The Spurs entered Thursday night’s contest against the Thunder with the best record in the league, a four-game lead over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference standings, and a 19-game winning streak.
The best record part remains, but the Thunder put together a complete effort, especially defensively, to close the gap in the standings and deal San Antonio a very rare loss.
OKC earned every bit of its 106-94 victory over the Spurs, and is unquestionably going to be the biggest hurdle in the way of San Antonio making a return trip to the NBA Finals. But there were factors in play that negatively affected the Spurs’ chances in this one.
San Antonio was playing on the second night of a back-to-back set, a challenge faced consistently by every team in the league over the course of the season. But for the Spurs, that usually means getting some of their veteran players some rest, and Manu Ginobili — a legitimate candidate for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award this season — sat this one out for that very reason.
It also meant that Tim Duncan and Tony Parker sat out the entire fourth quarter when the game was anything but over, with the Thunder lead hovering in the low double digits for most of the period but was just eight points with under six minutes remaining.
All of that aside, this was an impressive win for Oklahoma City. They swarmed the Spurs defensively, especially in a blistering third quarter where they held San Antonio to 30.4 percent shooting, while turning a five-point deficit into a nine-point lead before the period was finished.
Kevin Durant had an off night shooting by his standards, finishing just 11-of-26 from the field for 28 points. That was good enough to keep his streak of scoring at least 25 points intact, one that seems like an arbitrary marker but has now reached 39 consecutive games. According to ESPN Stats & Info, only Michael Jordan (40), Oscar Robertson (46) and Wilt Chamberlain (80) have longer career scoring streaks.
Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson were each more effective on this night, finishing with 27 and 14 points respectively on far more efficient statistical lines.
On the Spurs side (and even for the Thunder, to a certain extent), it’s no longer about wins and losses these last two weeks of the regular season. Gregg Popovich was shown on the telecast telling his team in a timeout huddle that winning this particular game didn’t matter, but instead the team needed to focus on playing the right way, and doing so with the maximum amount of energy.
As good as the Spurs have been, however, and no matter who was and was not in the San Antonio lineup at various points this season, the Thunder have been the one team that has consistently shut them down. Oklahoma City improved to 4-0 on the season against San Antonio with this victory, and that’s something that will undoubtedly weigh upon Popovich if the Spurs should have the misfortune of meeting the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.