Spurs Score Key Victory in OKC

By Randy Renner, for NBA.com
Spurs @ Thunder
March 22, 2010
Ford Center // Oklahoma City
San Antonio Spurs (42-27)
Oklahoma City Thunder (42-27)

G. Hill
Points: 27
FG: 9-14
Reb: 5
K. Durant
Points: 45
Reb: 8
Blk: 3

OKLAHOMA CITY (NBA.com exclusive) -- The Oklahoma City Thunder have developed a disturbing trend lately, blowing big leads and playing bad defense. The San Antonio Spurs meanwhile just keep plowing ahead and may have found a new star as Tony Parker continues to recover from injury.

The first problem continues for the Thunder as Oklahoma City blew a 14-point lead but the second may have ended. The young Thunder played solid defense and gave great effort behind Kevin Durant's 45 points but still lost to the veteran Spurs 99-96, as Manu Ginobili provided the winning points from the free throw line.

In a game with playoff implications for both the visiting Spurs and the homestanding Thunder both teams were neck and neck through 47:11, tied 96-all. Ginobili put his team ahead after being fouled on a drive to the basket, and things looked dire for OKC when point guard Russell Westbrook made a critical mistake, stepping on the line trying to throw the ball inbounds.

But the Thunder got another chance when rookie center Serge Ibaka saved the game by blocking Tim Duncan's shot, and Westbrook grabbed the loose ball with 8.8 left.

The Thunder got the ball in to Durant but he was double-teamed up against the sideline and had to pass the ball out to Thabo Sefolosha.

"We wanted anyone but Kevin to take the last shot," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He caught the ball and we made him kick it out to someone else."

Sefolosha had attempted only one shot during the game, a miss, but the ball was in his hands, the clock was winding down and he was wide open.

"I saw Durant catching the ball and I went to help out on him," Ginobili told reporters. "I preferred someone else take the shot, so I took a little risk."

"I was gonna shoot a three," said Durant, "but they doubled me and I didn't want to take a bad shot. I trust Thabo, he can make that three, he was open. I thought it was going in when he shot it."

"Kevin made the right play," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "If you're double-teamed you have to pass out of it and he did."

But instead of going in like Durant thought it would Sefolosha's shot deflected off the rim, just inches too long, and Ginobili was fouled on the rebound.

Game over.

Popovich was thrilled his team got the win, playing in the second game of a back-to-back and coming off a heartbreaking loss the night before to Atlanta.

"I thought this was one of the finest wins our team had has this season," Pop said. "I thought our team showed great tenacity. I'm really proud of them."

"It was a hard fought game, our effort was great, they just made a couple more shots than we did," said a disappointed Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "No one's happy we came in second tonight, but our guys left everything out there on the floor, they had nothing left to give."

That at least was a good sign for Oklahoma City after what happened Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis against the Pacers.

A lackluster 20-point loss that Durant called, "a disgrace to basketball," the Thunder came out firing on all cylinders from the opening whistle Monday night.

"Our defense is back and that's what I like to see," said Brooks. "I'm disappointed we lost but the effort we gave gives me hope for the rest of the season."

Oklahoma City shot a blistering 58.8% in the 1st quarter in jumping out to a 34-25 lead. Durant played especially well early hitting for 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting in the opening 12 minutes.

The Thunder also took advantage of free throw opportunities early, going 13-for-15 while the Spurs sputtered at the line missing six of their 10 shots in the first quarter.

All that began turning around in the second period. Oklahoma City built a 14-point lead but the Spurs Roger Mason Jr. brought his team back. Mason was scoreless in the first but was 5-for-6, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, in the second 12 minutes. His 13 points sparked a San Antonio comeback that saw the Spurs claw back to within three at 59-56 by halftime.

While Mason was draining 3-balls the Thunder were held to just 38.1% shooting in the 2nd quarter and nine fewer points than in the opening stanza.

Mason was a Thunder killer in the second quarter and George Hill did it in the third. He ended up with a career-high 27 points to lead the Spurs.

"The last few games he's been deferring the basketball," Popovich said. "We want him to be a killer."

Ginobili had 21 and Duncan added 14 for the Spurs.

Durant led all scorers with his 45, Jeff Green added 16 and Russell Westbrook dropped in 12 for OKC but both Green and Westbrook spent much of the game in foul trouble.

The win brings the Spurs into a tie with Oklahoma City record-wise at 42-27, and with the tiebreak advantage San Antonio is in sixth place in the Western Conference while the Thunder fall to seventh.

"We've gotta stay focused," said Durant. "We've got a tough stretch left. We're looking forward to have an opportunity to play again.">