The San Antonio Spurs won 62 games this season, one short of the record for this storied franchise.
But none of those came against the Thunder. Oklahoma City swept them, becoming only the fourth team to blank the Spurs in a four-game season series since Gregg Popovich’s first full season in 1997-98.
In many ways, regular-season history becomes moot come playoff-time. Brooklyn swept Miami in four games this season. The Heat just dispatched the Nets easily in five games. Plus, the injury to Serge Ibaka clouds things.
But that said, there’s some minor details to be gleaned from the four meetings between these two heavyweights this season. Let’s take a quick flashback to each one:
Thunder 94, Spurs 88
Ibaka’s stat-line: 17 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks
Takeaways: It was an early season statement by the Thunder, ending an 11-game win streak by the Spurs despite a dreadful game from Russell Westbrook, who traditionally torches San Antonio. Westbrook shot 2-of-16 from the field, but the Spurs were burned by Reggie Jackson (which will become a theme). Jackson went for 23 points, including 14 in the fourth, getting to the rim at will against an overwhelmed Patty Mills. “Jackson kicked our (tail),” Popovich said postgame. And it was just the start of a trend.
Thunder 113, Spurs 100
Ibaka’s stat-line: 14 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks
Takeaways: Hours before tip-off, the Spurs announced that Kawhi Leonard would miss this game with dental surgery. Minutes before tip, Popovich lamented the loss, saying Leonard was the only guy on the team capable of slowing Kevin Durant. In this one, KD wasn’t fantastic, scoring 17 in an easy Thunder win, but the point remains. For the Spurs, Leonard playing and defending well is crucial in this series. He went toe-to-toe with LeBron in the Finals last season and has the capabilities to slow Durant. But if Durant torches him, OKC will be hard to beat.
Thunder 111, Spurs 105
Ibaka’s stat-line: 14 points, nine rebounds, five blocks
Takeaways: Without an injured Westbrook, Jackson continued his dominance of San Antonio, this time in the starting lineup. He had 27 points, eight assists and no turnovers in 38 minutes, playing maybe his most complete NBA game ever. Jackson’s a streaky player, dominating in one batch of games and nonexistent the next. So you’re never exactly sure which guy will show up. But against the Spurs, he’ll have the roaming space to find his rhythm. They have nobody to stay in front of him, particularly on the second unit. And Jackson’s ability to consistently exploit that could be the X-factor in this series.
Thunder 106, Spurs 94
Ibaka’s stat-line: 11 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks
Takeaways: Of the four games, this was Ibaka’s worst stat-line. But for those that remember, it may have been the greatest example of the defensive impact OKC will miss. In breaking the Spurs’ 19-game win streak, the Thunder slowed an offense that had been humming. And a ton of that was because of Ibaka’s looming presence. Throughout the night, he erased mistakes and deterred San Antonio penetrators, forcing kickouts, altering layups and causing a couple uncharacteristic shot clock violations. The Thunder’s perimeter athleticism and length can be kryptonite for a Spurs offense so adept at finding open jumpers. But that athleticism and length is neutralized a bit when it doesn’t have its dynamic goalkeeper backing it up.