OKLAHOMA CITY -- With the second seed in the Western Conference firmly in hand, the San Antonio Spurs resorted Saturday to their annual tactic of resting key players in preparation for the postseason, and it resulted in a 111-92 beating at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard didn't make the trip due to a bruised right quadriceps. LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also stayed back in San Antonio as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich elected to rest the group.
So the Spurs hit the court with just 10 active players, and six of them scored in double figures as San Antonio hung tough with a fully stocked Thunder squad -- for three quarters, at least, as the team eventually succumbed to mistakes and missed shots. Popovich won't ever delve too deeply into specifics, but you can bet the coach gleaned valuable intel about his squad that could make a difference in approximately three weeks during the playoffs.
"They did what they were supposed to do. In the end, they kicked our butts," Popovich said. "But we hung in there really well, did a good job. And you learn from everything, whether you win, lose, doesn't matter. We had a lot of young guys get some time, and [we] found out some other things about certain players in certain situations, and that's what you want to try to do. So we'll take all the positives from it that we can."
San Antonio should.
With a starting lineup comprised of Kyle Anderson, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Danny Green and rookie Boban Marjanovic, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 26-24 in the opening quarter, only to enter intermission trailing 48-44. Outside of Green, who has started every game, San Antonio's starters entered Saturday's contest with a combined 13 starts on the season. So for the Spurs, the four-point deficit seemed manageable, considering they shoot 38.6 percent over the first two quarters -- as compared to Oklahoma City's 51.3 percent in a first half that saw Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant score 20 and 13 points, respectively.
Westbrook and Durant would finish 29 and 31 points, respectively.
Apart from West and Simmons, the four other double-figure scorers were Marjanovic (13 points), Andre Miller (11), Diaw (10) and Mills (10). The contest marked Marjanovic's second start.
"I started the game, and that was good stuff for me," said Marjanovic, who also had six rebounds. "But I think we could've played much better, and I'm really sad because we could play much better than I'm showing on the court. I hope the next time it will be better."
Oklahoma City broke open the game with an 8-0 run halfway through the third quarter, which extended its lead to 13 points. The Thunder outscored the Spurs 35-19 in the third quarter. Those 35 points rank as the most given up by the Spurs in one quarter all season.
San Antonio outscored Oklahoma City 29-28 in the fourth quarter.
In the opening half, the Spurs turned over the ball just four times; but they would finish with 12 turnovers, including five in the third quarter alone.
"For us, the third quarter was about turnovers and missed shots," Popovich said. "We turned it over four times in the first half. In the third quarter, we turned it over five times just in that quarter. And that's a bad combination of those turnovers in that quarter and not making shots while the other team is making shots. They got the lead. In the fourth quarter, we played them even."
But by then, it no longer mattered for San Antonio.
While Popovich "thought the effort was great," West admitted the Spurs "made too many errors in that third quarter."
"We're professionals, so we're gonna give the effort," West added. "But when you're down a few guys like this in a game like this against a high-caliber opponent, you've got to be almost mistake free to give yourself a chance."
Chalk that up simply as another lesson learned by the Spurs as they prep for the postseason.