Oklahoma City At San Antonio, Game 2, 9:00 p.m. EDT
Gregg Popovich’s “I want some nasty!” is fast becoming the catchphrase of the NBA playoffs. It’s eminently quotable, brash and an overnight splash.
In other words, it’s everything the San Antonio Spurs are not.
They’ve also heard far worse in timeouts from the NBA Coach of the Year, who bellowed his now-famous and fuming marching orders that jumpstarted a fourth-quarter rally, extended a history-matching winning streak to 19 and left the Oklahoma City Thunder stunned heading into Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night.
“You’ve got to watch Pop – he’s good at turning that microphone on and off,” Spurs forward Stephen Jackson said Monday. “You don’t hear some of the stuff he says.”
All the Thunder mostly heard Monday were questions about their costly collapse down the stretch.
Oklahoma City started the fourth quarter leading – a rare feat against the Spurs in the past 47 days, which is how long it’s been since their last loss. Going up 2-0 would put the Spurs among just three others teams in NBA history with winning streaks of 20 games or longer.
It would also break the record for longest winning streak extended in the playoffs, a mark the Spurs now share with the 2001 Lakers.
“We really don’t care,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “We are close – seven games – from accomplishing something way better than a streak. (The streak) is happening, it’s fine. But we always think about next time and how tough it’s going to be.”
It’s the first time the Thunder have trailed in a playoff series since being down 1-0 in the West finals last season. They answered with a Game 2 win in Dallas then had their season quickly spiral to an end with three straight losses.
The easy narrative after Sunday’s loss was how the Spurs – awakened by Popovich growling at them to start playing “nasty” during a timeout that was caught on camera – erased a nine-point deficit through sheer intensity and experience. The Thunder, however, rattled off their own explanations Monday at what went wrong.
Among them was head coach Scott Brooks admitting to making a mistake by keeping forward Serge Ibaka, the runner-up in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year balloting, on the bench in the fourth quarter. That’s when the Spurs scored 39 points and shot 12 of 16, after the Thunder held San Antonio to just 16 points in the third.
Brooks said he’ll beat himself up over not putting his defensive ace back in the game, while explaining how sidelining Ibaka seemed the right idea at the time. After all, Brooks said, keeping Ibaka out and going with a smaller lineup worked in the previous playoff series against the defending champion Mavericks and the Lakers.
“I think every decision you make, if it doesn’t work out, you say, `Why did you do that?”‘ Brooks said. “And I’m with you on that. I wish I would’ve played Serge last night.”
It’s not that the Thunder don’t know how to close out postseason games: Oklahoma City has been 5-1 in games decided by six points or less.
Kevin Durant opened the series with a game befitting a three-time scoring champion, putting up 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Yet even the Thunder’s star admitted Monday that “part of me growing up” was still trying to figure out when to take over and when to give the ball to his teammates.
James Harden, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth and said he knows to attack the basket more Tuesday.
But the Thunder were mostly disappointed in their defense.
“They found some rhythm. They were able to attack us through penetration,” said point guard Derek Fisher. “We spent a lot of time trying to talk about doing the job, taking away the penetration of Ginobili and (Tony) Parker. We didn’t do that in the fourth quarter.
“You can’t give up a 30-point quarter in a playoff game and expect to win.”
Brooks said the Thunder were also undone by a “vintage Ginobili” effort that may have been the first in these playoffs. Ginobili was averaging just 11 points in the postseason heading into the series but said Monday that he was due to find his scoring touch if he just kept shooting.
“It helps to have a scoring night, don’t get me wrong,” Ginobili. “But I’m not worried about scoring 26 a game because there’s something more important than me. We’ve got a lot of weapons.”