SAN ANTONIO -- The cumulative experience flowing through the San Antonio Spurs organization quickly washes away any giddiness they might be feeling about a 124-92 triumph Saturday over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
San Antonio nailed 60.7 percent from the field, 60 percent from 3-point range, never trailed, and at one point led by as many as 43 points.
"So what?" they say.
“We know that they’re gonna come out super-aggressive next game, they’re gonna make adjustments, and we’re not gonna shoot as well as we did,” Spurs wing Danny Green said. “It’s one game. It’s not a momentum thing. Each game is different. Every game is its own playoff series. So it’s not like it’s gonna carry over to next game. Never get too high, never get too low.”
Obviously, that’s the Spurs way, one utilized consistently and successfully in running off five NBA titles under coach Gregg Popovich. That’s also why one game -- regardless of how brilliant the performance -- won't lull the Spurs into thinking they’ll just roll the Thunder for the rest of this series with little to no resistance.
“I can’t assess the whole deal -- it just ended,” Popovich said. “But in general, I think it was one of those [games] we had a great night, and they had one of their bad nights. We’ve been there before. It happens to everybody in the NBA, and perhaps that’s what happened tonight."
Not entirely, as San Antonio played a major role in how the night transpired for both teams. The performance was by far the home team’s most complete since near the end of March, as the Spurs once again showed that strong defense can serve as the catalyst for hot offense.
San Antonio entered the contest looking to slow down Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, ultimately achieving that goal through shutdown efforts on the perimeter from Kawhi Leonard and Green. Leonard actually drew Durant, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting, as his defensive assignment on few occasions. In fact, on just three instances all night, Leonard started and finished a possession guarding Durant. In those situations, Durant didn’t even attempt a shot, while the Thunder missed all three attempts that ended those possessions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Durant didn’t fare much better with Green guarding him, connecting on just 3 of 7 attempts. Durant has now been held to fewer than 20 points in two of six playoff games after being limited to fewer than 20 points only once in 72 regular-season outings.
Leonard, meanwhile, made the most impact against Westbrook, who ended the night with 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting. With Leonard as the main defender, Westbrook shot 3-of-16 with one turnover.
Combined, Durant and Westbrook hit 11 of 34 for 30 points, while San Antonio’s duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Leonard came together for 63 points on 28-of-36 shooting, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range.
“It is only one game,” said Aldridge, who scored a game-high 38 points, which registers as the third-most points he’s scored in the playoffs. “Those guys are very talented, so they are going to come back even better next game. We tried to throw bodies at them, tried to clog the paint and make all of their looks tough. It ended up working out for us tonight.”
The success on defense led to a fruitful night offensively, as San Antonio’s starters shot 73.6 percent, the second-best shooting night for a group of starters in the past 30 postseasons, just behind the 83.3 percent the Phoenix Suns put up in Game 3 of the 1990 Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Aldridge racked up his 38 points in 29:32, which ranks as the most points in 30 or fewer minutes played in a playoff game in the shot-clock era, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Among Aldridge’s 18 buckets, 15 came on assists from teammates, and he didn’t miss any of his 15 attempts following a teammate’s pass, while knocking down 6 of 6 off Tony Parker dishes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“It was just one of those nights and just an all-around amazing effort,” forward Tim Duncan said of Aldridge. “He was patient with his post moves. He was hitting his shots. He was making the right reads. All around, they’re going to change the game plan on him, and he’s going to have to be ready for that. And we all will be.”
Leonard poured in 25 points, including a career-high 20 in the first half, while Green chipped in 18 points, draining 5 of 6 from 3-point range in addition to blocking three shots and nabbing a steal.
Parker, meanwhile, finished the night with 12 assists.
Oklahoma City played 20 possessions in which it didn’t make a single pass. San Antonio, conversely, put together a total of eight possessions in which they made five passes or more before even taking a shot, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“I think our defense ignited our offense,” Green said. “We were able to get out on the break by making it tough for them on that end of the floor, making them take some tough ones. They obviously didn’t get a rhythm. They were cold. Luckily for us, they missed a good amount of them. So we were able to get out on the break, and we moved the ball well, took some uncontested shots, and everybody kind of got a rhythm going that way, and we shot well.”
When the Spurs extended their lead to 41 points at the 11:47 mark of the fourth quarter on a Patty Mills reverse layup off a Boris Diaw assist, it marked the first time in the Popovich era that San Antonio led a postseason contest by 40 points or more.
“Our defense is what won the game, not making fall-down, left-handed shots or anything like that,” Aldridge said. “I felt like our defense was really locked in.”
It was for one game, certainly.