Roundball metaphor of the season

And we’re only, like, one game in.

I mentioned in passing Wednesday night that Kawhi Leonard, who scored a career-high 32 points for San Antonio, had been the one “truly dominant” Spur that evening.

Shea Serrano, in Grantland’s probably last-ever “Shootaround,” is a little more lyrical:

There were two separate moments when the Thunder had the ball on offense and Kawhi Leonard crawled inside of Durant’s body and stared out of his eyeballs. Nobody plays defense the way Kawhi Leonard plays defense. If he’s guarding you, you might as well go ahead and just pick up the ball and punt that bitch into the stands, because that’s the only way you’re going to keep him from getting it. Being guarded by Kawhi Leonard is no different than getting dropped into a casket full of anacondas. Being guarded by Kawhi Leonard is like being put inside of a bank vault filled with quick-set cement. Being guarded by Kawhi Leonard looks like an awful thing to experience, but it’s an amazing thing to watch.

All that and 32 points. True dominance, wouldn’t you say?


Initial contact

The opening tip went to the Spurs; Andre Roberson picked it off and stuffed it through the hoop. And there’s your tone for the game right there: fast and furious, even when the aged wizards from San Antonio sought to slow things in the third quarter. (It’s no accident that the one truly dominant Spur tonight was Kawhi Leonard, who’s not yet twenty-five.) With just over two minutes left, it was tied at 103, with Dion Waiters serving up the tying bucket; fifty seconds later, the Spurs came up dry, and Waiters brought a second helping. Russell Westbrook followed up with a nifty trey; Leonard got a three-point play the old-fashioned way, and with 21 seconds left, it was 108-106 OKC, and the Spurs failed to inbound. Time out, try again. A Danny Green would-be trey hit nothing but air, Kevin Durant dropped in two free throws, the Spurs came up empty again, and Westbrook finished the job from the stripe. Opening night: Oklahoma City 112, San Antonio 106, despite 32 from Leonard, the youngster’s career high.

It’s not that they leaned too much on Kawhi, either; every one of the ten Spurs who saw action collected at least four points, even Obi-Wan Duncan (eight points, 26 minutes). Perhaps the problem is that one of those four-point guys was Danny Green, who came out with a feeble (for Green, anyway) 2 of 9. Still, Manu remains Manu, LaMarcus Aldridge apparently won’t need much integration into the Spurs machine, and 41 bench points will tell you that San Antonio isn’t lacking in depth.

But neither is OKC, with 39 points from Thunder reserves, including a double-double from Enes Kanter (15 points, 16 rebounds). There’s always the question of how a max player starts the year on the bench, but Kanter got nearly as much playing time as Steven Adams, who started in the middle, and, well, Adams is the better defender. The only other double-double came from Westbrook, who finished with 33 points and ten assists. Kevin Durant, you may be sure, was sufficiently Durant-y to suit the capacity crowd, knocking down 22. Still, you look at the plus/minus, and there’s Dion Waiters with a game-high +15. Can he possibly be … clutch?

The early schedule looks bizarre: away, then home, then away, then home, all the way through the 10th of November, before an actual two-game homestand — which is followed by an away game the next night. And not just any away game, either: it’s Memphis. Better fasten those seat belts now.


Squeeze for the Spurs

It’s not even October yet, and the San Antonio Spurs have sold all their season tickets:

For the first time in club history, the Spurs will institute a waiting list for season tickets next week after selling out of their allotment of 13,200.

Current season-ticket holders will be given first priority, should they want to add to their personal inventory.

The AT&T Center is being renovated, and the seating capacity is likely to change from its current 18,581. Then again, it was 18,797 when the arena opened in 2002.

But take heart, non season-ticket holders: The team will still set aside 3,000 tickets per game for individual and group purchases.

It’s hard to imagine those seats not selling out rather quickly.


Big Shot Becky

Becky Hammon’s #25 jersey is proudly displayed at Colorado State’s Moby Arena. Weirdly, she went undrafted by the WNBA, but managed to get signed by the New York Liberty, which installed her as the second-string point guard. Eventually she worked herself into the starting lineup, and in 2007 she was dealt to the San Antonio Stars.

