Back on Home Turf for the Rematch – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. SAS
- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
NBA fans have been treated to knockdown, drag-out playoff series between the Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, once in the 2012 Western Conference Finals and then later in the 2014 Western Conference Finals and the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals. This week, there was destined to be small shades of those Spurs black and Thunder blue battles with a Thursday matchup in San Antonio and then one back in Oklahoma City on Saturday.
1-on-1: Hamidou Diallo
The intensity for Saturday’s part two of the home-and-home magnified after Thursday night’s “Game 1”, as the Thunder and Spurs duked it out for 58 minutes in a double-overtime thriller, which the Spurs won 154-147. Less than 48 hours later is a chance for the Thunder to defend home court and get back the one it lost.
“We competed to the end. That’s all we can ask for, but obviously we didn’t come up with the W, so it’s not sitting right,” said guard Terrance Ferguson, who scored 21 points and hit a career-best 7 three-pointers on Thursday.
“There’s a benefit or a gain for both of us,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said of the quick turnaround for the rematch. “The preparation is you have this game and you have your previous preparation going into the game. Both teams know each other fairly well.”
Ferguson explained that the Thunder kept talking motivationally to one another throughout the Spurs game and that through sticking together like that helped give the team a chance in the closing minutes of regulation and in both overtimes.
It was a remarkable showing considering the odds stacked against the Thunder. In the first half of Thursday’s game, the Spurs’ second unit trio of Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and Davis Bertans knocked down 10 three-pointers, and collectively only missed one three-point shot all night as the Spurs sank 16-of-19 (84.2 percent) of it’s three-pointers. Many of the threes were contested and on the move, particularly coming around dribble handoffs or curling towards the passer, but the Thunder knows there were a couple that could have been eliminated by better defense.
“When that second unit came in they started lighting up the threes and it really got them going,” Ferguson noted.
“We just gotta tighten up a few things with our rotations. Rotations, building out a bit better,” said center Steven Adams.
Particularly with Nerlens Noel still in the concussion protocol, the Thunder may have to get creative along the front line. On Thursday it was mostly Jerami Grant who had to stand in there and take on LaMarcus Aldridge’s relentless post ups in the midrange on the left side of the floor. It remains to be seen who will get the assignment on Aldridge on Saturday, or how schematically the Thunder will try to prevent a repeat 56-point barrage like the one the Spurs center put up on Thursday.
Offensively, the Thunder got a major boost of its own from Ferguson, who has now made 11 of his last 14 three-point attempts over the past two game span. The shooting is obviously a major boost to a Thunder club that has struggled from behind the arc all season, and it’s impacts range further than just the ball going in the basket on that one possession. Ferguson’s presence and shot-making can also freeze the defense for a second longer and open up driving lanes for players like Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
“If he’s hot like that, obviously he’s gotta shoot it with that same confidence on a nightly basis, but it just really spreads that floor out for us and the defense has gotta account for him,” said George.
“It’s his willingness to focus on his game each and every day, staying positive and staying ready. When you’re ready, nights like (Thursday) will happen for you,” Westbrook added. “I’m not surprised at all because he prepares himself every day and every night to make shots when he’s open. My job is to make sure I get him the basketball.”
“I always felt confident with him shooting the ball. I want him to keep taking the shots he’s getting. Guys are doing a good job finding him,” Donovan noted. “But even if he’s not making them, we still need to rely on his defense… We need to make sure that stays a constant.”
Donovan’s final point is a critical one, particularly for a young player like Ferguson who just had a breakout performance. One brilliant offensive night can’t derail the shooting guard’s most vital asset that he provides – high-level defense on and off the ball. He performed nicely against Bryn Forbes, who only was able to attempt 6 field goal attempts in the game.
Ferguson can trust that the offense is in good hands, and if the ball comes to him he’ll be more than ready. For the Thunder offensively on Saturday, following a similar blueprint as it did on Thursday seems to be a strong idea, given the way Westbrook completely manipulated the game and helped his team get whatever it wanted. The point guard attacked and scored at the rim and in the midrange in pick-and-roll and catch-and-go situations, but also dished out 24 assists to just 3 turnovers.
“It starts at the point of screens and there were times when guys threw it to him,” Donovan recalled. “He just got downhill and made really good decisions at the rim. He found guys. He got guys shots.”
“He orchestrated our offense incredibly well, generated shots for everybody, whether it was rolls for our bigs, post ups, kick out threes, drives for himself,” Donovan continued. “He really managed the game and a really high level.”
In order for the Thunder to steal a win back from the Spurs, Westbrook will need to play at that All-Star, superstar level once again, and help his team have the energy and focus required for a 48-minute-or-more duel.
Watch: Tonight's Preview vs. Spurs
- *UPDATE* Steven Adams will play tonight against the Spurs after turning his ankle in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s game against San Antonio. It remains to be seen how many minutes Adams will play, but it’s a good sign for the Thunder that he’ll be available and an incredible show of toughness from the Kiwi center.
- Even with Adams available, the Thunder had some success throwing double teams at Aldridge during the overtime periods, either forcing the ball out of his hands on the block or generating a couple missed shots. With the amount of shooting that San Antonio has on the floor, the timing of those double teams and ability to cover any cutters and get back out to the perimeter to contest shots is crucial.
- “At the beginning of the game he was hitting tough shots, turnaround fadeaways. You want to send doubles at him when you can,” said forward Jerami Grant.
And so we meet again...
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 12, 2019