Manu Ginobili scored 26 points and the Spurs won their 19th in a row — tying the NBA record for longest winning streak kept alive in the playoffs — by rallying in the fourth quarter on the orders of their furious coach to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-98 in Game 1 on Sunday night.
It was a tantalizing near-upset for the young Thunder, who came as close as anybody to beating the Spurs for the first time in 46 days. But a nine-point lead didn’t last after the famously mercurial 63-year-old Popovich — the NBA’s Coach of the Year — huddled his lagging team together in the fourth and told them to “get nasty.”
“I said that?” Popovich said afterward.
A nationally television audience heard it.
“The heat of the game, stuff comes up,” Popovich said. “So I talked to them about they’ve got to get a little bit uglier, get a little more nasty, play with more fiber and take it to these guys. Meaning you have to drive it, you have to shoot it.”
And when they did, the Thunder couldn’t keep up.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 27 points. Russell Westbrook had 17, and insisted he was OK after taking a spill that was nasty in its own right — face first, bracing his fall with his hands and sitting under the basket for more than a minute while the entire Thunder bench walked across the court to check on their All-Star point guard.
– Reported by Paul J. Weber of the Associated Press