Becky Hammon as a San Antonio Star

In 2013, she tore an ACL and spent a year in rehab; during that time she looked for a coaching gig, and found one in San Antonio — with the NBA’s Spurs, on Gregg Popovich’s staff of assistants. Said Pop at her hiring:

I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff. Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic, and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.

Becky Hammon as a San Antonio Spurs coach

This past season’s Spurs finished 55-27 and took the Clippers to seven games in the playoffs before bowing out. This summer, Pop dispatched Hammon to coach the Spurs’ summer-league team in Salt Lake City. They finished 1-2, in a three-way tie for second. (The Jazz won all three of their games to claim the championship.) Undaunted, the Spurs proceeded to the Las Vegas summer-league extravaganza (24 teams!) and won that one.

Oh, and here’s Hammon subtly suggesting that one of the opposing players just might have taken one too many steps:

Okay, maybe not so subtly.

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We wuz strolled

There are only three inevitabilities in life, says Scott Brooks: death, taxes, and the Spurs winning 50 games. That latter has certainly been true for the last 16 seasons, and San Antonio had already won 51 when they arrived at the Peake tonight to trash what was left of Oklahoma City’s playoff hopes. Which is not to say that the black-suited blackguards didn’t have any help from the boys in home white, and all you have to see to prove that is the first-quarter score: San Antonio 29, Oklahoma City 10. Ten. The Thunder managed 31 points in the second, but still lost ground, and after 16 in the third — well, let’s just say it was over long before that. The final was Spurs 113, Thunder 88, the worst thrashing administered to OKC since, well, the last time they played the Spurs, in late March.

Andre Roberson returned to the lineup, though not to his usual starting position. He came up with five points, halfway between the two starting forwards, Enes Kanter (9) and Kyle Singler (1). The starting guards, Dion Waiters and Russell Westbrook, managed 10 and 17; the mostly forgotten Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones collected 11 and 10 respectively, mostly in the fourth quarter. The Thunder, after shooting at a decidedly untorried sub-40-percent clip for most of the game, finished with 41; but 5-19 from downtown is not good, and 15-28 from the foul line is a couple of steps into the Horrible range.

Meanwhile, San Antonio strolled through this one with relative ease, what with Kawhi Leonard matching his career high (26 points) and the team shooting a spiffy 53 percent. The Spurs made only nine free throws, but then they took only 13. Tony Parker (two points) did not return after halftime, having gotten some sort of owie; however, Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili happily took up the slack. (Diaw played the most minutes of any Spur, at 26; he scored only six, but he was +26 for the night.) If there’s a saving grace in any of this, it’s that the Spurs are already on the plane, heading for Houston, where the Rockets would like to give them a bit of red glare.

While all this happened, or failed to happen, the New Orleans Pelicans moved into the eighth and final playoff slot, half a game ahead of the Thunder, by dint of having beaten the Golden State Warriors 103-100. (And the Birds own the tiebreaker over OKC, should it come to that.) With four games to go, I think the operative word is “tired.”


Outward blown

After the 32-28 first quarter, this game was looking like typical Thunder-Spurs: fierce competition, and just wait until you see the fourth. Yeah, right. This one was over at halftime — 71-50 — and it just kept getting worse. Can you say 100-74 after three? About three minutes later, the benches were cleared, and Scott Brooks probably spent the rest of the time trying to come up with synonyms for “defense.” The final was 130-91, and if you think a 39-point lead is tremendous, well, you should have seen it when it was 44. Last time the Thunder visited the Alamo City, they administered a beating to the Men In Black, so this is payback and then some, with one game yet to play in the season series.

How dominant? Only at the very end did the Spurs drop below 60 percent shooting, falling to 58. (They hit 51 of 88; the Thunder, 36 of 90. What does that tell you?) They even hit 62 percent of their treys. Rebounding? Spurs, 50-36. Assists? Spurs, 28-16. Turnovers? Spurs, 11-10. (Oh, well, you can’t have everything.) San Antonio got to play all 13 active men, 12 of them scored, and seven of them scored in double figures. Even more remarkable: one of them was Patty Mills, who has not been having a great year. Tony Parker led everyone with 21; sixth man Boris Diaw had 19. And the only Spur on the minus side of +/- was Manu Ginobili, a modest -3 in 15 minutes.

