It’s too early to tell but the Oklahoma City Thunder needed something extra following their 86-84 loss Thursday — perhaps James Harden or, quite simply, better execution.
The Spurs’ defense — especially Kawhi Leonard who added five thefts — forced 18 turnovers, leading to 18 points. They also limited Oklahoma City, whose effective field goal percentage (.516) was only behind the Spurs last season, to less than 40 percent shooting.
Because of the defensive effort, San Antonio earned their second consecutive win of the season — both of which were decided by less than five points. Impressively, the offensive oriented Spurs managed to do win by scoring less than 90 points.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich emphasized the defensive side of the ball during training camp. The results weren’t pretty initially; San Antonio allowed nearly 100 points a game in five preseason matches (excluding their matchup against Italy’s Montepaschi Siena).
“(The defense) was excellent,” Popovich said. “The activity, the communication, the transition D. But more than anything, we took care of the ball.”
The extra possessions in which San Antonio garnered were used to offset the potent trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin, all of whom scored in double-figures.
The defense tightened the reigns on the three, limiting Durant four points in the final quarter after the three-time scoring champion had amassed 19 points through three quarters. After opening the quarter with a dunk and lay up, Durant went scoreless in the final six minutes and 42 seconds.
Westbrook likely did more harm than good. He turned the ball over six times and he missed 15 of 21 shot attempts. At times, his aggression worked against him.
The final possession, for instance, predicated on Westbrook’s poor defense. Had he taken the correct angle – or any angle for that matter — on the screens, perhaps Parker would have missed or taken a tougher shot. Instead, Parker was open enough, even despite the close out of Serge Ibaka, to make the game-winning shot over his outstretched arms.
Martin, meanwhile, was the third Thunder to score in double-figures. The nine-year veteran did his best Harden impression by adding three 3-pointers and five assists off the bench.
But it was not to be, leaving many to wonder one thing: Will the Thunder miss James Harden?
Next opponent: The Utah Jazz will arrive at the AT&T Center Saturday — their first meeting against San Antonio since being swept in he first round. The game will tip-off at 7:30 p.m and will be televised locally on CW35.