(The Sports Xchange) - If all anyone expected was a duel in the Alamo City between two of the NBA’s erstwhile MVP candidates, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, they might have been disappointed by the way the Spurs’ 108-94 win over the Thunder on Tuesday at the AT&T Center played out.
Yes, Leonard (36 points and eight rebounds) and Westbrook (27 points and 14 assists) both led their respective teams in scoring and were spectacular in their own ways.
But it was the Spurs’ bench that proved to be the difference, helping to turn the tide at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth quarters after San Antonio (37-11) squandered an 18-point lead over a horrid seven-minute stretch. The Spurs’ reserves responded by outscoring Oklahoma City 15-2 and, once the starters returned the Thunder had no answer.
Overall, the Spurs’ bench racked up 32 points to 22 for Oklahoma City’s reserves, with most of that damage coming in the pivotal stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters.
Leonard scored 30 or more points for the 15th time this season while LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points and was the only other San Antonio player in double-figure scoring.
“We’re fired up just playing against Russ out there, just out there competing every possession,” Leonard said. “The way he’s been playing has been ridiculous, so you definitely want to rise up to the challenge. We lost two games in a row so we were fired up off that just thinking about ourselves.”
Westbrook, who is the only player in the NBA averaging a triple-double, had just six rebounds; he has still has never had a triple-double against San Antonio.
“Overall, we played more competitively for more of the 48 minutes than we have recently,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We played good defense in the first half and the fourth quarter, but it’s still a 48-minute game. We have to figure that out.”
Stephen Adams added 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for the Thunder (28-21). Victor Oladipo scored 15 points, Domantas Sabonis hit for 13 and pulled down 10 rebounds and Anthony Morrow tallied 11 points for Oklahoma City.
The Thunder had 20 turnovers that led to 24 points for San Antonio.
“In the third quarter, we took the lead but we needed more sustainability — we did what we wanted to do, but we just didn’t do it for long enough,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “There were some positive things we can take from this game but with our margin for error we can’t have a lapse for a half or a bunch of turnovers that are difficult to overcome.”
Compiled by Peter Rutherford