Still, of all the minuses, the minusest was Russell Westbrook, with 16 points, seven assists and four rebounds, a -30 in 26 minutes. Enes Kanter started out with a bang — 10 points in the first quarter — but finished with a whimpering 16, though he did once again collect a double-double, having retrieved 10 rebounds. Dion Waiters got 14; after that, it’s a big jump to Jeremy Lamb’s nine.

What does this mean? Only that the Thunder’s defensive woes continue to be, well, woeful, and that they’re not going to breeze through the last ten games.

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Holiday brawl

How evenly were these teams depleted? Kevin Durant is still out for the Thunder; San Antonio was missing Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw, and in the fourth quarter Gregg Popovich pulled Tim Duncan, perhaps thinking of tomorrow night’s game at New Orleans. (Duncan eventually wheedled his way back in.) Weirdly, Pop pulled all his starters except Danny Green with 1:26 left with the Spurs down six. I’m guessing psy-war, because seven seconds later, most of them were back, the reserves having scored two points. There were few large leads all afternoon; the Thunder were up by three at the half, but it took a 38-point fourth quarter to dispatch the Spurs, 114-106.

As always, the Spurs came from all directions: Pop deployed 11 players, nine of them scored, and seven of them scored in double figures: four of the starters, plus Matt Bonner (a team-high 17), Manu Ginobili (11, plus 13 assists) and Cory Joseph (14). Time management was definitely a factor: only Bonner and Marco Belinelli played more than 30 minutes. But this is your Telltale Statistic for the day: Tim Duncan, highest-scoring starter for the Spurs with 15 points, finished with a -34.

Once again, Russell Westbrook did that dazzle thing, collecting 34 points and serving up 11 dimes. Steven Adams tied his season high with 16 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. Serge Ibaka had only the one block, but he was good for 21 points and nine boards. Inexplicably, Perry Jones was scoring big-time: 5-7 for 14 points. In fact, this was not really a day for missed shots on either side: both teams shot 42-81, 52 percent. The Thunder, surprisingly, were better on treys (9-15 vs 7-23); however, OKC was terrible at the foul line (21-38 vs 15-21).

And let’s face it, it’s always fun to beat the Spurs. The Thunder will come home for a Friday game with the Hornets before heading down to Dallas for a Sunday clash with the Mavs.


Temporarily America’s Team

We open, because it fits, with a quote from Roger:

I GOT to root for the Spurs, especially against the HEAT.

He is not alone in his sentiments:

See what I mean?

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And it’s spiked

Early in the fourth quarter, Sports Illustrated jumped the gun just a hair:

With four minutes remaining, the Thunder had closed the gap to two points — 93-91 — but didn’t get any closer until the last minute, when Serge Ibaka blocked a Tim Duncan layup, Kevin Durant dropped in a pair of free throws to tie it at 97, Ibaka then blocked a Manu Ginobili layup, and Durant knocked one down from just off the rim to put OKC up 99-97. Ginobili then sank a trey to give the Spurs a 100-99 lead; the Thunder turned it over; Manu got one of two free throws; Russell Westbrook hit two of them to tie it at 101; Ginobili went for the last shot and didn’t get it. Five blowouts in this series, and finally a game went overtime.

And then, of course, it all went to pieces. Halfway through the overtime, Westbrook slammed down a layup for a one-point Thunder lead; sphinxlike Tim Duncan got the next four points to put the Spurs up three with 19 seconds left, and Boris Diaw added two more to ice the deal. San Antonio 112, Oklahoma City 107, and that’s it: Spurs in six, and the dubious privilege of facing the Miami Heat (again!) in the Finals.

There are several Telltale Statistics to choose from, but I’m going for the most obvious one: the Spurs bench scored 51 points, the Thunder bench five — all from Derek Fisher, no less. To some extent, this was to be expected: when the chips are down, OKC relies on the superstars to carry the load, and Fisher took only four shots in 33 minutes, hitting two. Still, we saw only 12 minutes of Steven Adams (two rebounds, no blocks) and six of Jeremy Lamb (one assist, one steal). Even the absence of Tony Parker, who left the game in the second quarter due to an ankle injury, should have provided at least some kind of opening for these guys. The heroes did what they could: Westbrook punched in 34 points (some of them literally, it looked like), Durant 31, Reggie Jackson 21, Ibaka 16.

