By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Billy Donovan admitted it was a bit of a tough task, playing a team you really weren’t prepared to play.
“Hard game to play,” he said after his Thunder beat a San Antonio team that didn’t look anything like the actual Spurs 111-92.
The Thunder had prepared for Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Not so much for Boban Marjanovic, Kyle Anderson and Johnathon Simmons.
With the Spurs playing on the second night of a back-to-back, coach Gregg Popovich opted to do what he’s done plenty of times in the past, sit his older starters and veteran sixth man Manu Ginobili. In fact they weren’t even sitting courtside, they were sitting back home in San Antonio. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and LaMarcus Aldridge were all being rested. Leonard is still recovering from a bruised quad.
And while going up against a lineup of backups and down the line bench guys sounds like an easy task it’s really not when you’re talking about a team as deep, talented and veteran savvy as the Spurs.
So that explains part of why the Thunder trailed 26-24 at the end of the first quarter and 36-27 about four minutes into the second. You also had some turnovers, poor defense at times and several shots that simply didn’t fall.
After about that eight minute mark in the second quarter the Thunder figured out some things and Russell Westbrook took over, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting in leading the turnaround.
“When we were teetering there I thought his offense answered and stopped some runs,” Donovan said of his star point guard. “He always brings energy and I thought his energy tonight lifted our team.”
Westbrook finished with 29 points on 10-for-18 shooting and he nailed all nine of his free throws. His superstar teammate Kevin Durant was even more efficient scoring 31 points on 13-for-20 overall and 5-for-7 from beyond the arc to extend his streak of scoring at least 20 points to 58 straight games.
Neither Thunder star seemed particularly bothered that the Spurs didn’t bring their A-game or their star players.
“No it doesn’t bother me” Russ said in the lockerroom after the game. “For a guy like me, honestly if you play the same way every night it doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”
“Another opportunity to keep growing and improve on our habits,” KD said. “It wasn’t on us they didn’t play their starters so we just have to continue to play our game and stick to what we do.”
The Thunder dominated the middle quarters outscoring San Antonio 59-37 and Enes Kanter made sure the Spurs couldn’t get back into the game in the final 12 minutes by scoring 14 of his 20 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the fourth quarter.
But Kanter was the only Thunder backup who had anything going on offense. While he was 7-for-12 the rest of the bench combined to go an abysmal 1-for-16. Randy Foye hit that lone shot to finish with two points.
OKC also got good, solid games from Serge Ibaka (15 points, eight rebounds, four blocks) and Steven Adams (nine points, six rebounds).
“Serge had a couple of great blocks that triggered the fast break and he really protected the rim,” Donovan said. “I thought he was really good at both ends of the floor.”
The Thunder now take a seven game winning streak out on the road for an Eastern Conference back-to-back at Toronto Monday night and then at Detroit on Tuesday before coming home to take on the Clippers Thursday night. With the win the Thunder now have opened up a full six game lead on L.A. for third place in the Western Conference.
There are just two home games left in the regular season, the Thunder finish by playing seven of their last nine on the road.