Thunder Embracing The Spurs Challenge

Billy Donovan and Gregg Popovich chat for a moment after the Thunder beat the Spurs 111-92 on March 26th. (Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com)

Billy Donovan and Gregg Popovich chat for a moment after the Thunder beat the Spurs 111-92 on March 26th. (Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com)

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

It is a familiar yet daunting challenge.

And frankly it’s the same whether you view a playoff series between the Spurs and Thunder from San Antonio or Oklahoma City.

Both organizations and their fan bases have tremendous respect for each other and much of that is because the Thunder have their roots deep within Spurs soil.

Thunder chairman Clay Bennett used to be part of the Spurs ownership group, even represented them at NBA Board of Governors meetings in the early 90s.

Thunder GM Sam Presti started as an intern for the Spurs and when Bennett and other OKC businessmen bought the Seattle SuperSonics Presti, who had risen to an assistant GM job in San Antonio, was brought on board to run the franchise.

Other Spurs alums are sprinkled throughout the Thunder organization.

The teams have played 12 playoff games in two series against each other and each has won six games and each has won a series. Both series ended 4-2, both started in San Antonio and the Spurs won their first two games at home in both series.

In the Spring of 2012 the Thunder rallied from that 0-2 deficit to win four straight games and advance to the NBA Finals. Two years later OKC could not come all the back in the series because of a calf injury to Serge Ibaka.

There have been barn-burners and blowouts on each side but one thing has been pretty consistent, the home team generally wins.

Of those 12 playoff games the home team has won 10 times. The Thunder are 5-1 at The Peake and 1-5 at the AT&T Center.

To win this series the Thunder most likely have to win all three of their games at home and one in San Antonio.

Just. One. Game.

But just once is exactly how many times the Spurs have lost on their home floor this season. From now all the way back to when the regular season started at the end of October.

Just. One. Game.

But that’s history, almost ancient history in terms of those playoff series, and it’s not always destined to be repeated.

“It’s two different teams now,” Kevin Durant pointed out at practice this week. “We have a different team, they have a different team and some guys are in different roles than two years ago so it’s different.”

And even the regular season series between the teams in 2015-16 isn’t fair gauge. Opening Night, when the Thunder beat the Spurs in OKC, was the only game played on a fairly even footing. Equal rest, everyone healthy. But it was the first game and a lot has changed since then.

Kevin Durant waiting to go back on the floor against the Cavaliers on February 21st. (Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com)

Kevin Durant waiting to go back on the floor against the Cavaliers on February 21st. (Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com)

Two of the games were played when one team or the other was resting the bulk of its starters and in the other, a Thunder loss in San Antonio, OKC was playing on the second night of a back-to-back and the Spurs were at home and rested.

“We beat them, they beat us but at this point the regular season really doesnt matter is about how you approach the series and every series is different, every game is different,” Durant said.

“We wanna rely on what we do and I’m sure they feel the same way but at the same time it’s the playoffs, it’s a different vibe and a different level of energy when you’re out there on that playoff floor.”

It’s really different for Thunder head coach Billy Donovan who was asked to compare the NBA playoffs with what he was used to experiencing in the NCAA Tournament.

“One thing that’s really, really different is the emotional part,” Donovan said. “Because what happens is you get to the end of the NCAA Tournament, and you lose, that’s emotional but you’re not picking yourself back up off the carpet to go into the next game.

Billy Donovan speaking to reporters on Friday after Thunder practice. (Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com

Billy Donovan speaking to reporters on Friday after Thunder practice. (Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com

We come out of Game 2 (against Dallas) and the series is tied 1-1 and you’re sitting there and people are saying oh if they drop two down there they’re down 3-1 if they split they gotta get home court back, you got all this drama that gets circled around and to be able to pick yourself up off the mat in a playoff series I think is really important.”

Donovan believes how you handle winning a game is just as important.

“Being able to come back with a level of humility and focus just like you did when you prepared for the first one.”

The Thunder are in San Antonio with the unquestioned mission of trying to win at least one of the first two games but through past experience they also know all is not won nor is it all lost whatever happens in San Antonio, much more will be riding on how the teams respond to what happens.

“That’s the mental grind of playing a team, potentially seven straight times, knowing each other real well, the individual battles all those things,” Donovan said. “And then dealing with the emotions of either wins or losses, and being able to emotionally keep even keeled and focus in on what’s important.”

Tipoff is set for 7:30 tonight and you can see the game exclusively on TNT.