Bench leads short-handed Spurs past Thunder

The San Antonio Spurs didn’t have Tony Parker on Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But they have something else Oklahoma City desperately needs — a bench.

And that alone may be enough to hold onto the top seed in the Western Conference, but more importantly, it could be the reason the Spurs get past the Thunder in the playoffs.

The Spurs won 105-93, increased their lead to two games over the Thunder and got 36 points from their bench on a night where they were shorthanded, due to Parker’s sprained ankle.

Tiago Splitter was a bright spot at center, going for 21 points and 10 rebounds, displaying the depth the Spurs possess. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard combined for 33 points, and Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili had 23 total points off the bench. Didn’t even mention Tim Duncan and didn’t have to, because the Spurs have options while the Thunder have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and “Not exactly.”

A season ago, Oklahoma City featured James Harden off the bench. But playing its fourth game in five days, the Thunder’s bench was exposed as limited, and just looked tired.

Kevin Martin has been an admirable replacement for Harden, but he’s not the dynamic scorer Harden is and Martin wasn’t even in the game for most of the fourth quarter. Martin scored nine points against the Spurs, but was just 3 of 8 shooting, and when Durant and Westbrook are off like they were for a good chunk of Monday’s game, the Thunder bench looks thin. The bench was a combined minus-83.

Now, Durant and Westbrook rarely pair up and have bad games at the same time (they combined for 51 points against the Spurs), but when they do, it leaves the Thunder, who are without an established, consistent third scorer, vulnerable.

And then there’s the Spurs. Green and Leonard have become more than just role players, they have become dependable. Ginobili and Duncan are consistent, and any combination of Stephen Jackson, Diaw, Neal and DeJuan Blair is a combination of choices the Thunder just don’t have.

Serge Ibaka had 13 points and 16 rebounds against the Spurs, but it was his first double-double in March and only his third since the second day of February. Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins are complementary pieces, not leading roles. Reggie Jackson is dynamic, but raw. He had two points and was minus-15 Monday. Past that, scoring is a chore beyond the Westbrook-Durant duo.

That shortage makes it even more important for the Thunder to overtake the Spurs for the top spot in the West. A year ago, Oklahoma City overcame San Antonio’s home-court advantage, but a year ago, it had Harden. Certainly, Oklahoma City is good enough to beat any team, but a 1-4 combined record against the Miami Heat and the Spurs shows the Thunder need some help when it comes to playing the best teams in the NBA.

San Antonio trailed by 10 points after the first quarter but outscored the Thunder by 22 the rest of the way. Maybe it was weariness by the Thunder, but if that’s the case, the Spurs had their share of issues, too. A game ago, San Antonio was embarrassed by Portland, losing by 30 points while giving up 136 points. Against the Thunder, the Spurs shot 60 percent in the first half and 52 percent for the game while holding the Thunder to just two baskets in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter.

And a game after the Thunder played well offensively and defensively in a win against the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City did a poor job of both Monday. The Thunder leaned on Durant, but he ended up with just 13 shots. The Thunder leaned on Westbrook, who was brilliant at times, but was just 11 of 27 shooting. After that, there was nowhere else to lean.

And that’s why the Spurs will be able to hold onto the top spot in the Western Conference.

Even without Tony Parker.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @theandrewgilman