By Jeff McDonald
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Spurs departed San Antonio International Airport on Wednesday afternoon, a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals in their pocket and the past on their side.
Throughout the Spurs’ postseason history, such a deficit has been hemlock to playoff opponents. Find yourself facing it, and summer vacation soon follows.
One player on the Oklahoma City roster knows better.
“I think we can beat this team,” Derek Fisher said.
What might otherwise be dismissed as a show of unwarranted bravado from a 38-year-old backup guard comes with a side of been there, done that.
When it comes to winning a best-of-7 series after taking a 2-0 lead, the Spurs are 18-1 all-time. Fisher was there for that one time.
In the 2004 conference semifinals against the Lakers, the Spurs carried a 2-0 edge into Los Angeles before coming undone. Eight years later, Fisher’s miracle 18-footer in Game 5, launched with 0.4 seconds left, remains the signature moment of one of the Spurs’ most disappointing playoff collapses.
As the Spurs prepare for Game 3 against Oklahoma City tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Fisher’s shot — much like the shot-maker himself — is ancient history.
“That happened like 30 years ago,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said.
Yet the lesson it imparted endures in those who lived it. A series is not over until one team wins four times.
The Spurs take the floor in Oklahoma City with numerous reasons to feel confident. Their franchise-best winning streak of 20 is climbing the charts, equaled or surpassed by only three teams in NBA history.
They haven’t lost in roughly the length of a Kim Kardashian marriage (50 days) and have won 10 in a row to start the playoffs, one victory shy of the NBA record.
“It’s pretty incredible what they’ve done,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “To win a game is hard. To win 20 in a row and 10 of them in the playoffs, it’s quite an accomplishment.”
To wary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the series could just as easily be 2-0 in Oklahoma City’s favor.
In Game 1, the Spurs trailed by nine heading into the fourth quarter before exploding for 39 points and a 101-98 win. Two nights later, they squandered nearly all of a 22-point lead before locking up a 120-111 victory in the final minutes.
In Game 2, the Spurs survived an 88-point eruption from the OKC trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, in part thanks to 34 points from Tony Parker and the team’s highest-scoring playoff game in six years.
“Our offense saved us,” Popovich said. “We scored, and that’s the only reason we won. Because our defense wasn’t very good.”
Oklahoma City would kill for such problems now. In order to avoid elimination, the Thunder must win four out of the next five against a team that has beaten them eight out of the last 10.
Then there’s this: Only three teams in NBA history have fallen into a 2-0 hole in the conference finals and recovered to win the series.
“What we’ve done up to this point doesn’t matter,” Spurs forward Stephen Jackson said. “If we lose tomorrow, it all goes down the drain.”
If the Spurs ever had any doubt about the fragility of a winning streak or playoff edge, Fisher stands as a living reminder.
In 2004, the Spurs had won 17 in a row heading into Los Angeles, matching their longest winning streak until this season. A 2-0 series lead quickly became 2-2, and 0.4 seconds followed in Game 5.
Two nights later, the Spurs’ season was over.
“We did not assume that we’d win four games in a row, which is basically what we ended up doing,” Fisher recalled. “We just focused on winning Game 3.”
Beginning tonight, Fisher hopes to play Sherpa on another such climb. The Spurs aim to keep that part of history from repeating.
SPURS VS. THUNDER
Western Conference finals
(Spurs lead best-of-7 series 2-0)
Game 3: Thursday – Spurs @ Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
Game 4: Saturday – Spurs @ Thunder, 7:30 p.m. TNT
*Game 5: Monday – Spurs vs. Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
*Game 6: Wednesday – Spurs @ Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
*Game 7: Friday June 8 – Spurs vs. Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT
– All times Central