SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Needing a win to strengthen their playoff hopes, the Spurs turned to the only things they have been able to rely on this season.
Defense and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge had 25 points and 11 rebounds while playing through an ailing knee, and San Antonio held off the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-99 on Thursday night to climb back into fourth place in the Western Conference.
Aldridge played despite bruising his left knee following a collision in Tuesday’s 116-106 loss to Washington. The Spurs are already without an injured Kawhi Leonard, so they desperately needed Aldridge as they battle for a playoff berth.
“Playing without (Aldridge) at this level is almost like handing a win,” San Antonio veteran Manu Ginobili said. “He’s become so important and we depend on him so much that it could have been almost impossible. Great to see him compete like that and fight through the pain and have a great game.”
The Spurs matched Oklahoma City at 44-32 in jumping two spots in the standings. The Thunder are fifth, a half-game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Aldridge scored 19 points in the first half, then drove past Steven Adams for a dunk and a three-point lead with 52 seconds left as the Spurs snapped a two-game slide.
Aldridge played 34 minutes, shooting 9 for 19 while scoring 20-plus points for the 47th time this season.
“Just trying to keep guys motivated, into it,” Aldridge said. “We’ve already been offensively challenged this year, so when I’m not in the game, it makes it even harder on us. So, I thought guys definitely felt more comfortable that I was out there.”
Paul George led Oklahoma City with 26 points and had six assists. Russell Westbrook added 19 points and 11 rebounds, but had a pair of 3-pointers miss the rim and land out of bounds in the final minutes.
Both teams experienced scoring droughts, resulting in 10 lead changes and seven ties.
“As I’ve said all along, the defense is what we have to be good at because we’re going to have nights where our scoring isn’t great,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
San Antonio held Oklahoma City to 18 points in the fourth quarter by limiting the Thunder to 27 percent shooting.
Patty Mills and Davis Bertans hit back-to-back 3s to give the Spurs a 94-87 lead with 4 minutes remaining. The Thunder made only two field goals between the 10:34 and 3:17 mark of the fourth but still were within a basket with less than 2 minutes remaining.
“I thought we had some shots that just didn’t go down,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. “They were in drop coverage. I thought we missed some pull-up jump shots that we had relatively good looks at. I thought we had some things around the basket that we didn’t finish that we had the opportunity to finish, and then I think we had some possessions that weren’t great.”
George sank three free throws to pull Oklahoma City within 97-96, but Aldridge scored before Westbrook shot an airball on a 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining.
Westbrook was asked if he had any second thoughts about those final shots.
“What do you think?” Westbrook said. “You know me.”
Oklahoma City took advantage of San Antonio’s offensive troubles when Aldridge exited, going on a 13-2 run beginning midway through the third quarter in taking a 74-68 lead.
The Spurs had 18 turnovers, including three in the first four minutes. The Thunder had 17 points off the turnovers, but Danny Green ensured it wasn’t more. Green ran down George from behind following a steal in the third quarter, swatting away a layup attempt near the rim.
George had four steals.