It’s not quite “James Harden who?” But the Thunder may be taking steps in that direction.
What has been the knock on the Oklahoma City Thunder as a title threat? Depth. Yes they have two elite scorers in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, plus some quality guys like Serge Ibaka, but if you can get into their bench you can beat OKC.
Which is what the Spurs did — except the Thunder bench shot 78 percent on the night and won OKC the game.
Reggie Jackson had 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, Jeremy Lamb had 12 points and the spark they brought in off the bench — plus some good team defense by OKC all night — gave the Thunder a 94-88 win at home. The loss snapped the Spurs 11 game winning streak.
This is not a statement game — both of these teams know there are no statements made in November. Not if you’re a contender. But this game could be a sign that OKC is going to get get more out of their bench than expected, and that could take them a long way later in the season.
San Antonio focused its defense on not letting the Thunder stars take over and it worked — Durant had 24 points but needed 23 shots to do it, Russell Westbrook was a disaster at 2-of-16 shooting. However the Thunder had a strong defensive game as well, holding the Spurs to 39.1 percent shooting and just 88.7 points per 100 possessions (the Spurs average 104.9 per 100 on the season).
Tony Parker had 16 points for the Spurs but needed 16 shots to get there. Kawhi Leonard had 14 points on 18 shots, Tim Duncan 11 points on 14 shots. It was that kind of night of the Spurs.
Serge Ibaka had a strong game for the Thunder, with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but it was the five blocks and numerous changed shots in the paint that were bigger.
The Spurs advanced to the NBA Finals last season, but the athleticism of the Thunder has always given them trouble. It did again on Wednesday. This one game will not mean anything if these teams meet in May in a playoff series, but the bench play and defense are reminder that the Thunder can beat the Spurs and are legit contenders when on their game.