Spurs Late Rally Not Enough to Overcome Thunder
SAN ANTONIO -- The Spurs added plenty of new faces this season in hopes of another title run. But those hopes, right now, are supported by uneasy legs.
On the night Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both returned from left-ankle injuries, a hamstring muscle tightened up on Manu Ginobili. He missed all of the fourth quarter and the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated San Antonio 101-98 to give the Spurs their first home loss of the season.
With Ginobili on the bench, the Spurs (4-4) lacked punch late. When the Spurs trailed Toronto by two points heading into the fourth quarter on Monday, Ginobili hit 4-for-5 shots (he was actually 4-for-4 from 3-point territory) and also had two blocks to lead San Antonio to a seven-point victory.
"I kept him out because of the hamstring," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He hasn't been able to practice on it since the Dallas game [on Wednesday] and it tightened up on him again.
"I thought it was best to be conservative and not have that hamstring get worse and lose him for a longer period. It was a close call, but I would do the same thing again and sit him with that tight hamstring for sure."
So the Spurs first turned to Richard Jefferson for a chance to cut Oklahoma City's 97-94 lead with less than 20 seconds left. Jefferson had been shooting 57 percent and averaging 21 points in the last five games.
But he was 1-for-4 for four points in 35 minutes against OKC, and he appeared to dribble the ball off his leg and turned it over with 15 seconds left. Thabo Sefolosha said he got a hand on it and deflected it. He appeared to say something to Jefferson as he fell to the floor after the loose ball.
"Not much," Sefolosha said. "He didn't have a very good game, so I didn't think he was that confident. I kind of sensed that.
"He actually had a pretty good move. I know he kind of likes going right, and he faked left and went right and I was able to deflect it away."
Parker's 3-point shot from 34 feet missed at the buzzer. Oklahoma City (5-4) started 3-29 last season and didn't get its fifth win until Jan 6.
The Thunder split four games with the Spurs last season, and this time, Russell Westbrook caused problems. Westbrook dished out six assists in the third quarter -- his season average -- to help the Thunder dig out from a seven-point halftime deficit to a four-point lead heading into a Ginobili-less fourth.
For the game, Westbrook was 7-for-13 for 19 points and 11 assists. Kevin Durant scored 25 (he hit 13-for-15 free throws, including 8-for-9 in the first quarter). Jeff Green had 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Duncan led San Antonio with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but the Spurs were beat inside by losing the points-in-the-paint battle 54-44 and second-chance points 20-4.
"They had more people play better," Popovich said. "They deserved it."
That was especially true in the third with Westbrook. Ahead 70-69, Westbrook hit a short jumper and had two-straight assists to Krstic for midrange jumpers.
Krstic finished with 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting.
"Neno is a good helper," Westbrook said. "He knows where to spot up. It's just us playing basketball at that point."
The Thunder led by as many as seven in the first quarter when the Spurs committed four fouls on Durant, including a Keith Bogans grab on Durant as he flung up a wild 3-pointer that missed. But Durant, an 86-percent foul shooter, knocked down all three and was 8-for-9 from the line while playing all 12 minutes of the opening period.
But the Spurs rallied to tie the game 4 ½ minutes into the second quarter before outscoring Oklahoma City 12-2 during the next 3:45.
And San Antonio did that mostly on defensive lapses by the Thunder. All of the field goals came on layups, including Duncan's fast break behind the defense and the next trip up the floor when Parker hesitated down low and went ahead with the layup when Durant failed to get over on him.