The Spurs rode into the OKC Corral on Wednesday night as hot as any team in the NBA. Once beaten in their first 14 games. Unbeaten in their last 11 games.
But the Thunder served notice.
Just because it has gotten off to an up-and-down start to the season doesn't mean this is a team to be taken lightly.
Thunder 94, Spurs 88.
It runs the Thunder's winning streak to five, including an undefeated run through the first four games of an extended but difficult six-game homestand.
“I like how we're playing,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We're playing tough. We're playing physical.”
They had to against the Spurs.
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Co. have a team that can slice and dice you to death. They pick and roll. They drive and dish.
They make a living on easy shots.
Coming into Wednesday night's game, the Spurs had shot better than 50 percent from the floor in seven games. That's half of their games. Only once had they shot under 40 percent.
Their shooting percentage against the Thunder: 39.1.
The Thunder made the Spurs take a bunch of tough shots Wednesday night. Sure, there were some that were more open than anyone in Thunder blue would've liked, but more often than not, there was a hand in the face or a defender close at hand.
“I thought our defensive effort was outstanding,” Brooks said.
Really, defense has been the biggest bugaboo holding the Thunder back in the early part of the season.
Of course, Russell Westbrook's return from two offseason knee surgeries has been a work in progress. He hasn't been 100 percent. He has struggled to find his shot, his rhythm, his flow.
But the biggest inconsistency has been the Thunder's defense. Sometimes, it's been great. Sometimes, it's been anything but.
It wasn't all that long ago that defense was a half-the-time prospect. Against the Nuggets in the first game of this homestand, the Thunder allowed 39 points in the first quarter, but then in the fourth quarter, it played defense like a bunch of Dobermans.
But last Thursday against the Clippers, the Thunder played a more complete game defensively.
And on Wednesday night against the Spurs, the defense was locked in from the start. Serge Ibaka blocked Tiago Splitter on the first shot of the game. Thabo Sefolosha hounded Splitter into a tough look on the next shot.
That set a tone that carried through the rest of the game.
The third quarter was when the Thunder really stepped on the Spurs' throats. The home team turned a three-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead by holding the visitors to a 15-point quarter.
The Spurs were just 5 of 20 in the quarter.
What's more, in that frame, the Thunder have seven fast-break points. Easy baskets. Quick strikes. And they were all because of the defense.
Against the Spurs, getting out and running is vital. It plays to the Thunder's youth and athleticism. It puts the Spurs' plodding and methodical style at a disadvantage.
“We wanted to play faster,” Brooks said. “We wanted to play with a little more speed.
“Not just against them. That's how we play.”
But being able to do that requires playing great defense — and the Thunder did just that.
Frankly, keep up this kind of defensive effort and it could break this bunch out of its offensive struggles. Brooks admitted Wednesday that they just were not making shots early.
“Could not find the bucket,” he said.
But finding the bucket gets a lot easier when you have an uncontested look on the fast break.
The Thunder showed Wednesday that it can play the type of defense to beat the hottest team in the league. It showed that it is a force to be reckoned with.