Right now, there’s now doubt it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yes, one head-to-head win is enough to determine that, with the team’s records being so close, and the San Antonio Spurs being yet another team that failed to win at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the best home advantage in the NBA until this moment. Even with Russell Westbrook doing his best to ruin it for his team, the bench and the fantastic two-way ability of Serge Ibaka were enough to make up for it.
The Thunder won 94-88, pulling away in the final six minutes after the Spurs managed to cut the lead down to three points. They scored only 15 points in the third quarter, struggling to handle the excellent defense from the Thunder, forcing San Antonio to only 39.1% from the field, although there were a lot of open shots missed by Kawhi Leonard (6-of-18) and Tony Parker (6-of-16). Tim Duncan finished with only 11 points, struggling to cope with Serge Ibaka who has really taken off over the last three weeks, especially since Russell Westbrook returned.
The Thunder’s starters didn’t have a dreamy day on the floor as well. Something happens to Westbrook too many times when he faces Tony Parker. Maybe it has something to do with the need to chase him around on defense that hurts his decision making on offense. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. In any case, Westbrook was at his most awful with 2-of-16 from the field (including 0-of-5 from beyond the arc), scoring only 6 points to go along with his 8 assists.
Kevin Durant did much better, although not at the peak of accuracy. He scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, but the real heroes of the game were Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka. Jackson came off the bench to score 23 points, showing he can be that big third-scorer the Thunder need so much to help their two stars, while Ibaka had 17 points and 11 rebounds. His 5 blocks didn’t tell the whole story, as he completely changed the Spurs thought about offense, and eventually failed in executing it.
The Spurs still have the better record, and last year was also about preserving home court during the season between the two teams, the best in the West over the last two years in the regular season and the playoffs. However, the change in what we saw from the the Thunder was having their defense win the game, while their superstars had a very ordinary day, combining to score 30 points, tied for the 3rd-fewest they have combined for in a Thunder win they both played in.
I thought our defense was outstanding. I think in the last three or four games we’ve put a string of defensive efforts and defensive performances together we can continue to build on. Going into this game they’d won 11 in a row and were the hottest team in basketball and with the way they score they’re a hard team to guard. I thought our guys did a good job with our length making them miss shots and I thought defense was the key tonight.