SAN ANTONIO – The Oklahoma City Thunder were down 11 in a game that was quickly spiraling out of control, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook began barking at each other as they walked toward the bench late in Wednesday's first half.
Whether they were truly angry at each other, the referees or their team's continued struggles in the Western Conference finals, the frustration only increased for Durant and Westbrook. What eventually cooled them off was a seat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter of the Thunder's 112-77 Game 2 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
"I was just getting on Kevin about some stuff and he got on me right back," Westbrook said. "And that's what teammates do. That's what leaders do. We get on each other, we come back and we talk about it, and then we come out like nothing ever happened."
Not much happened for any of the Thunder, who returned home trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
Durant and Westbrook had combined to average nearly 70 points per game in the playoffs entering Game 2. On this night they each had 15 points while missing a combined 27 of 40 shots, including all but one of their nine 3-point attempts. Westbrook didn't shoot a free throw while Durant shot just five. Jeremy Lamb (13 points) was the only other Thunder player to score in double-figures. Durant had two assists while Westbrook had five.
Oklahoma City coach Scottie Brooks has preached to Durant and Westbrook to trust their teammates to help them win games. But as the Spurs continued to make 3-pointers and break down OKC's defense in the paint, Durant and Westbrook unsuccessfully relied on themselves to try to dig the Thunder out of their hole.
"A lot of the shots were in the paint and we just missed them," Westbrook said. "But when we make them two weeks ago, nothing is said. So now it's a problem that we miss? But that's how it goes."
Said Brooks: "They didn't make shots tonight. Some of them were tough shots, but they didn't get to the free-throw line."
The Thunder were tied with the Spurs at 36 midway through the second quarter when Durant came in after a lengthy rest. The Spurs responded by finishing the second quarter with a 22-8 run to take a 58-44 halftime lead. Durant missed three of his four shots during the final 6:18 of the first half. Near the end of the quarter, Durant and Westbrook exchanged words about their 3-point defense after Danny Green hit one of his seven 3-pointers.
Durant took the blame for the second quarter collapse saying he "messed the game up."
"All those plays were on me," Durant said. "It was my fault and I take full responsibility for it. Wish they wouldn't have happened. I can't get that back now, but I'll take that one."
From 8:36 left in the second quarter to 4:30 left in the third quarter, no Thunder player other than Durant or Westbrook made a shot. The Spurs scored 48 points during that stretch while Durant and Westbrook combined for all of the Thunder's 20 points.
"We didn't stop trusting," Durant said.
Did they stop moving the ball?
"We didn't," Durant said.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said during the Clippers' second-round series against the Thunder that he was less concerned about trying to contain Durant and Westbrook and more worried about making sure their teammates didn't get going.
"Whenever great players have nights like that, it's never one thing," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Durant and Westbrook. "I'm sure at times we guarded them well. And I'm sure at times they had open shots they didn't make."
Losing starting power forward Serge Ibaka for the rest of the playoffs to a leg injury prior to the West finals hurt the Thunder. Ibaka was not only a defensive force, but also the third offensive option – he was averaging 12.2 points in the postseason and helped space the floor with his midrange jumpers. Thunder forward Nick Collison, Ibaka's replacement, has scored a total of two points in the series' first two games.
Westbrook said Ibaka's departure has not made him or Durant any more aggressive offensively.
"They been playing aggressive all playoffs," Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. "I don't think nothing has changed since Serge has been out."
Said Westbrook: "We never pinned it on Ibaka. We don't put nothing on one individual of one team. That what's [the media] did."
Two years ago, the Spurs took a 2-0 lead over the Thunder in the Western Conference finals. Oklahoma City won the next four games to advance to the NBA Finals.
The difference now is the Thunder are missing Ibaka, and James Harden plays for the Houston Rockets. Oklahoma City has missed Ibaka's shot-blocking and defensive presence. And while the Thunder have three days to make changes before Game 3 in Oklahoma City, Durant and Westbrook don't expect to change their approach.
"We try not to just say since we were down 2-0 two years ago and we end up winning, we'll do the same thing," Durant said. "We really need to figure it out on how to get better and we've always done that. We need to just stick together and believe in each other that we can come out and try to get Game 3 on Sunday.
"Like Russ said, we've been playing a certain way for so long, and it got us here. So we need to continue to stick with what we do and just do it better. Simple enough."