In May, the Oklahoma City Thunder won four straight games over the San Antonio Spurs. They advanced to the 2012 NBA Finals behind a combination of zippy ball movement, accurate shooting, and gutsy defense.
Opening their 2012-13 NBA season with a return to the AT&T Center, the Thunder forgot every step of that recipe.
They turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 18 San Antonio points. The costliest giveaway came with seven seconds remaining and the game tied at 84, when Russell Westbrook committed his sixth gaffe with an errant pass that Kawhi Leonard stole. On the Spurs’ ensuing possession, Westbrook lost track of Tony Parker, who buried the game-winning jumper as time expired.
Parker’s shot was the last of what seemed like 50 open looks that the Spurs got with high screens, as the Thunder appeared to have forgotten how to fight through or switch on picks. Twenty-seven of San Antonio’s 35 field goals came off of assists, as the Spurs repeatedly confounded Oklahoma City’s rotations with one extra pass.
The Thunder defense had the added obstacle of integrating three new rotation members. Quick reviews of their OKC debuts:
Kevin Martin – The centerpiece in the controversial James Harden trade provided his usual efficient offense, with 15 points on 10 shot attempts, and he appeared to grow more comfortable shooting as the game progressed. His five assists were an added bonus, though his defensive impact was negligible at best.
Hasheem Thabeet – Moved like a scarecrow (and even looked a little like one with his bizarre discolored hair patch). Had a difficult time against a surprisingly energetic Tim Duncan, who gave a vintage effort in his second game in less than 24 hours.
Thabeet’s 12-minute cameo highlighted a problem specific to a few OKC opponents: the Spurs, like Memphis and the Lakers, have enough size to force the Thunder to play a traditional center for nearly the whole game, instead of going small with their more effective Nick Collison-Durant-three wings lineup. That meant that whenever Kendrick Perkins went to the bench, it was Thabeet time, and he appeared unready at best.
Eric Maynor – Considered a new addition since he missed most of last season with a torn ACL, Maynor showed a decent shooting touch but looked out of sync running the offense.
The Thunder mainstays provided a bit more comfort for longtime fans. With the Spurs leading 61-51 and the game threatening to slip out of reach, Kevin Durant pulled on his superstar cape, scoring seven points and assisting on five more (two Kevin Martin jump shots) over the next three minutes to pull the Thunder even.
He kept it going by opening the fourth quarter with a driving dunk, but provided a lowlight on the next play by throwing away a pass and then dogging it back on defense, which allowed Kawhi Leonard to work for an open layup.
Westbrook struggled with his shot, but did make a three-point play and hit a pair of free throws in the last two minutes to give the Thunder its last lead.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.