OKLAHOMA CITY - Even without Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs are making up ground in the playoff race.
George Hill stepped into Parker’s starring role and scored a career-high 27 points, and the Spurs overcame Kevin Durant’s 45 points to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 99-96, on Monday night and forge a tie between the teams for sixth place in the Western Conference standings.
“Every game right now is important and big,” said Hill, who surpassed 20 points for the eighth time this season. “The playoff race is close and we need every win that we can possibly (get) knowing that we have a tough stretch.”
The game could be a pivotal one in the race for playoff positioning.
Both teams end the season with a brutal schedule, facing 11 opponents with winning records in their final 14 games.
The Spurs have won 10 of 13 heading into the homestretch, despite playing without three-time All-Star Parker for the past nine games. That has thrust Hill, who cracked the starting lineup at midseason, into a bigger role in the backcourt alongside Manu Ginobili.
“Someone has to step up in that Tony Parker role,” Hill said. “We know it’s going to take a team effort but if we get two guys to do it, then it’s going to help us.”
Serge Ibaka, a rookie, swatted away Tim Duncan’s layup to give the Thunder a chance with 8.8 seconds remaining, but Thabo Sefolosha missed a 3-pointer from the left wing.
“I was going to shoot a 3 and they doubled me. I definitely don’t want to force anything in a game on a bad shot or a fadeaway out of bounds,” Durant said. “I trust Thabo. … If it happens to me 1,000 more times, I’m going to make the same play every time.”