Teams on a roll find a way to win, even when they don't play particularly well for most of the game.
Led by guard Manu Ginobili, who scored a season-high 26 points, the streaking Spurs demonstrated that in rallying for a 101-98 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday night at the AT&T Center.
The Spurs had 14 first-half turnovers and were staring at a nine-point deficit early in the fourth quarter before going on an 18-3 run that caught the Thunder on the chin.
Although they kept the final score close, the Thunder never led again after point guard Tony Parker hit a short jumper that put the Spurs up 75-74 with 6:55 left.
Ginobili, who missed the three regular-season games against Oklahoma City because he was sidelined with injuries, made 9 of 14 field-goal attempts, including 3 of 5 from behind the 3-point line. He also finished with five rebounds and three assists.
"It just happened," Ginobili said of his breakout playoff performance. "I don't know how exactly because I haven't scored like this all season long. But it happened and I am very happy about it.
"I just tried to play and attack the rim when I had the opportunity. It just happened that I had the opportunity to score more. I made a few threes and that helped open up the penetration."
The victory was the Spurs' ninth against the Thunder in their last 11 meetings.
Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the AT&T Center.
Popovich told Spurs to 'get nasty' during timeout
Trailing 71-62 after three quarters, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 39-27 in the fourth period and made some critical stops down the stretch to win their 19th consecutive game. The victory tied the NBA record for the longest winning streak sustained in the playoffs, set by the 2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers.
For three quarters, it appeared that the young Thunder would steal one on the Spurs' home court.
Frustrated by his players' lack of aggressiveness, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich implored them during a timeout early in the fourth quarter to "get nasty."
Popovich looked embarrassed when a reporter asked him what he meant by that in his postgame news conference.
"I said that?" Popovich said with a sheepish grin. "The heat of the game, stuff comes up. But I thought that we were playing for most of the first half, and even at the beginning of the third quarter, a bit unconfidently, kind of on our heels, a little bit unsure of ourselves.
"So 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. Meaning you have to drive it, you have to shoot it. You can't hold it. We need to be active and aggressive. We got that way in the fourth quarter."
After making only 6 of 24 shots and scoring 16 points in the third quarter, the Spurs hit 12 of 16, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range, in the final period.
Duncan finishes with double-double
Ginobili led the charge with 11 points, making all three of his field-goal attempts and going 5 for 5 at the free-throw line.
"That's Manu's game," Popovich said. "He's a scorer. He's somebody who we depend on to create and make things happen. Whether it's shooting or driving or assisting somebody else.
"That's what he's done for us his whole career. And it's very important to us. Without that, we have a tough time winning."
Parker scored 18 points and Tim Duncan had another double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Backup guard Gary Neal added 12 points and was the only other Spurs player in double figures.
The Spurs finished with 17 turnovers, but had only three in the second half.
"It was perseverance more than anything," Duncan said, responding to a question about whether the Spurs' experience paid off in the fourth quarter. "They got a lead on us. They were playing well in that third quarter and we stuck with it.
"Manu was great. It was unbelievable. We started to count on him for a long stretch there, and he really did it for us. He had not played a game against these guys all year, and it is great to see him out there and be effective."
Westbrook hit only 7 of 21 shots
Kevin Durant, the NBA's top scorer each of the last three seasons, led the Thunder with 27 points. James Harden and Russell Westbrook finished with 19 and 17 points, respectively, and wily veteran Derek Fisher had 13.
Hounded by backup forward Stephen Jackson and the Spurs' team defense, Durant scored only six points in the fourth quarter, all from the four line, and took only two shots.
"They forced me out a little bit," Durant said. "You know, they do a good job in the help defense. But if a guy misses shots, whoever is guarding me is going to get the credit. But I got to my spots. I got to where I wanted to get.
"I shot good shots, made good passes. Unfortunately, we lost."
Westbrook, who made only 7 of 21 shots, took a bad fall after colliding with Neal on drive to the basket, but he stayed in the game and said later he was OK.
"We were in the game all the way," Westbrook said. "We were just trading baskets with them in the fourth quarter. We just weren't able to knock the shots down we usually knock down. They came away with the win, but we'll be all right."
Western Conference finals
Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
(Spurs lead best-of-7 series 1-0)
Game 1: at San Antonio, Spurs 101, Thunder 98
Game 2: at San Antonio, Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Game 3: at Oklahoma City, Thursday, 8 p.m.
Game 4: at Oklahoma City, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 5: at San Antonio, Monday, June 4, 8 p.m.
*Game 6: at Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 6, 8 p.m.
*Game 7: at San Antonio, Friday, June 8, 8 p.m.
All times Central
* If necessary
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