“It was a very rusty game,” said San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan (16 points) after his team defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-98 on Sunday evening, “I didn’t feel like I had a rhythm.”
“A week off,” Spurs shooting guard Gary Neal (12 points) said wasn’t the entire reason the Spurs struggled in the first three quarters, as they turned the ball over, and even went through a cold shooting period, but it was a combination with the Thunder’s defense.
“I give them a hand,” said rookie Kawhi Leonard of the Thunder’s defense as it disrupted the Spurs’ play through the first three quarters.
But then the fourth quarter came, and so came the closing ability of Manu Ginobili. “It just happened,” said Ginobili of his breakout 26-point game, “I don’t know how exactly because I haven’t scored like this all season long, but it happened and I am very happy about it.”
The first two quarters were all about the Spurs’ turnovers. The Spurs turned the ball over six times in the first quarter as the Thunder’s advertised ability to use their speed and hands in the backcourt frustrated the Spurs’ ability to both dribble the ball and pass the ball.
“We used our hands well,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant (27 points), “we just got to keep doing it for 48 minutes.”
As bad as the Spurs played in the first quarter, they closed the quarter with a 10-2 run capped by a Ginobili three at the buzzer to lead 24-18 after one. You got the sense Ginobili was going to have one of “those” nights.
The turnovers continued in the second quarter for the Spurs as they turned the ball over eight more times. Derek Fisher kept the Thunder in the game by scoring nine of his 13-points in the second, as the rest of the team was struggling to connect on their jump shots. The Thunder closed the second quarter on a 7-2 run to take a narrow 47-46 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Thunder began with a 7-1 push, to go ahead seven points. The Spurs corrected their turnover problem with just two in the third, but then they went cold shooting in the game. The Spurs shot 2-of-15 outside of the paint in the third quarter, and the cold shooting helped the Thunder close the quarter on a 12-1 run to take a nine point lead (71-62) into the final period. Durant had already scored 21-points going into the final period, he had found his rhythm against Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs’ defense.
In the fourth quarter, the Spurs, behind Tiago Splitter, Neal, and Ginobili charged out of the gates with a massive 20-5 run to not only erase their deficit, but they took a six-point lead (82-76) with 5:05 remaining in the game. Ginobili closed the game out with 11 points in the fourth quarter, and Stephen Jackson’s defense on Durant was effective as Durant went 0-of-2 in the fourth, and only scored six points on free throws.
“They forced me out a little bit,” said Durant after the game, “they did a good job in the help defense.” “I knew my opportunity was coming,” said Jackson about being prepared to defend Durant. “I know I can’t completely stop him,” said Jackson of Durant, “he’s too talented.”
After struggling to score and get into rhythm, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 39-27 in the final period. The Spurs got their lead up to 10-points, but the Thunder made some desperation threes in the final minute.
The Spurs have now won 19-games in a row dating back to the regular season and despite playing terrible for three straight quarters, they were still able to stay undefeated in the playoffs. Game two is set to tip off at 8 PM CST in San Antonio.
“We just got to get better tomorrow, watch film, and we’ll be ready for game two,” said Durant. “We’ve just got to bounce back and be ready,” said Thunder guard James Harden (19 points).
The Spurs know they were fortunate to get the win despite their first three quarters of play, but as Jackson said after the game, “a win’s a win, we’ll take it anyway.”