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.
Dwyane Wade ‘honored’ to be Prince’s favorite player
The officiating crew missed a host of calls during those final 13 seconds, but they have at least owned up to the most egregious one — missing Dion Waiters pushing off Manu Ginobili while the Thunder guard tried to inbound the ball. (Yes, Ginobili’s foot was on the line, but sorry Thunder homers that was not close to the most egregious miss at the end.)
After the game, the lead official Kenny Mauer admitted that error.
Did that decide the game? No. We like to focus on things we can blame as going wrong, but the Spurs offense started 2-of-15 shooting on the night, was inconsistent, and they still had a chance at the end. This one play is not why the Spurs lost. Manu Ginobili said it well postgame.
Raptors’ Bismack Biyombo given after-the-fact Flagrant 2 for elbow to Pacers’ Turner, no suspension
However, no mention of a suspension for this incident alone. The Raptors catch a break there, as Biyombo should have been tossed from the game and/or given a suspension for that elbow. That said, one more flagrant and he does get a suspension.
NBA’s Basketball Without Borders to host first event in Australia
Australia has brought a fair amount of talent — and scrappy players — to the NBA, and now the NBA is taking one of its outreach programs there.
Yesterday the NBA, FIBA, and Australia’s National Basketball League announced a Basketball without Borders event June 23-26 at Dandenong Basketball Stadium in Melbourne. It’s the first time the community outreach program will come to the island nation of Australia.
“We are pleased to partner with FIBA and the NBL to bring the first Basketball without Borders camp to Australia,” NBA Asia Managing Director Scott Levy said in a statement. “The league has seen a surge of Australian talent in recent years, and we look forward to supporting the next generation by giving them a platform to showcase their skills alongside their peers from throughout the region.”
These events bring in youth basketball players and work with them, both giving young players highest quality instruction and raising the profile of the sport in the nation with a little star power. Basketball Without Borders will celebrate 15 years this summer and has been all over the globe with similar events.