Stop Spurs Runs, Get out of Lulls – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. SAS

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com


Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 6:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

The ability to do it, and the veteran savvy is there. On Friday, the Thunder showed that it can resist giving in to opponents’ runs, can get itself out of lulls in performance and adjust based on what is being thrown at it.

Head Coach Billy Donovan’s crew held on and snuck past the Minnesota Timberwolves to kickstart this three-game home stand, but Sunday night’s clash against the San Antonio Spurs will be a different and equally challenging test. In the first meeting between these two clubs down Texas, the Thunder jumped out to a 23-point lead in the first half, only to see the Spurs slash into it and then take control in a hurry due to a massive pace change.

“We did a great job in the first half, but then in the second half when they changed the tempo, they rushed the game and they pushed the ball,” forward Patrick Patterson explained. “That kind of sped us up and we were a little discombobulated on the opposite side of the ball. So just realizing that they’re going to try to do that again, but have a game plan where we don’t get off track, off course and just stay focused.”

In order to not suffer the same fate in the rematch, the Thunder needs to play with tenacity and intelligence all at the same time. Holding itself to a high standard on each and every possession and pulling itself out of ruts quickly will be crucial. That’s exactly what the Spurs have done for the past two decades.

“Regardless of who’s in that jersey and who’s out that jersey, they play San Antonio basketball, which is really good basketball,” forward Paul George said. “We got to just have a standard based off how we played (on Friday) to come in tomorrow night and execute the game the same way.”

The key to the Thunder’s success on the offensive end will be the way it shares the ball and how urgently it attacks when the moment presents itself. Against a Spurs defense that always plays with toughness, the Thunder wants to follow up its performance against Minnesota in which it scored 42 points in the first quarter with another efficient and effective effort.

“We’ve been so conscious of playing the right way that the game was easy,” George noted. “We were finding the right people. I thought we were moving, creating mismatches. We were creating opportunities for guys to put it on the floor and go to the basket. We just played together. The game come easy that way.”

“If one guy scores, one guy’s happy. If two people score, it flows throughout the team,” George continued.

1-on-1: Nick Collison

A major beneficiary of the way the ball flashed around the court on Friday, and a key cog for the Thunder’s offense is Steven Adams. He shot 11-for-11 from the field against Minnesota, getting buckets on rolls to the rim and diagonal slashes through the paint. George and Russell Westbrook both found Adams for wide open layups around the bucket, and that’s a staple of the Thunder offense that can gash defense and open up the floor for everything.

“I love playing with Steven,” George said. “If he presents himself, I’m (going to) try my hardest to get him the ball and I’m (going to) look to get him the ball. As you’ve seen, he can finish really well around that rim. He’s a weapon; he’s a weapon we’ve really got to use.”

Utilizing Adams in certain ways when George is on the floor and matching up player combinations throughout portions of the game are all decisions that Donovan and his coaching staff go through leading into each game. But they also ensure that the players feel ownership in the process. There’s a constant back-and-forth communication between the men on the floor doing it and the men breaking down the film and the numbers. That dialogue will continue to produce growth throughout the year.

“He wants to hear from us. He wants our opinion on a lot of our offense. A lot of our coverages he wants our opinion on,” George reviewed. “He has a style that he knows works, and we’re all in with Billy on it. But again, he’s good with wanting what’s best for us and wanting what’s gonna make us comfortable out there.”

“I like to be coached. I like to be told what to do and where I did wrong,” George continued. “(Donovan) has been good with that, holding us accountable.”

Watch: Game Preview


Nick's Notebook

- George scored 36 points on Friday night in a variety of ways. Not only did he shoot 11-for-11 from the free throw line by being in constant attack mode and capitalizing on windows to put pressure on the defense, but he also hit jumpers on pin downs and flare outs to the perimeter. He was in a zone, and knocked down 10-of-21 field goals, including 5-of-9 three-pointers. Not only was George productive with the starters, but he also helped guide the Thunder’s second unit spanning the quarter breaks in both halves.

  • “It feels great,” George said of being locked into a scoring groove. “You don’t tire out. You’re just in the zone. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is going on. You’re just locked in. That’s how I felt. I was lost in that rectangle last night.”
  • “I know to be a lot more aggressive with that second unit as far as playmaking,” George said. “Me and Ray (Felton) have a really good chemistry out there and I feel like we can really change the game with how fast and how quick we can play in that unit.”

- Veteran Nick Collison may have only played 2:06 in the first half on Friday, but that burst of time on the floor may be a sign of his viability as a rotation option for Donovan and the staff moving forward. It’s clear that Collison can be a steadying presence on the floor, and in moments where the team may waver in how well it executes, the veteran forward has the resolve and stature to help right the ship.

  • “He’s one of the most experienced guys in the league. He knows when he comes into the game, he’s a system guy, so he knows what to do. You know what to expect of him,” Patterson gushed. “He’s tough defensively and he’s going to run the offensive sets, set screens, make cuts and be physical around the rim.”

- Collison and Patterson are both excellent players in the pick and roll, with the ability to catch the ball and then make the next play. Much attention has been given to Jerami Grant lately as well, who has scored as the center on offense for the Thunder by flushing home monstrous dunks. But another player who can continue to impact the game in screen-and-roll actions is Carmelo Anthony. When he comes in to screen for Westbrook, defenses have to honor the Thunder point guard’s drive but also Anthony’s ability to pop for wide open three-pointers. Even if the defense is geared to force Anthony off the three-point line, he can easily catch the ball at the free throw line and play triple-threat basketball from there.

  • “What’s generally open is that shorter role where he’s catching in the pocket,” Donovan said. “Carmelo’s good playing from there because he can shoot and score from there and he’s also a really good passer and he can handle. So, even if he doesn’t have it, he can put the ball on the floor, make a play from there.”