By The Associated Press
Manu Ginobili scored a playoff-high 26 points, and the Spurs won their 19th in a row to tie the NBA record for longest winning streak kept alive in the playoffs, beating the Thunder 101-98 in the Western Conference finals opener on Sunday night.
Obeying orders snarled by their coach in a fourth-quarter timeout to play “nasty,” the Spurs erased a nine-point deficit that stunned the Thunder, who had looked on their way to finally kicking the perception that they’re the underdog.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 27 points. Russell Westbrook had 17.
“I talked to them about they’ve got to get a little bit uglier, get a little more nasty, play with more fiber and take it to these guys,” Popovich said. “Meaning you have to drive it, you have to shoot it.”
And when they started doing just that, the Thunder couldn’t keep up.
The 2001 Lakers are the only other team to carry a winning streak this long in the playoffs — and they did so on their way to a championship.
The Spurs matched the fourth-longest streak in NBA history, and with one more will become just the fourth team to surpass 20.
Tim Duncan had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Tony Parker shook off a dismal start to finish with 18 points. But it was Ginobili who steered the Spurs to strike first in a highly anticipated matchup of the West’s top two teams for practically the entire season.
“They got us on our heels. We were not aggressive,” Ginobili said. “And in the second half, we did have it.”
On the other end, Oklahoma City’s own Big Three struggled to find its shot early before awakening in the second half. Yet Westbrook still finished just 6 of 15 and took a nasty, face-first spill late in the fourth that had the entire Thunder bench crossing the court to check on their all-star point guard.
Westbrook appeared to favor his left leg when he got up, but he never left the game.
It was a tantalizingly close near-upset for the young Thunder, who were ousted in the Western Conference finals a year ago and were in position for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs until being overtaken by the Spurs in the final month of the season.