Thunder win early West showdown with Spurs
DEC 17, 2012 10:28p ET
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.
"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.