By Ben Golliver
The Thunder defeated the Spurs 100-88 in Oklahoma City on Thursday night, improving to 55-20 on the season. San Antonio dropped to 56-20.
• The Thunder and Spurs have engaged in more dramatic affairs than Thursday's night contest, which felt almost like a snoozer when compared to the usual fare put forth by the Western Conference's two best teams. Manu Ginobili's absence and the fact Tony Parker saw just 24 minutes of action, sitting down the stretch, took their toll on the game's overall intrigue. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for a ho-hum 52 points, 16 rebounds, 13 assists, four steals and three blocks; those are silly numbers for your average duo, but these two have been anything but average for awhile now.
Oklahoma City's win was certainly meaningful, if not sensational. The Thunder pulled to within a half-game of the Spurs for the West's No. 1 seed and knotted the season series at two games apiece. What's more, the two teams are now tied in the loss column and the Thunder possess a better conference winning record (35-13 compared to 32-15 for San Antonio), which will serve as a tiebreaker if the two teams finish with the same record.
To boil this down: The Thunder will be the West's No. 1 seed if they win out their remaining seven games and they will be the No. 1 seed if their number of losses from here on out equals that of the Spurs, who have just six games remaining.
Each team has one full back-to-back and four opponents currently in the playoff picture; the Thunder do not have any games against 50+ win teams while the Spurs have to travel to Denver to face a 52-win Nuggets team, but Oklahoma City does play on the second night of a back-to-back in Indiana on Friday.
Snap take: the Thunder should be able to manage a 5-2 finish, at worst, with a 7-0 sweep existing as a real possibility. The Spurs' worst-case scenario, should they have access to a healthy Parker, would seem to be 4-2. However, NBA.com reported Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said post-game he is "very concerned" about Parker's shin, which wasn't a previously diagnosed problem area.
The combination of this loss to the Thunder and the uncertainty around Parker could very well turn Thursday night into a tipping point in the Spurs' chase for the No. 1 seed. If Parker is in any real discomfort, it's worth giving him the kid gloves treatment and settling for the No. 2 seed, as the advantages involved in finishing first aren't huge.
Should San Antonio slide to second, they would be in a bracket that currently includes Denver (who might have lost Danilo Gallinari for the season Thursday), Golden State and Houston. The Spurs are 7-3 overall and 6-0 at home against those three teams. Dropping out of the top spot probably isn't going to raise the blood pressure significantly until the conference finals, where San Antonio would need to steal a win in Chesapeake Energy Arena to advance. Why not punt the final six games and get Parker as healthy as possible?
• Derek Fisher has been brutal since rejoining the Thunder in late-February, going six full games (over 10 days) without making a single field goal. Coach Scott Brooks has stuck by Fisher, continuing to play him double-digit minutes throughout the ugliness, and the 38-year-old guard paid off the patience on Thursday, scoring 17 points on six-for-eight shooting while knocking down five three-pointers. Get this: Fisher hit four threes in a 5:12 span covering the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. Prior to that stretch, his previous four made three-pointers covered a span of 12 games over 24 days (March 10 through April 3).
Here's a chart to (humorously) help visualize Fisher's Thursday night binge.
Now Thunder fans are left to wrestle with a horrifying catch-22: the more success Fisher has down the regular season stretch, the more likely he will receive meaningful minutes in the postseason.
• TNT's Reggie Miller made no friends at The Point Forward when he mocked basketball statisticians as "lab geek rats" back in October after Basketball Prospectus forecast the Nuggets as one of the league's best teams. (Whadda you know? Denver currently has the NBA's fourth-best record.)
Miller overreached on Thursday's broadcast, trying to go all pop culture on the viewers by referencing a Durant commercial for Sprint after the NBA's scoring leader threw down a dunk in the second half. "Mommy has some things for daddy to do," Miller said, reciting the female character's suggestive punchline in the commercial. Miller's method of delivery, timing and the fact he's not a mommy turned the call into a confusing, nails-on-chalkboard moment.