And despite all that, the Thunder actually outshot the Spurs, 42 percent to 40, and went 29-33 from the line. (The Spurs were 25-34 on freebies.) Neither side was particularly proficient from outside: 62 treys were put up, and only 19 made. San Antonio had a small edge on the boards — 49-45 — until you look a little closer and see that the Spurs scraped 16 of them off the offensive glass. And that’s what they did best tonight: wangle second chances, while the Thunder were too often one-and-done. Diaw, expected by no one to be a major factor in this series, continued to be a major factor in this series, leading the Spurs with 26; Duncan had 19, Kawhi Leonard 17, Ginobili 15.

So it’s “Wait ’til next year” time once again. And Dr. Pants says it best:


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And it all goes south

Very little went right for the Thunder tonight, and the most visible sign of that might have been just inside the 2:00 mark in the third quarter, with San Antonio up 17, when Kevin Durant drew a foul from Manu Ginobili, and missed both free throws. If desperation hadn’t set in before that, it certainly did afterwards: at the end of the third the Spurs were up 20, and things would only get worse. Pop, always experimenting, had started Matt Bonner in the middle in place of Tiago Splitter, and sent Kawhi Leonard out to pester Russell Westbrook. After a 32-32 first quarter, Pop decided none of this was working, posted Boris Diaw at center, and the Spurs could seemingly do no wrong thereafter: five minutes into the fourth quarter, San Antonio was up 30, the Thunder having scored a big two points in those five minutes. The final was 117-89, and the Spurs are within one game of the Finals.

All sorts of anomalies bedeviled the Thunder. Reggie Jackson, who scored 11 in the first quarter, went scoreless thereafter. OKC couldn’t rebound worth a flip: the Spurs owned the boards, 48-35. The Thunder couldn’t hit the long ball, going 6-24. (San Antonio was 13-26.) But take out those failed treys and Oklahoma City is shooting 51 percent, half a percentage point behind the Spurs. Perhaps worst of all, OKC was 13-20 from the stripe. (San Antonio made twice as many: 26 out of 30.) Still, Durant scored 25 and Westbrook 21, though no one else but Jackson hit double figures.) If there’s a moral victory here — hint: there isn’t — it’s that Bonner, vanishing after the first quarter but returning in the fourth, missed all four of his shots.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan proved that he’s not too old to put up a double-double, scoring 22 and gathering 12 rebounds. Ginobili led the bench with 19; Leonard and Danny Green each had 14, Diaw 13 and Tony Parker 12. And if Pop didn’t get everything he wanted, he got the most important thing.

Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City. Will the Spurs wrap it up there? How many times have they won there recently? Exactly.

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Something resembling even

Gregg Popovich, we may assume, was not a happy man tonight. Just before the first half ended, he drew a technical; halfway through the third quarter, with the Spurs down twenty, he pulled his starters and turned the bench loose. If the Thunder read this as a white flag, they were sadly mistaken: over the next couple of minutes, OKC ran their lead to 27, but San Antonio cut that to 13 before the quarter was over, and attempts by the Thunder to leave the Spurs in the dust were at best marginally successful. Pop didn’t bring back any starters until halfway through the fourth. Was this a strategic move, or just an effort to “glare at some starters on the bench for a moment”? Pop isn’t talking. The Spurs pulled within twelve several times, but never got any closer: the Thunder won it 105-92, and it’s a 2-2 series.

Reggie Jackson, again starting at the two, sprained his ankle after three and a half minutes and was seen only sporadically the rest of the night. Russell Westbrook took up the slack. In fact, Westbrook took up just about everything, playing 45 minutes, scoring 40 points (12-24, 14-14 at the stripe), serving up 10 assists and executing five steals. And where he wasn’t, Kevin Durant usually was; KD knocked down 31 points in 41 minutes and collected five boards. (OKC had a narrow rebounding edge, 42-41; Kendrick Perkins snagged ten of ’em.) The reserves didn’t score much, but they kept up the defensive pressure, and that was probably enough.

