By RAUL DOMINGUEZ
SAN ANTONIO (AP) – The Thunder don’t believe they blew another big lead, the Spurs simply took it away.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and San Antonio overcame a 23-point deficit to beat Oklahoma City 104-101 on Friday night.
“The team showed a lot of heart, lot of character by not giving up,” Spurs center Pau Gasol said. “By not just saying we’re down by 20 and it’s one of those nights.”
Danny Green added 17 points and Gasol had 14 points to help San Antonio end Oklahoma City’s three-game winning streak.
The Thunder were outscored 89-69 in the final three quarters after holding the Spurs to a season-low 15 points in the opening period.
“I knew they were going to make a run, but I really didn’t feel like it was because we got comfortable, we got relaxed,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. “These guys have been around for a long time, they’re on the road, they know it’s going to be a challenge.”
The Thunder have blown several double-digit leads this season, including an 18-point advantage against Boston in a 101-94 home loss Nov. 3.
Aldridge put back of Green’s missed 3-pointer gave the Spurs a 102-99 lead with 24.2 seconds remaining.
The Thunder missed two 3-pointers on the ensuing possession, but Carmelo Anthony tracked down a second offensive rebound and made a 25-footer with his foot on the 3-point line to cut the lead to 102-101.
Gasol made two free throws, and Russell Westbrook stumbled to the court and threw up an airball on a 3-point attempt as the game ended.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Donovan said. “That last situation was tough just from the standpoint, 2.3 (seconds) and everybody knows we’re taking a 3.”
Anthony had 20 points to lead the Thunder. Westbrook was held to 15 points after scoring 10 in the opening period. He was 5 for 22 from the field.
“They just played faster and they just did a good job of getting themselves back in the game,” Westbrook said.
The Spurs rallied behind their usual formula of hounding defense and 3-point shooting.
Davis Bertans hit three consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, tying it at 78 with 38 seconds remaining with his final 3 of the run. The 3-pointer also closed a 58-35 run after the Spurs trailed 43-20.
“It was a fine win,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “The guys really dug deep. Pounding the rock. Kept a great attitude, just kept their minds on playing basic basketball and things turned their way.”
Thunder: Oklahoma City entered the game leading the league in steals (10.4) and opponent turnovers (19.0). The Spurs had 13 turnovers, most coming in the first quarter. The Thunder have never finished in the top five in either category since leaving Seattle. … Westbrook, Anthony and George have split game-high scoring honors throughout the season. George has led six times and Westbrook and Anthony have done so on five occasions each. … Nick Collison did not play for the 14th time this season. The 15-year veteran played five minutes in his only appearance of the season.
Spurs: Kawhi Leonard, who has not played this season, remained out with right quadriceps tendinopathy. There is no timeline on his return. … Tony Parker worked out with Spurs shooting guru Chip Engelland during morning workouts as he rehabilitates from quadriceps surgery. … Kyle Anderson stayed in the lineup after getting hit in the jaw while battling for a rebound under the Thunder’s basket with three minutes remaining in the game. … San Antonio’s previous low in the opening quarter was 17 points at Dallas on Nov. 14.
Westbrook had a quick response when asked what the Thunder must do to avoid giving up big leads.
“Just play the same way (for) 48 minutes,” he said.
Aldridge continued his resurgent season after being the subject of trade talks in the offseason following two disappointing seasons with the Spurs.
The 12-year veteran has become San Antonio’s top scorer and primary leader with Leonard and Parker sidelined.
“LaMarcus is showing great competitiveness and great heart and great leadership this season,” Gasol said. “I just love what I’m seeing from him. He’s not just settling for jumpers. He’s just going after balls, going after rebounds, making key plays on both ends of the floor.”
NO PITY PARTY
The Spurs have played the entire season without two of their leading players in Leonard and Parker, but they are not hanging their heads about it.
“Pop doesn’t let you feel sorry for yourself,” Aldridge said. “It’s about playing hard out there and playing smart.”
Thunder: Visit New Orleans on Monday night in their first game against the Pelicans after sweeping last season’s series.
Spurs: Host Atlanta on Monday night before embarking on a two-game trip.
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