SAN ANTONIO (AP) The San Antonio Spurs have admired the outstanding season Russell Westbrook is having and the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard didn’t disappoint in person.
Neither did the Spurs, who took playing Westbrook as a great challenge.
Kawhi Leonard scored 36 points and San Antonio held Westbrook scoreless in the fourth quarter for a 108-94 victory on Tuesday night.
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”You’re just fired up just playing against Russ out there,” Leonard said. ”(Westbrook is) out there competing on every possession. The way he’s been playing, he has been ridiculous. So, you definitely want to rise up to the challenge.”
It was the Spurs’ first game against the Thunder since Oklahoma City bounced them out of the Western Conference playoffs last season following a franchise-record 67 wins in the regular season.
The Thunder look vastly different after losing Kevin Durant to free agency and trading Serge Ibaka, but Westbrook continued to terrorize San Antonio.
Westbrook had 27 points, 14 assists and six rebounds, but was shut out after scoring 14 points in the third. He shot 0 for 4 in the fourth and finished 7 for 17 from the field.
”I think everybody in this locker room loves those challenges,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, who was Westbrook’s primary defender. ”Top teams, the best players, that’s what we’re here for. We grew up watching this game and want to play in these games. To play against the best, beat the best and compete against the best and see where we stand individually and as a group.”
LaMarcus Aldridge added 25 points for San Antonio, which improved to 17-6 at home.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich collected his 1,126th career victory, leaving him one shy of tying the league record for most wins with one franchise held by Utah’s Jerry Sloan.
Leonard had 12 points in the final quarter, including a dynamic three-point play for a 91-81 lead. The Spurs had to rally after Westbrook sparked a 23-4 run in the third that erased an 18-point deficit and gave the Thunder a 69-68 lead.
Green helped limit Westbrook in the opening 16 minutes, blocking his 3-point attempt in the first quarter and drawing consecutive offensive fouls on the mercurial point guard in the second period.
”(Green) set the tone for us defensively and did a really good job on a great player to start the game,” Popovich said. ”That was important for us.”
Rookie forward Domantas Sabonis matched a season high with 13 rebounds and had 13 points. The Thunder’s bench was outscored 32-22.
”I’m not sure (how to help the second unit),” Westbrook said. ”We have to figure it out. Sometimes you have to figure it out. I’ll do a better job of trying to figure some things out myself to be able to at least help that second unit out whatever it is I can do.”
Thunder: Oklahoma City finished 7-8 in January, its first month with a losing record this season. … Westbrook, Sabonis and Andre Roberson have started all 49 games. … Oklahoma City played eight of its last nine games on the road, closing that stretch with a 4-5 record. The Thunder will play nine of their next 11 at home.
Spurs: The Spurs have scored 100-plus points in 25 straight games, their longest streak since 29 straight in 1987-88. … Leonard has scored in double figures in 77 straight games, the franchise’s longest streak since Tim Duncan had 91 in 2002-03. Hall of Famer George Gervin owns the franchise record with 406 straight games in double figures from Nov. 21, 1978, to Dec. 16, 1983.
Donovan acknowledged there are times when he is tempted to keep Westbrook out there for the entire, but said he would not play his All-Star point guard 40-plus minutes unless it’s an overtime game.
”That’s not fair to him or his career,” Donovan said. ”It’s not even fair to our team if we are trying to evolve into being a good team.”
Westbrook agreed that playing extended minutes would not only hurt him, but also the team.
”I would play all night if I could, but obviously that’s not good for me for the long run,” Westbrook said. ”You’ve just got to be able to trust other guys. We have enough in this room to be able to come out and compete.”
Westbrook, who is averaging 34.7 minutes per game, played 34 minutes against the Spurs.