The Spurs' home winning streak lives on after they beat the Thunder 93-85 on Saturday. It was a close game throughout until Kawhi Leonard took over in the fourth quarter for San Antonio. Leonard finished with 26 points while LaMarcus Aldridge pitched in 24. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined for 47 in the losing effort but it wasn't enough.
San Antonio has now won 41 straight at home, including all 32 games this season.
The two teams had something to prove. The Spurs had not gotten any signature wins this season, losing the four games they had played against the Warriors, Thunder and Cavaliers. Oklahoma City was coming off a close loss against the lowly Timberwolves, which only reinforced the idea that they struggle closing out games. It was obvious in the first quarter that both squads were determined to change the narrative surrounding them.
Aldridge carried the Spurs early on, scoring 13 first-quarter points. In a role reversal of sorts, the Thunder relied on balanced scoring to keep pace, with all five starters and Enes Kanter getting on the board. San Antonio was a little sharper on defense and that was enough to get a small lead early even though some open shots refused to fall.
The Thunder came charging back late in the second quarter with Durant, Westbrook and Kanter carrying the scoring load. They took control of the game but, just like the Spurs before, couldn't create significant separation. They led by four at the half and two after three quarters, despite getting opportunities to get a more comfortable lead. A game between evenly-matched opponents predictably stayed close for most of the night.
With Leonard on the bench late in the game, the Thunder had the upper hand but couldn't break the game wide open. Once the reigning Defensive Player of the Year checked back in, he spearheaded a 10-2 run to give the Spurs the lead. He was everywhere for a stretch and single-handedly changed the momentum.
After that dominant stretch by Leonard, the Spurs never surrendered the lead and cruised to a big win over a direct rival.
3 things we learned
San Antonio's home streak lives on
The Spurs came into Saturday's game the winner of 40 straight home games, tied with Shaquille O'Neal's Magic for the third longest streak in league history. They hadn't lost in the AT&T Center this season and had outscored opponents by 17 points per 100 possessions. Only the Warriors and Oracle Arena can rival that dominance. It's a huge reason why they have been able to keep pace with Golden State and keep Oklahoma City at bay.
The Thunder were the biggest test the streak had faced and the Spurs aced it. The Spurs beat a solid road team that has plenty of talent by executing when they needed to. The challenges will continue over the next week, as San Antonio will host the Clippers, Trail Blazers and Warriors in the next seven days. The streak will end eventually, but the game against Oklahoma City shows that the Spurs won't surrender it without a fight.
Both teams have elite one-two punches
The Thunder have arguably the most talent duo in basketball in Westbrook and Durant, but the Spurs' twosome of Aldridge and Leonard are not far behind. The Thunder's two best players combined for 47 points while San Antonio's had 50. All four took control of the game for stretches, showing that they are truly among the league's elite. Leonard was the best among them on Saturday but that could change on any given night.
The other side of the coin is that both teams depend a little too heavily on their stars to produce. That's been a knock on the Thunder for years, but it's now something that also affects the Spurs. As far as problems go, having players that can take over games consistently ranks very low, of course. Most teams would kill to have two bona fide superstars and both San Antonio and Oklahoma City actually do, which is why they are contenders.
The Thunder late-game execution issues continue
Oklahoma City has notoriously struggled to close out games this season. They came into Saturday having lost 11 games in which they were leading heading up to the fourth quarter, more than any team in the league. On Friday against the Timberwolves -- a team that can't compete with them in terms of talent -- they simply failed to execute late and lost a game that they should have won. Those same problems affected them against the Spurs.
The offense completely fell off, as no one could score consistently aside from Durant. When the Spurs made their move, Oklahoma City looked wounded and never recovered. It's strange to see a team with such a clutch scorer like Durant and a star like Westbrook struggle late in games, but as long as the role players remain ill-fitted to complement the stars and Serge Ibaka continues to be tentative, the problem won't go away.