With the starting Spurs on the pine, Boris Diaw ended up with 30 minutes and 14 points, tied with Tony Parker for team-high, plus ten rebounds. Kawhi Leonard, assigned to hit the midrange jumpers and keep Durant at bay, wound up with 10 points (3-9) and Westbrook more or less constantly on his tail, freeing up KD. Tim Duncan finished with nine. But it may not be so much what the Spurs didn’t do but what the Thunder didn’t do: OKC turned the ball over a mere seven times, versus 22 assists. (SA had 17 dimes and 13 turnovers.) And Pop, as noted, was not happy.

Game 5 is Thursday night in Alamoland. It will be loud and boisterous. And loud.

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Ibakalypse now

Earlier this weekend, as reported by the Spurs guy from the San Antonio Express-News:

Well, he didn’t say when. Number 9 was out there for the tip, and while he got shuttled in and out of the game for occasional calf maintenance, Serge had a very Serge-like line: 6-7 for 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes. Halfway through the fourth quarter with the Thunder up 17, the Spurs conceded the matter, and the reserves, eventually including (yes!) Hasheem Thabeet, mopped up, giving Oklahoma City its first win in the series, 106-97.

Brooks, who never screws with his starting lineup, screwed with his starting lineup, installing Reggie Jackson on the other wing in lieu of Thabo Sefolosha. Jackson, who got more minutes (37) than anyone, tossed up a few too many errant treys (1-6), but he turned in a solid performance otherwise, with 15 points and five assists. The KD and Russ Show was worth watching, with Westbrook knocking down 26 points and Durant 25, and 18 rebounds between them. The Thunder dominance of the boards was total: 52-36, with Steven Adams grabbing nine of them. Both Sefolosha and Nick Collison, who had been fairly well throttled by San Antonio in the first two games, drew DNP-CD, suggesting that Brooks is trying to make a point.

Certainly the Spurs got the point. Manu Ginobili was his usual seemingly unstoppable self, six of nine from beyond Boerne to lead San Antonio with 23, and Tim Duncan plucked 16 from wherever it is he keeps them, but Kawhi Leonard (10 points), Tony Parker (nine) and Danny Green (eight) were all below par, knocking the Spurs’ shooting percentage below 40. And while the Spurs still have the advantage in ball movement, it’s shrunk a bit: 22 assists and 16 turnovers versus 17 and 18.

Game 4 picks up Tuesday night in OKC. The crowd will want a repeat of what they saw tonight, and I suspect they don’t care what Scott Brooks wears.

(Title by Spencer Ackerman.)

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And the earth swallowed them whole

If nothing else, we learned tonight that the one starter the Thunder cannot do without is not Kevin Durant, not Russell Westbrook, but the wounded-in-action Serge Ibaka. Royce Young called it correctly: “[T]he Thunder have developed bad habits in their on-ball defense because of the safety blanket Ibaka provides.” Scott Brooks, long before the end, saw it coming; he pulled both Westbrook and Durant with 1:47 left in the third. At the time, it was 87-58 Spurs; the planet shuddered in response. (Maybe a 3.6 earthquake is more than just a shudder. This time, you make the call.) On the upside, something this horrendous to behold tends to end quickly, and losing 112-77 to the Spurs is pretty horrendous.

We also learned this: Jeremy Lamb apparently didn’t get enough minutes in recent weeks to develop those bad habits. In the fourth quarter, he hit six of eight shots, none of them from farther than two feet from the rim. With 13, Lamb was the leading scorer on either bench. To emphasize the point: take out those 20 three-point shots, 18 of which the Thunder missed, and they’re shooting 33-69, a reasonable 48 percent. (The Spurs hit exactly 50 percent.) Look at these lines. Durant was 6-16 for 15 points. Westbrook was 7-24 for 15 points. The rest of the starters contributed four points. If nothing else, this is an argument for playing Hasheem Thabeet: he makes few buckets, but few get past him either.

