By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
After Sunday night’s come from behind 111-97 Thunder win, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich admitted OKC “out-toughed us.”
The Thunder also refused to wilt under the extreme pressure of staring a 1-3 deficit in the face and going to San Antonio to try to keep what little hope would be left alive.
“We can’t judge off 24 minutes we have to play a full 48,” Kevin Durant reminded reporters after the Thunder’s Monday practice.
Of course after those first 24 minutes things didn’t look particularly good for the Thunder. They had jumped ahead of the Spurs 45-44 after a Durant 3-ball with 1:47 to go before halftime. A bit over a minute later the Spurs had put the finishing touches on a 9-0 run that buried OKC in yet another hole.
“We just kept playin’ we kept movin’ the ball, movin’ our bodies and we was able to get free a little bit.”
But most of all KD said he and his teammates simply refused to lose. Refused to give into the temptation that no matter what the Thunder did, the Spurs had a counter and slipped free.
By the fourth quarter that Thunder determination, along with a sudden hot streak from Durant at both ends of the floor, was finally too much for the Spurs.
“We played extremely hard,” Durant said, “Extremely hard. Everybody left a piece of them on the court when we walked off and that’s all you can ask for.”
“Our guys just kept battling and fighting,” echoed head coach Billy Donovan.
And accepting the challenge of not only trying to do the things needed offensively to extend the lead but also to do the things needed defensively to protect it.
Like Durant taking the personal challenge of shutting down Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, who finished the game 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think Kevin ever shies away from a matchup at all,” Donovan said. “I feel like though, for him, it’s asking a lot with the amount of minutes he absorbs it’s asking an awful lot for him to be as efficient and effective as we need him to be on the offensive end of the floor and then be able to guard a guy like Kawhi Leonard. But Kevin I think always wants those matchups.”
In the fourth quarter Sunday night the TNT cameras caught an exchange between Durant and Russell Westbrook. It was fairly easy to read their lips. Russ asked, “Hey Kev, you need me to try and get Kawhi?” and KD answers, “Naw, I got him.”
But Monday afternoon Durant deflected any of that one-on-one talk saying everything is a team effort.
“There’s no individual matchups. I know the fans and you guys (media) try to think of it as that way but there’s 10 guys on the court and you’re playing against each other if I get beat somebody’s gonna help me out, if I beat someone they’re gonna help their teammates out. I may guard a guy or he may guard me but it’s the whole team tryin’ to stop the ball.”
All of that worked to perfection in the fourth quarter Sunday night when the Thunder held San Antonio to just 33.3 percent shooting overall and 0-for-4 on threes. Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge were a combined 0-for-7 for one point coming on a free throw.
For the Thunder to steal another win in the Alamo City, Durant knows he and his teammates will have to bring the same kind of maniacal effort they had in the fourth quarter Sunday, but this time try to spread it out over more of the game so as not to have to be constantly trying to dig out of a hole.
“We’ve gotta do that,” Durant said. “I’m sure that’s the easiest thing to do in the game of basketball is to go out there and play extremely hard and we’re gonna need that same effort (Tuesday night).”