Thunder win early West showdown with Spurs

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s December, and NBA statements in
December get lost because of a number of things ranging from it’s too
soon to the fact it’s still football season.

But
Monday, all things considered — and there were a number of considerations
to make — the Thunder made a statement as loud and effective as they
possibly could in front of another sellout crowd inside Chesapeake
Arena.

You can make the call and decide if the
Thunder’s 107-93 victory over San Antonio has far-reaching effects or
carries a bit more weight, but what we know now is at the 
quarter pole of the NBA season, the Thunder have the league’s best
record and have won 11 games in a
row.

Statement?

“It was a big
game,” coach Scott Brooks said. “It was a statement for Dec. 17. We
wanted to play well tonight.”

Big because it was the
Spurs and the Spurs had a season-opening win over the Thunder, but
smaller when you look a bit deeper. San Antonio didn’t play Manu
Ginobili and didn’t activate Kawhi Leonard. That’s 21 points per game
the Thunder didn’t have to deal with. Stephen Jackson, who has played
just 10 games this season, was dealing with an injured finger, and he
played only 19 minutes.

Meanwhile, Spurs coach Gregg
Popovich waved his white-haired flag before the start of the fourth
quarter and the Thunder leading by 18. And while Popovich has shown the
propensity to concede games, like he did Monday when he kept his
starters out of the lineup for the entire quarter, despite slicing the
lead to just nine with more than 5 minutes to play, he also has been
known to give in and give up before tipoff, too.

So,
jumping to major conclusions should come with a warning from this one.
Nice win, but not much more than that. Win or lose, the Spurs are one of
the Western Conference elite. Win or lose, the same can be said of the
Thunder. Check back in April if you’re looking for something more
life-altering.

“We don’t look at it that way,” Brooks
said of Monday’s significance, and while he’s usually liberal, painting
the season’s gains and losses with a broad brush, never getting too
specific on anything, he may be right about
Monday.

This was a satisfying win, but about the only
definitive thing that came out of Monday was Serge Ibaka’s dominance as he
scored a game-best 25 points and added 17 rebounds and three blocks.
Now, Ibaka said he wasn’t motivated by last week’s Twitter pillow fight
with Jackson where Jackson said, and I’m paraphrasing here, Ibaka wasn’t
ready. Jackson didn’t spell Ibaka’s name correctly in the 140
characters he was allotted and also suggested he was going to hit Ibaka
in the mouth.

Nothing special, said Russell
Westbrook, who played dumb, suggesting he hadn’t heard anything of the
literary battle coming from Jackson.

“Nahh, it’s just
another win,” guard Russell Westbrook said. “Another home win. Now we
get to go on the road and take care of business.”

The
positives were many Monday, starting with the fact the Thunder won in
spite of a odd performance from its two stars. Kevin Durant needed until
6 minutes were left to put up more shots than Kendrick Perkins. He had
just 19 points on 13 shots. Westbrook put up a 6-of-18 effort. But Ibaka
was sensational and Kevin Martin had 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Nick Collison had eight points and 10 rebounds off the
bench.

“No complaints,” Brooks said. “Our standards
are high and their standards are high. We wanted to play as well against
them just as much as we wanted to play well against the Kings. That’s
how we operate.”

That’s 20-4 on the season now for
the Thunder, and if you’re looking for statements, keep an eye on the
next month of the schedule as the Thunder play 15 of their next 21 games
on the road.

It starts with a game Wednesday at
Atlanta, a team they lost to in Oklahoma City in November, and it
includes a Christmas Day game at Miami. Now that’s a statement in
waiting.