Back-to-Back Begins with San Antonio
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
The Thunder finally returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena after five games and 10 days on the road. On Sunday, OKC wrapped up the trip with an energetic 129-116 win over Brooklyn to advance to 5-1 on the road and 5-4 this season.
After trailing by six points at the half, the Thunder erupted in the third quarter against Brooklyn to score 37 points to the Nets’ 18. The dominant third quarter would prove to be the deciding moment as the Thunder went on to take control of the remainder of the game.
Offensive execution was at an all-time high on Sunday as the Thunder recorded several team and individual season-high performances and received contributions from every player to step on the floor. The team’s pace and tempo on offense led to a season-high 129 points scored along with a season-high 66 points in the paint and six players finishing in double-figures.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31), Hamidou Diallo (25) and Al Horford (22) all recorded season highs in points scored. For Diallo, his 25-point performance marked the first time in his career where he scored over 20 points on back-to-back games and his 4 steals marked a new career high.
The stint on the road was the young team’s first test at a prolonged road trip and repeatedly being required to generate its own energy in opposing arenas. After the win on Sunday, Thunder center Al Horford reflected on how his team handled the challenge.
“I’ve been very impressed with our group,” said Horford in his walk-off interview with FOX Sports Oklahoma. “Normally when you’re on the road and away from home for 10 days, you’re ready to just go. The focus of the group coming in here knowing that this is a really good Brooklyn team and staying with it, I was very proud of the group.
The Thunder will be tested on the defensive end against the well-oiled San Antonio Spurs who commit the fewest turnovers per night (10.8) and tout the best assist to turnover ratio in the league.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovic rotates around nine players on any given night, seven of which average double figures in scoring. Leading the way is guard DeMar DeRozan who is one of five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
Rudy Gay and Patty Mills bolster San Antonio’s bench with a combined 26.7 points per night and a total of 49 made 3-pointers which is good for the most for any bench duo this season. Mills alone leads all reserves with 32 threes this season and is shooting 50.0 percent from deep.
Keep an eye on San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan and OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as they attack the rim. Both are in the top 5 in the league in drives per game and average roughly 11 points per game on attacks to the rim. Gilgeous-Alexander who shoots 51 percent on drives, has demonstrated this season his ability to play with force and balance when getting into the lane.
Defensively, it will take a collective effort by the Thunder to stay disciplined in its shell defense and sharp in its help coverage to limit DeRozan’s easy buckets at the rim.
Stat to Watch
3-Point Percentage – While the Spurs don’t shoot many 3-pointers (30 attempts per game), San Antonio is tied for third in the league in 3-point percentage shooting an efficient 39.2 percent from deep. Meanwhile, the Thunder sits at fifth in the league in opponent 3-point percentage allowing only 33.8 percent on average. Look for the Thunder to use its size and athleticism to contest the Spurs looks from deep, especially from Mills who makes 3.2 of his 6.4 attempts each night.
With its 13-point win over Brooklyn on Sunday, the Thunder recorded its second-highest margin of victory after trailing by 15 or more points. The only larger win came back in 2018 where the Thunder overcame an 18-point deficit to win by 22 points over Miami.
OKC’s come-from-behind win on Sunday came after four games on the road on the East Coast and yet the resilient Thunder managed to generate enough energy to not just close the 15-point gap, but outscore a high-powered Brooklyn offense by 13 points on its home floor.
“It's a 48-minute game for everybody. You’re zero and zero to start, the ball goes up in the air and then you play 48,” said Daigneault. “It's hard to sustain energy through a long season and it's hard to sustain consistency for a long season. That's why we're so focused on that day after day is just generating energy, becoming consistent in our execution and how we play the game, and do that for 48 minutes.”