The best regular season record in franchise history assured that the Spurs would have home court advantage in the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs.
It hardly mattered in a 4-0 first-round sweep of the injury riddled Memphis Grizzlies that produced an average margin of victory of 22 points.
But against the 55-win Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals the home court edge that produced a 41-1 regular season record figures to count for plenty, and that is as good an explanation as any for one of the most dominant playoff performances ever by a team that has won five NBA championships.
San Antonio’s 124-92 thumping of the Thunder at The AT&T Center was determined on Saturday night before you could say, “The Beautiful Game is back.”
With precision ball movement reminiscent of their play in the 2014 NBA Finals triumph over the Miami Heat, the Spurs had 39 assists on 51 baskets, many of them looks so wide-open they made 60.7 percent of them. They made 18-of-22 shots in a 43-point first quarter that ended all doubt of the final outcome. It equaled the highest-scoring playoff quarter in franchise history, matching a 43-point fourth quarter against the Phoenix Suns in a Western Conference Finals game on May 22, 2005.
By the time it ended the Spurs had a 23-point lead that seemed to have snatched the competitiveness away from an Oklahoma City team considered a legitimate NBA title challenger.
Point guard Tony Parker had 12 of the 39 Spurs assists and did not commit a turnover, the first Spurs player since Avery Johnson, in 1995, with at least 12 assists in a playoff game without a turnover.
All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge made 18-of-23 shots (78 percent) and scored 38 points, the most productive games of his inaugural season with the Spurs. He played only 29 minutes and 32 seconds, sitting out the entire of the fourth quarter because his team led by 39 points after three periods.
The former University of Texas star scored on mid-range jumpers, hook shots with both hands, a left-handed flip while falling down and the first 3-point shot of his Spurs career after 16 regular-season misses and one against the Grizzlies in a first round playoff game.
He was a little embarrassed about his first 3-point make in silver and black.
“It felt pretty bad, actually, because I worked on it all summer and all year,” he said. “I took some better ones during the season I felt were good. That one, I caught it nasty and didn’t even shoot it right and it went in.
“It was just one of those nights. I can’t take credit for it. I was just trying to play confident and ended up making some plays that I probably won’t make next game but ended up working for me tonight.”
Even after one of their most efficient offensive performances of the season, the Spurs insisted their defensive precision had been even more decisive.
“I have to say our defense is what won the game, not making fall-down left-handed shots, or anything like that,” Aldridge said. “Our defense was really locked in. We tried to do the things we focused on tonight and that’s really what won the game for us.”
The locked-in Spurs were at their best in limiting Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant is a four-time NBA scoring champ and Westbrook led the league in triple-doubles this season. Both are certain to receive plenty of support in voting for this season’s Most Valuable Player Award.
In Game 1 they combined to make only 11-of-34 shots against Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, who switched off defending one, then the other.
Westbrook gave much of the credit to the work by the Spurs big men, who smothered his drives to the basket any time he managed to get past Leonard or Green.
“A lot of my shots I missed at the basket against the bigs,” Westbrook said. “I was able to get to my spot. I just missed some layups.”
Spurs captain Tim Duncan, one of the best interior defenders in NBA history, stressed the importance of keeping both Westbrook and Durant off the foul line. Both are among the league leaders in free throws attempted, but they combined for only eight foul shots on Saturday.
“I thought we did a really good job, not only protecting the paint, but not putting them on the free throw line. We’ve got to continue to do that.”
The second half of the game was a relatively meaningless exercise finished by bench players for both teams, the Thunder trying to find some way to slow the Spurs offense that might work in Monday’s second game of the best-of-seven series.
Nothing that happened in Game 1 promises anything for Game 2, to be played on Monday night at AT&T Center. The Spurs understand they must forget the ease with which they scored their blowout win.
“On this team full of professionals it’s just one game,” said Green, who made 5-of-6 3-point shots and scored 18 points. “It’s not a momentum thing. Each game is different and every game is a playoff series of its own.”
Top image: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Spurs looks to pass. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone