Gregg Popovich didn’t coach 1,000 games in the NBA without having a few leads slip away on him.
Courtesy of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he can add another to that list.
Kevin Durant scored 25 points, Thabo Sefolosha added 12 and the Thunder spoiled Popovich’s 1,000th game as San Antonio’s coach by overcoming an early 17-point deficit to beat the Spurs 78-76 on Monday night.
San Antonio built its big lead in the opening 10 minutes, but that did nothing to secure a successful finish as Popovich became only the 24th coach to reach 1,000 NBA games.
“Oftentimes, it’s a coach’s worst nightmare,” Popovich said. “We’ve all had the leads. We’ve all lost them because it’s a game. It’s 48 minutes long. There are a lot of possessions. It can happen and it does happen often.”
The Thunder didn’t lead until midway through the fourth quarter, but kept San Antonio to its season low in scoring and escaped when Tony Parker missed a 3-pointer from the left side in the closing seconds.
Popovich could only shrug with his palms of his hands pointed toward the sky as the clock struck zero.
“It’s called basketball,” Popovich said. “It’s a basketball game. It happens all the time.”
Parker scored 28 points to lead San Antonio, and Tim Duncan had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Matt Bonner added 10 points.
Oklahoma City won for the fourth straight time at home.
“Playing a phenomenal team like the Spurs always helps us out in the confidence area,” Durant said. “I think our defense just won the game for us. I know the Spurs can attest to that. They’ve won a lot of games defensively, and we can learn from a team like them.”
Among the 23 coaches with the most games on the sidelines, only Phil Jackson (731) and Pat Riley (716) had more wins in their first 1,000 games than Popovich, who is 676-324. Popovich became only the seventh to coach his first 1,000 games with one team.
But after a stellar start, San Antonio didn’t look much like the team with the second-best record in the Western Conference. With Houston’s win against New Orleans, the Rockets moved with in 1 1/2 games of the Spurs.
“A game that we should have had and continued to add to our record, but we let one slip away,” Duncan said. “It is over now, it is gone. We just have to worry about tomorrow and trying to clean up tomorrow.”
The Thunder took their first lead at 70-67 on Chucky Atkins’ 3-pointer from the left wing with 7:37 left. Durant pushed the edge to 76-72 with a jumper from the left wing, and the lead was back to four when Russell Westbrook answered Parker’s two free throws with another jumper at 2:19.
Popovich stood with his arms crossed as the Spurs’ chances slipped away, with Nenad Krstic snagging an offensive rebound in the final two minutes to let Oklahoma City drain the clock further.
The Thunder improved to 19-48, moving within one win of last season’s win total, by committing only three turnovers in the second half after a miserable start. Earlier this season, Oklahoma City cut a 26-point deficit to two in the final minute of a 109-104 loss at San Antonio.
“We’ve been in that position before with those guys, so we knew that they were eventually going to let us back in the game,” Durant said. “We fought hard.”
San Antonio capitalized on six early giveaways by the NBA’s most turnover-prone team to open an early 27-10 lead.
But then it was San Antonio that got careless with the ball. Parker and Duncan combined for seven of the Spurs’ nine turnovers in the second quarter, and the Thunder used a 17-2 burst to close the gap to 38-36 on Jeff Green’s layup with 2:52 left before halftime.
Duncan picked up a technical foul late in the stretch when Derrick Collins whistled the player for saying something to him after a missed jumper along the left baseline.
The Spurs then rebuilt their lead to 11 before allowing the Thunder to rally back and tie it at 63 on Durant’s jumper to open the fourth quarter.
“If you get turnovers and you don’t get shots up, it’s hard for you to win games,” said Atkins, who recently took over Earl Watson’s spot as the Thunder’s backup point guard. “Look at tonight. the first quarter, we’re getting turnovers and bad shots and it turned into easy baskets for them and wide-open looks.
“We cut that down the last three quarters and we won the game.”