OKLAHOMA CITY - No Tony Parker? No problem, say the San Antonio Spurs.
By the looks of the aggressive scoring battle that took place Monday night at the Ford Center, someone might think the Spurs (42-27) and Oklahoma City Thunder (42-27) were fighting for first place, rather than the actual sixth place standing in the Western Conference.
With the Spurs’ fall to the Atlanta Hawks and the Thunder’s loss to the Indiana Pacers, both teams were feeling the effects of a tough loss on the road just the day before.
Starting for San Antonio were Antonio McDyess, Richard Jefferson, George Hill, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, with the team’s first points scored by Duncan just seconds into the first quarter. The need for either team to win was evident over the first six minutes of play as San Antonio answered each Oklahoma City basket until Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka teamed up to land the Spurs in hot water.
Ginobili helped to keep the Spurs moving, including a three-pointer at the top of the arc to give the Spurs their last lead of the first quarter, but Durant continued his own scoring spree to drive the Thunder’s numbers. Contributions by DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner and George Hill rounded out the first 12 minutes of play which ended Thunder 34, Spurs 25.
Errors by the Spurs led to foul trouble in the second quarter, as Green and Ibaka were sent to line for a combined six (completed) free throws, giving Oklahoma City a 13-point lead with 8:21 left. Two baskets apiece by Roger Mason Jr. and Antonio McDyess paired with an effortless three-point shot by Ginobili in nearly three minutes brought San Antonio back to life.
Mason proved his worth by scored three - count ‘em, three - much-needed three-pointers in the last three minutes of the half to move San Antonio back within four points of tying the game. On a last minute shooting foul by Durant, Hill was sent to the free-throw line for three shots. A hot hand from Hill narrowed Oklahoma City’s lead to three at the half; Thunder 59, Spurs 56.
The Spurs’ halftime stats weren’t exactly spectacular, proving that shooting is still one of the team’s weakest spots; San Antonio shot 21-of-42 FG, 9-of-15 FT and 5-of-13 3-point FG. With 16 rebounds, 16 points in the paint and 20 bench points, the Spurs had their work cut out for them to overcome the Thunder in the second half.
Project Spurs' own Jeff Garcia's "favorite" quarter always seems to be the third, and this one wasn’t lacking in entertainment value. Ginobili, Duncan and Hill, who shined the entire game, brought the lead back to San Antonio straight out of the gate - the team’s first in nearly 20 minutes of play. After a quick comeback from Oklahoma City led by wunderkind Durant, a three-point shot from Hill tied the game yet again. Richard Jefferson’s big three-point shot oozed potential but ended up being a total bust, simply highlighting his struggles on the court.
Hill’s hot streak kicked back in just in time, as his back-to-back reverse layup and floater shots were able to put the Spurs back on top while Matt Bonner made his own three-point play contribution to give San Antonio its biggest lead of the game at seven points with less than two minutes left in the third. Durant proved yet again that he is a force to be reckoned with, sinking a basket to narrow San Antonio’s lead to five just before the buzzer; Spurs 81, Thunder 76.
San Antonio continued to maintain the lead throughout the fourth, but Oklahoma City refused to go down without a fight. Bonner and Blair combined back-to-back plays for five points to put the Spurs back on the board, but Jeff Green came back to score four points for the Thunder.
Offensive work by San Antonio shined in the middle of the fourth, as Mason gained possession and passed to Ginobili, who in turned passed off to Duncan. Seeing nowhere to go, Duncan got the ball to Bonner, who sent it right back to Ginobili. The shot clock was ticking, so Ginobili passed back to Mason, who decided to put the ball in Hill’s hands - an excellent decision as Hill fired off a three-pointer to put the Spurs back in a seven-point lead.
Another two-point floater from Hill gave the second-year veteran out of IUPUI (first reference by Bill Land and Sean Elliott; amazing that it took until the fourth) his newest career high of 27 points in a single game; his previous record of 26 points had been against Houston.
With less than four minutes left in the game, Ginobili’s big steal from Green became instant highlight reel material as he crossed the court and scored on a two-point dunk. Two baskets later, Durant reached his own career high of 45 points, but Ginobili responded by three-of-four free throws, the final points of the game. Not even the overwhelming noise from the Oklahoma City fans could stop the Spurs, who won 99-96.
Hill led the team in scoring, followed by Ginobili‘s 21-point contribution, and Duncan and Mason with 14 and 13 points respectively. Duncan and McDyess each had 7 rebounds, while Ginobili and Hill each had five; the team had a total of 38 rebounds. The team finished with 32 points in the paint and had 43.5 percent shooting, completing 8-of-25 three-point attempts.
While the win gives the Spurs the season series win over Oklahoma City and a current sixth-place spot in the Western Conference, San Antonio faces a serious schedule the rest of the week - it all begins with the showdown versus top-of-the-Western-Conference Los Angeles Lakers in the AT&T Center at 8:30 p.m. The Spurs will face the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Eastern-Conference leaders, on Friday evening and the Boston Celtics this Sunday.