- Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
SAN ANTONIO – There are no in-season series in the 82-game NBA format. No sections of games that can be roped off to have more meaning than any other. Two big wins in Los Angeles and in Portland don’t somehow offset a pair of home losses to Washington or Minnesota, or vice-a-versa. Instead it’s all about the game right in front of each team on the schedule. Past can’t be prologue and the future is beyond control.
That’s why as the Thunder takes on the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, there’s only thought devoted to how the Thunder can put together the best 48 minutes possible. Sure, the coaching staff will evaluate aspects of the game where higher performance is required.
“One thing you want to be able to do as a team or as a coach is to be able to specifically areas that we’ve got to get better at,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan. “We know the things that we’ve got to do and they’re hard, but for us they have to be done at a high level.
“Generally, it’s always going to be traced back for us just to a few things: how well did we defend the three, did we put teams to the free-throw line and how well did we rebound, from a defensive perspective. Offensively, we’ve got to generate good shots,” Donovan noted.
Donovan post-shootaround in San Antonio
The impetus behind all of those core areas for the Thunder seems to funnel down to one crucial reason – being able to get out and score on the fast break. The Thunder is in the top 5 in fast break scoring this season, but whereas it might seem that stems from a speed-based offensive approach, it surely comes more from a defensive formula that pressures opponents into a static floor bereft of good movement, missed shots and turnovers. When the Thunder does that then bursts into the open floor, it can be electric.
“We’re a really, really good offensive rebounding team but we have to be able to defensive rebound to have that be an advantage,” Donovan began.
“When we defend the three-point line really well, generally we can contest shots well, it leads to a lot of long rebounds and kick outs and it gets us in transition, which we are really good at,” Donovan continued.
“When we keep teams off the free-throw line it does not allow teams to set their defense. We can really get out in in transition by getting stops,” Donovan concluded.
The Spurs are a team that have been on fire offensively over the last 16 games, scoring 115.8 points per game while going 13-3 heading into a Wednesday night matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies. With the Thunder in San Antonio waiting on the Spurs, the coaching staff will get a good look at its upcoming foe that has surged up the Western Conference standings.
The game will be one of contrasting styles. The Spurs have been an offensive juggernaut, yet playing at an incredibly slow pace. The Thunder, on the other hand have been outstanding defensively and play at one of the fastest paces in the league. At the beginning of the season, the Thunder mentioned that it wanted to play faster, but that it started on the defensive end of the floor.
The only way it can do that against the Spurs is to get loose defensive rebounds and get out on the break. Without the services of Nerlens Noel, who the Thunder announced sustained a concussion on the elbow from Andrew Wiggins on Tuesday night, the team will have to gang rebound as a group. LaMarcus Aldridge is a known sore in the Thunder’s side and is averaging nearly 3 offensive rebounds per game, while Pau Gasol also can give the Spurs some length around the rim to cause problems. Regardless of who is on the floor for either team, however, it’s all about putting a body on the opponent then pushing off to catch the loose board.
“Just box out,” said guard Terrance Ferguson straightforwardly but in his mile-a-minute cadence. “Not let them run any freebies. Just not letting the play be over. Always knowing that the play is still going. No matter if they took the shot; always box out, always look for your man. And you’ve got to get the board. It’s pretty simple.”
“Then again, mate, you could box someone out and you just get an unfortunate bounce,” center Steven Adams countered. “You could box out as best as you can, you just get an unfortunate bounce and it ends up going someone’s way.”
- Today is a double-voting day for the All-Star Team. Be sure to vote for your favorite Thunder players and particularly Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams at www.okcthunder.com/vote. At shootaround on Thursday, Westbrook gave his thoughts on Adams’ candidacy.
- “(Adams) is definitely worthy of it. Any other bigs in the Western Conference, they know,” Westbrook said.
- Center Nerlens Noel was released from OU Medical Center on Wednesday after tests came back negative for fractures. Noel does have a concussion, so his it remains to be seen when he’ll be back to action because he has to go through the NBA’s official concussion protocol. Without Noel, expect to see more of Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson at the center spot along with George and Abdel Nader at the power forward position to help the Thunder clean up the defensive glass down low.
- “We’ll find out where (Noel) is once he goes into the concussion protocol but I’m happy that he’s out and he’s safe,” said Donovan.
- “We’re going to have to have some physicality on the basket. We’re going to have to be man on man,” said Donovan. “The biggest thing for us is that we’re going to have to defensive rebound. That’s really critical.”
- The Spurs come into tonight’s game first in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage, second in free throw percentage, fifth in overall shooting percentage and first in fewest turnovers. Offensively, San Antonio is just extremely efficient with its opportunities, despite playing at one of the slowest paces in the NBA in the starting group. The Thunder must be prepared for the Spurs’ reserves to play a much faster, up-tempo style.
- “They’re a very effective offensive team. They’re really efficient inside the three-point line with guys like (DeMar) DeRozan and guys like Aldridge and Gasol. We’ll have to do a great job defending,” Donovan noted. “Coming off the bench with (Marco) Belinelli, Patty Mills, high energy, good shooting team, (Davis) Bertans. We’ll have to do a great job defensively for the full 48 minutes.”