Tony Parker led San Antonio with 22; Danny Green chunked in 21 on seven treys; the Old Man of the Mountain, Tim Duncan, collected 14 points, 12 rebounds, and one technical foul. The Spurs had a 53-38 advantage on the boards, and missed only two free throws out of 23. (OKC missed five — out of ten.)

Game 3 isn’t until Sunday. At that time, we should see if the Thunder are completely, or only partially, demoralized. If I’m Scott Brooks, and you should probably be grateful I’m not, all previous rotation schemes are null and void.

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Geezers rule

A scribe for Sports Illustrated was ready to predict the Thunder in seven, until the word came down that Serge Ibaka wouldn’t be available for the series; he then amended his prediction to the Spurs in six. In vain will you point out that the Thunder are younger and, Ibaka aside, healthier: Tim Duncan, who once drew a DNP-OLD, calmly knocked down 27 points in 29 minutes, and Tony Parker, playing through a hamstring strain, turned in a double-double (14 points, 12 assists). The Spurs treated the paint like it was their own, and the Thunder led only twice: at the very beginning, and with 4:44 left in the third quarter, after which it would be more than four minutes before they made another shot. At 2:13, with the Spurs up by 21, Scott Brooks waved the white flag, and San Antonio claimed Game 1, 122-105. Sixty-six of those 122 points, you should know, were scored in the paint.

This is the pair of numbers that jumped hardest from the box score: the Spurs had 28 assists and 9 turnovers, the Thunder 19 and 16. Clearly OKC was moving the ball, but not moving it particularly well. And while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook accounted for just over half the Thunder scoring (28 and 25 points respectively), the only other starter to score was Kendrick Perkins with 5. Derek Fisher, who is probably almost old enough to have dated Tim Duncan’s babysitter, led the bench with 16. Nick Collison, who started in place of Ibaka, missed three shots, snagged two steals, and bled from two different locations. Reggie Jackson, usually viewed as the Mighty Spur-Killer, turned in a decent, if hardly lethal, 13 points.

“How did the Spurs do?” is usually easily answerable just from two lines, those of Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili. (You already know what the Senior Citizens can do.) Both turned in solid work, Leonard knocking down 16 points and collecting two steals, and Manu going 7-12 in his capacity as Sixth Man of Your Dreams. The Spurs shot 50-87 for 57 percent, more than ten percent percent better than the Thunder.

Game 2 is Wednesday in San Antonio. The guy who said “Spurs in six” might have been off by one.

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Nemesis unbound

Oklahoman sportswriter Anthony Slater came up with this startling statistic this morning: “Since the Thunder flipped the script back in late May 2012, San Antonio is 2-9 against OKC and 129-41 against everybody else.” Narrowing it to this season? “0-3 versus OKC and 59-13 against the rest of the league.” And yet the Spurs are still perched semi-comfortably on top of the Western Conference. The Thunder’s job, of course, is to make that perch less comfortable, and starting late in the second quarter, they did superbly well at doing exactly that, outscoring the Spurs 32-20 in the third quarter and keeping San Antonio off balance the rest of the way. The final was 106-94, and you have to figure Pop is relieved that the Spurs are in the Southwest and some years only have to play the Thunder three times.

How thwarted were the Spurs? Tony Parker wound up 3-10 for six points. Tiago Splitter, a good shooter for a big man, was 1-5 for two. Some slack was picked up elsewhere — Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan turned in 17 points each, and reserve guard Patty Mills came up huge with 21 on 8-13 including 5-7 from out by the canal. And the Spurs did enjoy a slight advantage rebounding, 42-39.

But San Antonio still has no answer for either Russell Westbrook, who stayed in for 31 minutes and knocked down 27 points, or for Reggie Jackson, who paced the bench with 14. And then there’s that Durant fellow, who came up with 28, the 39th time in a row he’s had at least 25. (There were a few “MVP” chants from the crowd, but not enough, if you ask me.) Kendrick Perkins was back, vacillating between stony silence and exercising the jawbone: he and Duncan got offsetting technicals early on.

Tomorrow night in Houston. Westbrook is supposed to have the night off. Patrick Beverley’s torn meniscus will keep him out, though he won’t be needing surgery, and Dwight Howard is sidelined with ankle issues. This could go all sorts of ways, though the scoreboard ultimately will show one of two.

