battle-tested team. Their streak is over. Their quest is not. Bring on the playoffs, where the Thunder is the West favorite if it plays defense like this.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.