SAN ANTONIO — It was the kind of clutch shot and the kind of celebration that the Spurs would have preferred to happen five months earlier.
Tony Parker came open briefly on the left wing, launched an arcing 21-footer over the outstretched arm of Serge Ibaka that nearly scraped the sky, then fell like a shooting star through the net as the horn sounded as his teammates raced to pile onto his back.
It certainly didn’t make up for the Spurs dropping four straight games to lose the Western Conference finals to the Thunder last June. But it did reinforce just who the Spurs are.
Still the Spurs.
After another summer of upheaval throughout the league, the NBA’s version of dog bites man came back to show that they still have teeth.
The Lakers got Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Andrew Bynum went to Philly, Joe Johnson to Brooklyn and Andre Iguodala to Denver. Even the Thunder couldn’t resist getting in on the action, sending the reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to Houston just five days before their season opener for Kevin Martin and some prospects.
And here came the same old Spurs with a virtually identical roster as last season, except for adding rookie Nando De Colo, who holdsdown a spot on the end of the bench.
“Death, taxes and Pop winning 50 games. You count on them,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks had said of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich before the Spurs‘ stirring 86-84 win. “Why change?”
When training camp had opened, Popovich said his Spurs had been the victims of identity theft after building a 2-0 lead over OKC to start that still-gnawing defeat. He was talking about the way the Thunder passed the ball, shared the scoring burden and made the big defensive plays to turn the tide in the best-of-seven series.
It is always painful to lose. It is excruciating when you get beat with your own weapons.
So there were the Spurs — playing themselves without the ailing Manu Ginobili (back) — reclaiming themselves down the stretch on Thursday night, just when the Thunder appeared poise to do it to them again.
First the ball came to Parker deep in the left corner when Boris Diaw saved the ball from going out of bounds under the basket. Parker’s 3-pointer with 28.3 seconds left tied the score at 84-84.
Then Kawhi Leonard stepped in front of a pass from Russell Westbrook to Kevin Durant for his fifth steal of the night. Then Parker managed to completely lose Westbrook to get himself the look at that final shot.
“I came off a pick and I was kind of open,” Parker said. “Then I took a dribble because I knew it was six seconds and to make sure we took the last shot. I saw Ibaka and I just thought, ‘I have to shoot fast.’ ”
It was one shot, one game in a season that will literally have thousands of them and log more miles than your average jumbo jet between now and the playoffs next spring.
But while the Lakers try to pick themselves up with the alarm siren already wailing in their ears, while the so-called Thunder brotherhood tries to move on to the next stage without one of its family members — and a clutch performer — here is the NBA’s most relentlessly familiar bunch starting off with back-to-back wins because of who they are.
Still the Spurs.