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A study in grey and black

You go to San Antonio with two expectations: that your fouls will be called and theirs won’t, and that the Spurs will always find a way to foil your defense even when fouls aren’t involved. There were instances of both this evening, though not as many as the stereotype might suggest — and not enough to allow the Spurs to walk away with it. And with the fourth quarter winding down, Kevin Durant, who’d been fairly quiet for the last few minutes, tossed up a pair of treys. With the Thunder up 108-100 and 38 seconds left, there was a ridiculous little contretemps which for all the world looked like a wrestling match between Derek Fisher and Patty Mills. Offsetting T’s were assessed and a jump ball was called. That was the last of the drama, and the Thunder head off to the dreaded (or dreadful) East with a 111-105 victory in hand.

San Antonio started down a couple of players: Danny Green and Tiago Splitter were in recovery mode. Then Kawhi Leonard exited at halftime with a hand injury, and there was some brief concern when Tony Parker, just coming off a bruised shin, took a trip to the locker room. Not to worry; Parker carried a great deal of the load tonight for the Spurs, with a game-high, almost Durantesque 37 points (14-22), while the ageless Tim Duncan came up with his twenty thousandth double-double, 14 points and 13 boards.

KD himself hit for 36 on 12-22 shooting, though he turned the ball over a very unDurantesque eleven times. And anyway, the real story for OKC was Reggie Jackson, who has gone for 20 points or more in all three games against the Spurs: this time he knocked down 27, tying his career high, and served up eight assists. Serge Ibaka had 14 points and five blocks, in what is starting to seem normal for him. In the Battle of the Benches, the Spurs won, 35-30. (The Steven Adams Foul Report: three in 14 minutes.)

Travel day tomorrow, followed by a Friday night in Beantown and a Saturday in the City of Brotherly Fisticuffs. The Celtics and the Sixers between them have 27 wins; the Thunder just got their 33rd. Despite that, no predictions will be made from this desk.

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Balmy in Bexar

The high today in San Antonio was 76. But the reception at the AT&T Center is always a bit chilly, and the Spurs/Thunder first quarter was downright frosty, though it ended in a 21-all tie. OKC warmed up the joint in the second, 40-29; the Spurs clambered back to within three with ten minutes left, but seven minutes later were down 12 again, and a minute after that, Pop, who’d already been T’d up tonight, conceded; the Thunder walked away with a 113-100 win, the first time they’d won a regular-season game in Alamo City in four years.

It didn’t help the Spurs that they were missing Kawhi Leonard, who was scratched with dental problems. Then again, the Spurs have seldom lacked for depth, and Marco Belinelli, who got the start in place of Leonard, hit his first five treys. Belinelli wasn’t much of a factor in the second half, though, and finished with 17. Stalwart Tony Parker led the Spurs with 23; ageless Tim Duncan collected 17, and Boris Diaw led the bench with 14.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant was having an off night: 17 points on 6-14 shooting. Fortunately, Russell Westbrook wasn’t: he torched the Spurs for 31. Reggie Jackson, strengthening his case for Sixth Man of the Year, collected 21, just two short of his season high, achieved against the, um, Spurs. And Serge Ibaka picked up 14 points, 14 boards, three blocks, and just for the heck of it nailed two treys in the fourth quarter. But this was a night when the bench would shine, contributing 44 points and most of the plus over minus. (Nick Collison, at +20, led all; Jackson was +19.)

Then again, the Thunder had motivation to get this done in a hurry: they have to take on the Raptors tomorrow night in OKC, where the forecast high temperature is 31. Not that this will impress anyone from Toronto.

