SAN ANTONIO -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tried to play innocent.
However, he could only deny so much after television cameras caught him demanding to "see some nasty" from his team following a lackluster third quarter.
Unseemly as it might have been, Popovich's unusual urging worked, spurring the Spurs to a 101-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday at the AT&T Center in the opening game of the Western Conference finals.
"I said that?" Popovich joked. "The heat of the game, stuff comes up. I thought we were playing ... kind of on our heels, a little bit unsure of ourselves. So I talked to them about taking it to these guys."
It was San Antonio's ninth consecutive victory in the playoffs and 19th in a row overall. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Tuesday in San Antonio.
The Spurs, perhaps rusty from a seven-day layoff after their second-round sweep of the Los Angeles Clippers, played with little of the flair and cohesiveness they've displayed during their streak.
Indeed, they nearly matched their playoff high with 14 turnovers in the first half alone en route to 17 overall.
"We were hesitating, and I think that comes from not playing in a week," said Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who had 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists. "We knew we weren't playing our best basketball in the third quarter."
But the Spurs executed when it mattered, overpowering the Thunder down the stretch with withering defense and a stream of timely baskets. Manu Ginobili keyed San Antonio's breakaway with 11 of his team-high 26 points in the final quarter.
"That's Manu's game," Popovich said. "He's a scorer. He's somebody we depend on to create and make things happen. That's what he's done his entire career for us. Without that, we really struggle."
Oklahoma City's star triumvirate of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden had an uneven night, combining to shoot just 22-for-57 from the floor.
The Thunder still gave San Antonio all it could handle, leading by nine entering the final quarter.
"They're playing the best basketball in the league," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said, "and we were right there."
Ginobili went on a patented individual run soon after entering the game, scoring San Antonio's final seven points in the first quarter. He drained a 3-pointer while falling out of bounds just before the buzzer sounded, giving the Spurs their largest lead at 24-18.
But despite their stars' struggles, the Thunder continued to threaten. Derek Fisher hit a pair of long jump shots during an 8-3 spurt that brought Oklahoma City within 34-33.
Westbrook and Durant took over from there, combining to score the next 11 points for Oklahoma City.
Durant then passed out of a double team to Fisher for a wide-open corner 3-pointer that pushed the Thunder out to a 47-44 lead. Fisher, best known for his playoff heroics with the Los Angeles Lakers, had nine points in the quarter.
The Thunder continued to pull away behind 10 third-quarter points from Durant. They took their largest lead of the game, 71-62, on a 10-3 run to close the period. San Antonio made only six of 24 shots during the quarter.
The Spurs rediscovered their scoring touch in the fourth, ripping off an 18-3 run to storm back in front, 82-76. Oklahoma City committed three offensive fouls during the stretch, including Durant's inadvertent elbow to the nose of Stephen Jackson.
Jackson would later hit a back-breaking 3-pointer as San Antonio led by no less than three over the final five minutes. The Spurs scored at least one point on 20 of their final 25 possessions, and they didn't commit a turnover in the fourth quarter.
"It's tough," said Durant, who led the Thunder with 27 points and 10 rebounds. "We had this game going into the fourth, but we can't hang our heads. It's a long series."
NOTES: The Spurs are 29-6 after winning the first game of a postseason series. ... Spurs forward Tim Duncan has 469 career blocked shots in the postseason, third all-time behind Hakeem Olajuwon (472) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (476). He finished with 16 points, 11 boards and one block Sunday. ... San Antonio has held all nine playoff opponents to fewer than 100 points.