Spurs bench key in series against Thunder
The San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder fought tooth and nail during the first half in Game 1 of their Western Conference Finals series.
The Thunder tried to pull away late in the third, Kevin Durant was feeling it and so was Russell Westbrook.
Derek Fisher also joined the fray, giving Oklahoma an offensive boost. The Thunders' veteran point guard made his first six shots and finished with 13 points off the bench.
The Spurs on the other hand, are staring at nine-point fourth quarter deficit; a thing they never encountered in their past two playoff rounds. Coach Gregg Popovich asked his players to give him some nasty and they responded, particularly the bench.
Tiago Splitter scored five of his nine points in an 11-2 fourth run that tied the game at 73. He missed 4-of-5 free throw attempts, but went 4-of-5 from the field. He also added six rebounds and three assists in 13 minutes on the floor.
There was no doubt that his toughness and aggressiveness helped the Spurs get going in the final period, but he was not alone.
Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal and Stephen Jackson lend a big hand too.
With Danny Green struggling on offense, Neal stepped up scored seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter that help put away the game.
His 3-pointer gave the Spurs an 82-76 lead that they would never relinquish, and the two late charges he took changed the reflection of the game.
Meanwhile, Jackson joined Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili for much of the fourth quarter trying to pesterize Durant. He did a good job of doing that, while providing some offense too.
With the Spurs holding on to a precarious four point lead late in the game, Jackson threw in a three-pointer that extended their lead to seven and made two more free throws for good measure.
And then there was Ginobili.
Struggling on offense the past two rounds, Manu gave a hint of what was about to come. The Spurs' Argentine guard finished with a team-high 26 points, with 11 coming in the final quarter.
His two last drives to the baskets was spectacular that it made to the ESPN highlights, but more importantly, it proved to be the final nail in coffin for the Thunder in Game 1.
It is no secret that the Spurs deep bench helped them win games.
On Sunday, San Antonio's reserves outscored Oklahoma's bench 52-37.
As the series goes on, the Spurs wouldn't mind if they keep doing the same.
(Photo via mysanantonio.com)