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You shall not shoot

If you yell DEFENSE! loud enough — and they do that routinely in Loud City — eventually the Thunder get the message. After trailing much of the first half, OKC cranked the lid shut on the Spurs, holding them to 15 points in the third quarter and long stretches of scorelessness in the fourth, abruptly ending their win streak at 11 and sending them back to San Antonio with a 94-88 loss.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that while Batman and Robin were on hand to do their thing, it was the rest of the Justice League that did the heavy lifting. To borrow a comparison made by Darnell Mayberry, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb went 15-21 (3-5 on treys) for 35 points, while Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were 12-39 (1-10 on treys) for 30 points. The Caped Crusaders aren’t exactly ready to be replaced yet — Westbrook, while stuck in Brick City most of the night, made some fairly startling plays and improved on his assist average, serving up eight, and Durant still had a double-double (game-high 24 points, 13 rebounds) — but you gotta cheer for the new kids. Serge Ibaka, who with Lamb took the Spurs apart in the third, finished with 17 points and 11 boards.

San Antonio’s Usual Suspects were deployed in the usual manner, but to less effect than usual: they shot less than 40 percent, hit only seven of 27 treys, and missed five of 14 free throws. Five Spurs made double figures, led by Tony Parker with 16. One thing they did well was steal the ball: 11 instances, four by Kawhi Leonard. However, they blocked only three shots, two fewer than Ibaka. (Leonard had the only San Antonio double-double, with 14 points and 10 boards.) And one truth seems indisputable: tonight the Spurs’ sixth man — Manu Ginobili — was not quite as good as the Thunder’s Jackson, who tied his career high with 23 points.

Maybe it’s karma. In the second quarter, Derek Fisher collected three fouls in less than twelve seconds, mostly the result of Jeff Ayres poking at him; once Ayres got caught, the momentum seemed to shift just a hair. Or maybe that’s me being pleased about it.

The Warriors will be here on Black Friday, perhaps without Andre Igoudala, who killed the Thunder with a buzzer-beater in Oakland not so long ago.

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Like Berle, if Berle could rebound

About fifteen months ago, which in NBA terms is about a quarter-century, Tim Duncan didn’t suit up for some Spurs game because he was old. Really. Said so in the box score.

I have to figure, though, that Methuselah Jr. shrugged it off; the man clearly has a sense of humor. Jeff McDonald, on the Spurs beat for the San Antonio Express-News, sent this up yesterday:

Tim Duncan explains Spurs’ game plan vs. LeBron this way: “We’re guarding him with five guys.”

Also yesterday, Royce Young of Daily Thunder tweeted this:

Tim Duncan was asked what he would hate most about the spotlight the Heat get, the second-guessing, the over-coverage, etc. Answer: “Yes.”

I hope I’m that funny when I get that old.

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Jingle jangled

“Who are you, and what have you done with Tony Parker?” I mean, two points in 25 minutes, and not a trace of him in the fourth quarter. Which isn’t why the Spurs, after pulling to within three with four minutes left, wound up losing by 12 to the Thunder — that was OKC hustle, pure and simple — but apparently this was a night for short rotations: Scott Brooks played only nine guys, Gregg Popovich just eight. (Manu Ginobili was out, but Pop still issued five DNP-CDs.) And the 100-88 win puts OKC only half a game back of the wicked Texans.

Fearless forwards Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan — I swear, Duncan is getting younger despite being older than God, if not older than Derek Fisher — turned in stellar performances anyway: both bagged 24 points and double-digit rebounds. However, Tiago Splitter, previously a thorn in the Thunder’s side, was more of a vague, inchoate itch tonight, held to four points and six boards.

Speaking of Fisher, he got his usual 15 minutes; however, he got a highly unusual 17 points, including five of seven from the Crystal Bridge. (I’m waiting for Brooks to issue a single-word statement: “Nyah.”) And it’s a good thing Fisher did that, because Kevin Martin disappeared nearly as thoroughly as Tony Parker. Which means most of the rest of the offense, as usual, was Russell Westbrook (27) and Kevin Durant (25). The Thunder shot a nothing-special 46 percent, but with the Spurs failing to break 40, it was good enough. (How can the Spurs fail to break 40? Might be those thirteen OKC blocks.)

So the season series is split 2-2, but the bigger news is the in-conference record. A team plays 52 games against members of its own conference. The Thunder are 35-13; the Spurs are 32-15. If these two teams finish with an identical overall record, OKC gets the nod. But first, there’s a little obstacle called the Indiana Pacers, who have won five straight and will be happy to start off the Thunder’s weekend with a loss tomorrow night. The Pacers are, um, 29-8 at home.

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