By Jeff McDonald
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Spurs knew, as every team in the NBA knows, there would be nights like this.
There would be times, during this cruel and unusual schedule that borders on a violation of the Eighth Amendment, when their legs wouldn’t be there, their lungs would be burning, and their gas tank would be empty.
That doesn’t mean they have to like it.
“You definitely don’t concede anything,” guard Gary Neal said Sunday after Oklahoma City walloped the Spurs 108-96. “We came here to win. It just got away from us.”
True, the Spurs were playing their fourth game in five nights, with the promise of another back-to-back coming around the bend.
But they knew better than to overplay the exhausted card. Not on this night. Not with Oklahoma City on the floor for the third night in a row and yet still summoning the energy to run the Spurs out of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Kevin Durant had an efficient 21 points and 10 rebounds, while James Harden added 20 points to spearhead a relentless Oklahoma City bench attack, as the Thunder became the first team this season to sweep a back-to-back-to-back.
Teams are now 6-0 on the third night in such a scenario, but before Sunday — when Oklahoma City followed two victories over Houston by thumping the Spurs — no team had claimed the trifecta.
“I thought we had good energy,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, whose team snapped a six-game losing streak to the Spurs. “The defense was really good, the offense was really good, and we were getting out in transition.”
The Spurs arrived in the Sooner State playing with house money. They had won three in a row since losing star guard Manu Ginobili to a broken hand, including back-to-back home wins over a pair of Western Conference playoff teams, Dallas and Denver.
They leave Oklahoma City for Tuesday’s game at Milwaukee still winless on the road, dropping three away games by an average of 12 points.
Though the Spurs (6-3) played hard, and at times a little chippy, it became clear early in the second half that Sunday wasn’t going to be their night.
A 25-8 third-quarter run from the Thunder, highlighted by a run-and-gun lob from Durant to Russell Westbrook, pushed what had been a six-point Oklahoma City lead at halftime as high as 25.
The Thunder (8-2) outscored the Spurs 37-21 in the third and carried an 81-69 lead into the fourth.
“They kicked our butts in the third quarter,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who sat all his starters except Neal in the fourth.
Unlike during the Spurs’ three-game, Ginobili-less winning streak, their bench didn’t provide much meaningful help Sunday.
Rookie Kawhi Leonard had 13 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double, while Tiago Splitter added 10 points.
Fresh off a breakout 24-point game against Denver, reserve guard Danny Green finished with six points, going scoreless until he made a pair of 3-pointers in the final minutes.
Boosted by 14 first-half points from Harden, and an unexpected contribution from Nick Collison (12 points, 10 rebounds, two dunks), the Thunder bench kept the Spurs at bay until the third-quarter eruption.
“They made shots, and we didn’t,” said point guard Tony Parker, who scored four points on 1-of-8 shooting before leaving the game with a bruised leg early in the third.
“In the NBA, especially against a team like that, it can go fast.”
All in all, it was a forgettable night for the Spurs, but therein lies the beauty of a lockout-compressed season.
With another back-to-back coming around the corner, beginning Tuesday in Milwaukee, Sunday will be easy for the Spurs to forget.
“They come so fast, you can’t worry about this one,” Parker said. “You give them credit and move on to the next game.”