By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times –
OKLAHOMA CITY — The San Antonio Spurs’ practice was supposed to last 15 minutes Friday, a surprisingly short meet-and-disperse at a time when most teams spend at least an hour together on non-game days.
One rumor even had Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich dismissing his veteran-laden team in only five minutes, so it was revealing to see the actual practice last almost 45.
Oklahoma City, you have arrived.
The Spurs were still trying to figure out how they lost by 20 in Game 3 of the suddenly competitive Western Conference finals.
Game 4 is Saturday, also within the piercing walls of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
To say the Spurs respond well after a loss might be the understatement of the season. They answered their April 11 loss to the Lakers by winning 20 in a row, including 10 in the playoffs.
They weren’t exactly thrilled to be thoroughly outplayed Thursday, their series lead cut in half and their offense belching smoke with only 82 points, their second-worst output this season.
Manu Ginobili made one shot. Starters Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green totaled six points. Tim Duncan had two rebounds.
Popovich was practically spitting nails while answering reporters’ questions after practice.
Can a loss get a team to refocus after a long winning streak? “One would hope so,” he said.
Did the frantic Thunder crowd play a role in the Spurs’ worst game in 50 days? “No. The basketball team played a role.”
What can be done about Ginobili’s disappearing act in Game 3? “We’ll talk about that (privately).”
Popovich spoke to the media for about two minutes Friday. Maybe.
The Thunder was much more amiable, willing to espouse the importance of its defensive arrival, be it the 21 turnovers it forced or the 35 percent accuracy of the Spurs’ starters in Game 3.
Lanky shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha and power forward Serge Ibaka were the big tweaks the Thunder unveiled Thursday, Sefolosha capably guarding the much smaller Tony Parker while the 6-foot-10 Ibaka smothered the 6-6 Ginobili.
Oklahoma City still wasn’t backing down a day later.
Derek Fisher even shot down the suggestion the Thunder won because things were getting “desperate.”
“No, respectfully, no,” Fisher said. “Desperate is not a good word. We weren’t desperate to win on our home court because we’re capable of doing it. You don’t have to be desperate to do something that you’re more than capable of doing.
“For us it was just a matter of being better than we were the first two games than it was about being desperate.”
If Oklahoma City loses Game 4, it’ll be beyond desperate.
Only eight NBA teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series. Compounding the issue would be Game 5 taking place in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 34-5 this season, including 6-0 in the playoffs.
Friday ended the way it began, many minds trying to guess how San Antonio would counteract the Thunder’s defensive face-lift.
“You never know with Coach Pop,” Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant said with a smile.
“You never know what he’s going to bring to the table.”