“I thought we played great defense from the start,” said Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, after his Thunder snapped the San Antonio Spurs’ 10-0 playoff winning streak on Thursday evening 102-82, “defensively I thought we played as well as you could play against the best team in basketball.”
The San Antonio Spurs had seemed to be immortal since April 11, the last time they had lost a game. But the Thunder used defense to stop the league’s most powerful scoring team on Thursday, as the Spurs now lead the series 2-1.
If there was one player who set the tone defensively for the Thunder, it was guard Thabo Sefolosha (19 points, six steals), as he took on the challenge of stopping the Spurs’ floor leader, Tony Parker (16 points, 6/12 FG). The Thunder would follow Sefolosha’s path defensively as a collective unit and feed off the energy of their home crowd to do what almost seemed impossible lately, defeat the Spurs.
The Thunder were the aggressors from the get-go as they started the game with an 8-0 run in the first three minutes. The Spurs, influenced by the Thunder’s defense were once again their own enemy, as they had turned the ball over three times in the those first three minutes. Anytime Parker tried to use a screen, Sefolosha would stick his hands in the play and force Parker into a bad pass or turnover. The Spurs bounced back with a 13-4 run to take the lead 13-12 with 5:16 left in the first. When the quarter ended, the Spurs led 24-22 after turning the ball over seven times. 24-points would be the most points the Spurs would score in a quarter the rest of the way.
Early in the second quarter, the Thunder used a 9-0 run to erase the Spurs’ lead and regained control of the game. The Thunder’s defense was keeping the Spurs out of the paint as their big men Serge Ibaka (14 points, 3 blocks) and Kendrick Perkins (3 blocks) were in sync with the guards in covering any holes the Spurs tried to use to slash and kick. The Thunder went up by 10 points with a 9-2 run and that lead eventually stretched to 14-points. The Spurs’ offense was completely discombobulated, there was no ball movement and the Spurs were relying on Tim Duncan (11 points, 5/15 shooting) to work one-on-one in the paint with very little success. The Thunder’s lead stretched to 15 points, and the final statement of the half was a Russell Westbrook (10 points, 9 assists) block on Parker at halftime. The Spurs went into halftime trailing 54-41, the Thunder’s defense held the Spurs to just 17 points in the quarter, while their offense posted 32-points. Turnovers were once again the Spurs’ downfall as they turned the ball over six more times in the second quarter, to go into halftime with 13 turnovers, that was their max number of turnovers in game two.
The third quarter didn’t get any better for the Spurs as the Thunder stretched their lead to 16-points early, and Sefolosha continued to have success defending Parker. By the time the 4:11 mark came, the Spurs were down by 20-points. With the Spurs down 18 points, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had pulled all of his starters with 3:04 remaining in the third quarter. The Thunder lead rose to as many as 22-points, but the Spurs’ bench was able to get the lead down to 15-points. When the third quarter ended, the Spurs found themselves down 78-60 going into the final period. The Thunder’s defense held San Antonio under 20-points once again as the Spurs only scored 19 points in the quarter.
The Thunder started the fourth quarter with an 8-3 run and from there, they would coast to the win by staying with a mid-20 point lead for the remainder of the game. By the time the game ended, the Spurs found themselves with Patty Mills, James Anderson, and DeJuan Blair on the court, while the starters never returned in the fourth quarter.
The Spurs and Thunder will have Friday off before resuming play on Saturday in game four in Oklahoma City. The Spurs will have one day to look at their errors and be ready to either take a drastic lead on Saturday, or the Thunder will tie the series. The Spurs turned the ball over 21 times, shot 40% (30/76), and were outscored in the paint 44-24. The Spurs only got 19 attempts in the paint, credit the Thunder defense.