The San Antonio Spurs extended their current win streak to 20 games – including 10 straight in the playoffs – by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder, 120-111, Tuesday night at San Antonio’s AT&T Center. The Spurs now travel to Oklahoma City with a two games-to-none lead in the Western Conference Finals series.
The Spurs got off to a quick start, led by Tony Parker’s 34 points, and never relinquished the lead. Manu Ginobili, who lost the NBA’s “Sixth Man” award earlier this month to Oklahoma City’s James Harden, proved just how valuable he is by adding 20 points for San Antonio in only 25 minutes off the bench. And no less important an effort was made by the Spurs’ reserve tandem of Matt Bonner and Danny Green who, while being an invisible 0-7 from three-point range in Game 1, combined to hit 3-9 Tuesday night.
Not to be outdone, rookie sensation Kawhi Leonard proved once again he’s unfazed by the playoff spotlight by posting a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. And even though Tim Duncan scored only 11 points on two-for-eleven shooting, he also had 12 rebounds, and his monster slam over the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka in the second period was nothing less than a statement that his “fountain of youth” hasn’t yet evaporated.
Defensively, each team is solid – for the season, the Spurs were 11th in overall defense and the Thunder were 9th – and they each have an equally remarkable ability to pile up points rapidly: having ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively in offense during 2011. Tuesday evening’s game was an offensive clinic, and particularly by San Antonio. For instance, leading by nine points to start the third period, San Antonio hit the accelerator and over the next six minutes hit nine of eleven shots – including all five three-pointers – to go up by 22. In fact, for the game, the Spurs hit 42% from behind the arc, and that helped them lay a whopping 37 points on the Thunder in the third frame.
Oklahoma City’s trio of Kevin Durant, bench standout James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 88 points, but reserve guard Derek Fisher, ordinarily a proficient and prolific perimeter shooter, hit only two of eleven. In field goal shooting percentage generally, the Spurs outpaced the Thunder 55% to 42% in hitting 43 of 78 shots.
Both teams were strong on the inside, the Spurs outscoring the Thunder, 46-42, in the paint. Together they protected the basketball reasonably well, turning it over a total of 23 times. This game was simply a scoring exhibition, and defense could do little to keep up with the often frantic pace of play. After the game, Durant summed up their effort: “There are no moral victories for us …we were down. We dug ourselves a hole. We did what we normally do, which is fight all game, and we lost.”
One area where the Thunder managed to excel was in free throw shooting - hitting 29 of 36, or 81%. And during the second half, Thunder coach Scott Brooks – highly uncharacteristically – decided to exploit that advantage by purposely fouling Spurs big man Tiago Splitter and, to a lesser extent, Duncan. Splitter, who infamously “air-balled” two consecutive shots from the stripe against the Los Angeles Clippers in their first playoff series, made himself an inviting target for the Thunder’s strategy. However, he managed made five of ten foul shots, and Duncan added two in that stretch, which ironically helped the Spurs to maintain their lead.
With the Spurs’ victory Tuesday night, they’ve achieved the longest winning streak, at 20 victories, that bridges the regular season and playoffs in NBA history. San Antonio will shoot for win No. 21 Thursday night in Oklahoma City.