“We’re just going to try and stop them I guess. They’re a tough team, but these are the kinds of challenges we like,” said Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant prior to last night’s game.
While it was apparent Durant and the rest of the Thunder gave it their all in an attempt to stop the San Antonio Spurs and give them their third home loss, they came up short and the Spurs won their 47th game of the season 109-105.
The Spurs made their return home to the friendly confines of the AT&T Center after spending most of February on the road, but it didn’t remain friendly for long.
Tony Parker was fouled hard on a drive to the basket by Nick Collison and Gary Neal got an elbow to his head defending James Harden and then was hit again by Harden on a layup attempt. Neal needed five stitches but returned and played a big part in the Spurs’ victory.
Russell Westbrook and Durant got the Thunder going early and had the Spurs playing catchup for most of the first quarter. The Spurs tried to bounce back with some perimeter shooting. Richard Jefferson shot three-for-three from long range and had already tallied nine points midway through the quarter. Manu Ginobili added a three of his own and Tony Parker got to the rim with ease, scoring eight first quarter points. However the Spurs found themselves in a hole, trailing by six at the end of the quarter.
The Spurs went on 10-0 run in the second quarter behind yet another three by Richard Jefferson and 10 second quarter points by Gary Neal. Tim Duncan also had two consecutive blocked shots and the Thunder found themsleves down 64-53 going into the half.
The Spurs had their outside shot going for them again in the third quarter as George Hill hit a corner three and Gary Neal re-entered the game and knocked down three shots from long range with a bandage under his eye. Kevin Durant tried his best to narrow the gap with 11 third quarter points, but his Thunder still trailed by eight points going into the fourth.
James Harden led the Thunder through an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter that put the Thunder ahead 96-94 with just over six minutes remaining in the game. Harden scored all eight points on two threes and a pair of free throws for the Thunder.
However, Tony Parker hit two free throws and Matt Bonner followed shortly with a three pointer and a mid-range jumper to end the run. While Parker struggled through the fourth quarter, missing two layups and a floater, he scored on a free throw and hit a pull-up jumper to give the Thunder their death blow and pull ahead for good.
“I thought Matt made a huge three down the stretch but Gary Neal and Richard (Jefferson) were fantastic throughout the game on the perimeter,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Gary Neal was super because he also assisted for about three or four lay-ups in between making shots. He had a great run and played a complete game in that regard. Most of the perimeter was really helpful. When you are 13-for-21 from three-point range it helps and Matt hit a huge one.”
The Spurs relied on two solid defensive possessions to limit the Thunder to only three points in the final 2 minutes of the game. Richard Jefferson stopped Durant with 44 seconds left and Manu Ginobili forced Jeff Green into a desperation fade-away three with six seconds left.
The Spurs had six players in double figures, led by Tony Parker’s 20 points. Gary Neal scored 19 ponts, Tim Duncan had 17 to go with 10 rebounds and Matt Bonner and Richard Jefferson chipped in with 12 apiece. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 30 points and Russell Westbrook finished with 25 points and seven assists.
“We played hard, man. We could have won that game,” Durant said. “They’re the best team in the league. It’s something that would have been a big win for us, but we can’t hang our heads on it.”
The Spurs are now three wins away from 50, which was their win total last season.
• The 47 wins through the first 57 games of this season is the best record in team history at this point of the season.
• The Spurs improved to 26-2 at home through the first 28 games played in the AT&T Center., which marks the best home start in team history. Last night’s win was also the 19th consecutive win at home.
• The Spurs bench outscored the Thunder’s bench 45 to 32. The Spurs are 28-5 when scoring more bench points than their opponent.