San Antonio Spurs 86, Oklahoma City Thunder 84: Tony Parker has all your clutch
AT&T CENTER — When someone tells you they don’t watch the NBA until Christmas or that the league doesn’t matter until the playoffs, I want you to show them a tape of this game. And then stop hanging out with them, they sound like the worst.
In a bit of a scheduling anomaly thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the Spurs and Thunder were the only NBA game on Thursday night. After a Tony Parker buzzer-beater sunk the Oklahoma City Thunder 86-84, NBA fans can thank their lucky stars the night wasn’t watered-down by some other mediocre game.
For the second night in a row it came down to the wire for the San Antonio Spurs, and for the second night in a row Parker was there to hit the big shots late in the game. Not only did he sink the game-winning jumper, but Parker also knocked down a corner 3 to tie the ball game at 84 with 28.3 seconds left.
San Antonio wouldn’t have been in that position without another disruptive defensive game from Kawhi Leonard. I thought coming into the game that Leonard would be a little quieter when it came to playing the passing lanes because of his defensive responsibilities on Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. I was wrong. Kawhi chalked up another five steals including one with 7.9 seconds left that set up Parker’s game-winning bucket.
It’s only two games, but Leonard’s activity as a defensive rover is slowly becoming a trend. Blessed with those long arms and huge hands, he’s caused two teams trouble on offense by simply being around and in the way. It’s also letting him play off of his man in help defense more than most players can.
“He uses his length and his anticipation well to clog lanes and get hands on balls,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “He just has a knack for it.”
On one possession in the first half, Leonard was standing in the lane and defending a Thunder player in the opposite corner. When one of the other Oklahoma City players penetrated and kicked, Leonard was able to deflect the pass to his man out of bounds without having to close out on the shooter. Teams will eventually adjust to this and that’s fine. It will simply make it a little tougher for them to play effective offense without Leonard getting his hands on passes and dribbles.
I asked Danny Green after the game if he felt any more prepared to defend against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant than he did a few months ago, but he said he didn’t. Green cited a better comfort level among the team with its defensive communication and team knowledge in holding Oklahoma City to under 38% shooting on the night. An assessment with which Pop agrees.
“I think it was excellent: The activity, the communication, the transition D,” Pop said. “But more than anything, we took care of the ball.”
Indeed, the Spurs only turned it over 13 times on the night to OKC’s 18 giveaways, and that helped prevent the Thunder from getting out on the break and converting too many easy baskets.
Underrated huzzah on the night goes to Green. Danny finished with 13 points on 5-9 shooting (3-6 from 3) and five rebounds. He was aggressive offensively exactly when the Spurs needed him to be, including one pull-up 3 in transition that caught OKC off-guard, and he was excellent at closing out on new Thunder addition Kevin Martin on the perimeter. Green sold out on the 3-point shot and forced Martin to put the ball on the floor and take a step inside the arc for a shot. More often than not, Martin missed. Green put in an important shift Thursday night.
Oh yeah, and Tim Duncan put up 20 points and eight rebounds.
It’s far too early in the season too get excited about taking down Oklahoma City in the playoffs. There are too many unknowns to be known along the way. But for one night, the Spurs achieved some sort of revenge on the Thunder and vanquished a few nightmares from June.