SAN ANTONIO — If there is one certainty about the next couple of days, it is that in various areas of free market trade in the greater San Antonio area, t-shirts emblazoned with “I Want Some Nasty” will be available for purchase.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich provided a one-liner that will follow this series the rest of the way, and will continue following the Spurs franchise into the next days, weeks and, well, maybe even years – although Popovich would settle for about a month.
By then, the NBA champion will be determined, and if it is to be the Spurs – who certainly are the favorites right now – then Game 1 of the Western Conference finals will undoubtedly be a focal point.
That’s because the Spurs overcame a gallant effort by the Oklahoma City Thunder to take a 1-0 lead in the series with a 101-98 victory Sunday night. (Boxscore here).
The Thunder battled evenly for a half, asserted themselves throughout the third and early in the fourth period and were playing confident, free-flowing basketball. They entered the last quarter with a nine-point lead and it seemed Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and a strong group of role players was coming of age.
In growing up, the young team with its core players all 23 or younger, was poised to end the Spurs 18-game winning streak, steal home court advantage and take a giant step towards advancing to the NBA Finals.
But then Popovich addressed the situation. He was unhappy because the Spurs had not played with the same passion or energy of the Thunder. He asked the players if they thought winning was going to be easy. He reminded them that each round was more difficult.
And then he uttered a line that will become a permanent part of Spurs lore, “I want some nasty.”
And he got it – well, as much nasty as a nice group of guys like the Spurs can muster. A minute into the fourth quarter, the Spurs began playing their regular game.
They trailed 73-64 with 11:19 left. They responded with nine consecutive points. And get this – four by Gary Neal, three by Tiago Splitter and two by Tony Parker. They took control of the game. They disrupted the OKC offense. They stifled Durant, who had 27 points in the game but was 0-of-2 from the field in the fourth period.
And after three periods of difficult, grinding basketball, the Spurs breezed to the victory, which was more convincing than the final three-point margin suggested. San Antonio was nine points ahead with 22.1 seconds left but OKC made several desperation shots. But the outcome was never in doubt at the end.
After the game, Popovich was able to laugh at himself for “I Want Some Nasty,” which has all sorts of commercial possibilities – Hip Hop, Country & Western, Heavy Metal, Triple-X rated and, very importantly from a cultural perspective, Jersey Shore.
“The heat of the game, stuff comes up,” Popovich said, laughing. “It was like . . . I thought it was a great question for a lot of reasons. I thought we were playing unconfidently, kind of on our heels. So I talked to them about they’ve got to get a little bit uglier.”
For the Spurs, the final result was pretty. After scoring only 16 points in the third quarter, they had 39 in the fourth. Manu Ginobili won the battle of excellent sixth men, leading the Spurs with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting.
James Harden, the sixth man award winner this season, had 19 points but shot only 7-of-17 from the field. Russell Westbrook was even worse — 7-of-21 and 17 points.
The Thunder settled for a lot of wild shots early and seemed intent on challenging the Spurs at the basket. Several times, they tried to dunk over players guarding the basket, and they were never successful. But they still played well enough to be in control of the game early in the fourth quarter, although ultimately they fell short.
They will get another chance in Game 2 on Tuesday night, but the task is a monumental one. The Spurs have now won 19 consecutive games, including nine at home, and have not lost a game since April 11.
The Thunder looked for the bright side after the game.
“We knew going into this game that they were going to play their style of game,” OKC head coach Scott Brooks said. “They’re a very good basketball team. They’re playing the best basketball in the league. And we were right there.”
While that’s true, the Thunder built a 8-1 record in the first two rounds with victories over the Mavericks and Lakers – two teams that have won the last three titles – by playing clutch basketball and having strong fourth quarter performances.
That wasn’t the case Sunday. If they are going to avoid a 2-0 deficit, they’re going to have to steal a page out of Gregg Popovich’s playbook and play much nastier on Tuesday.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.