With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili nothing more than pedestrian, and on the other side for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t great in handling the physicality of the San Antonio Spurs and their defense, Tiago Splitter was all people was the player who made the biggest impression.
It’s not over, the battle for the top spot in the Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs do take a two game lead over the Thunder with their 105-93 win, but there’s still one more game to go in this series, coming up on the first week of April. Don’t forget – the Spurs are without Tony Parker, which can lead to unexpected results on the court.
But in a game that was a must win for them for a couple of reasons, that recently found Spurs defense came through but allowing Westbrook and Durant to have their shots, but clamping down on the rest of the players, and being surprisingly physical from the first moment, which isn’t typical Spurs basketball.
Normally teams don’t push us out, so we can’t run our offense. They did a good job of being physical with us. We’re usually in attack mode and we’re able to get better catches and better execution. That’s something we can get better from. We’ve always done a great job of watching film and throwing it on the practice floor to improve on.
And it wasn’t so easy from the first moment. Early in the second quarter, the Spurs were down by 13 points. But then came an incredible blitz of 33-9, including 11 points in a single minutes, and the Thunder kept on chasing from there.
Defensively, the man of making Kevin Durant look so pedestrian as well (26 points on 7-13 from the field, 11-11 from the line) was none other than Kawhi Leonard, not for the first time making top scorers look struggling and limited.
You know he’s going to score points, but just trying to contest him. Not make it easy for him out there; he knocked down a couple of tough shots in the first quarter, so I just kept trying to move on from there.
Leonard was also the man who made Russell Westbrook quite frustrated more than once, stripping him near the basket en route to a nice dunk during the Spurs’ impressive second quarter run. Russell Westbrook took 27 (!!!) shots, making 11 of them, but had plenty of problems on defense and as usual with his shot selection for most of the game. He, as expected, didn’t look too happy at the end of the contest.
Westbrook (18.8) is attempting more field goals per game than Durant (17.9). Only once in NBA history has a teammate attempted more field goals per game than a scoring a champion – Neil Johnston of the Philadelphia Warriors won the 1954-55 scoring title, but his teammate Paul Arizin attempted two more shots per game than him that season. No doubt, the Westbrook – Durant dynamic is a special one. Kevin Durant usually makes excuses for him.
It can come down and take 30 shots, but that is not the right brand of basketball for me. I was trying to make the right basketball play. The Spurs do such a great job of making me pass the ball. I was picking and choosing my shots. I trust my teammates.
And then there was Splitter, with 21 points and 10 rebounds, with the biggest +/- of the game (+24). When he entered the league, coming from the same team as Luis Scola did in Europe, I thought to myself Spiltter was going to be that kind of player. Not a bad NBA career to have. But Splitter has a different role, growing bit by bit, halted this season because of Duncan often playing like a much younger man.
And still, the Spurs have a special big man in Splitter, who’s a lot more physical and gritty than his frame sometimes suggests. A much better postseason from him this time around, with a lot more responsibility, and the Spurs might keep their home advantage against the Thunder this time around, unlike last year.