Back home from California and coming off a thrilling 19-point come-from-behind win over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder returns to Paycom Center for a single game against a long-time rival with a new-look roster, the San Antonio Spurs.
What to Watch
Team Defense In recent games the Thunder has had to contend with and scheme around All-Star caliber players that test opponents with pure talent. Stephen Curry, Paul George, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook demand attention from more than one defender at times. Meanwhile, the Spurs boast a more balanced attack that prioritizes ball movement. How the Thunder holds up defensively as a five-man unit will be a critical factor in preventing San Antonio from catching their extra passing rhythm.
Shai’s Hot Hand After an offseason of rest and rehab as he recovered from plantar fasciitis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander needed a few games to get his timing and tempo back. Since then, he’s been his sensational self, scoring 26.2 points on 47.3 percent shooting, including 46.3 percent from three over the last 6 games. He’s also added 5.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.0 steals over the last half dozen contests. Look for Shai to invest in his teammates throughout the night, then flip the switch on his own scoring when its needed against the Spurs.
Favors Rounding into Form The Thunder has always done well incorporating new veterans into the group, and Derrick Favors is no exception. After getting acclimated to his new squad over the first week, Favors has found his niche within the group. Over the last four games he’s averaging 9.0 points and 5.8 rebounds on 15-of-17 (88.2 percent) shooting. With a potential matchup with burly big man Jakob Poeltl, Favors could again be a factor on both ends.
Since the 1996-97 season, only five teams have come back from deficits of 19 points or more against the same opponent in the same season. The Thunder has joined that five-team group after just 8 games in 2021-22, thanks to a team record-tying 26-point comeback last Wednesday in Oklahoma City and Thursday’s 19-point comeback at Staples Center.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, on playing in crunch-time: “It's super fun. You know the stakes, you know the rewards, you know the risks and you trust your work.”Mark Daigneault, on handling success as well as adversity: “Nothing's linear. We’re going to have our struggles again and we're going to have our back against the wall again. You’re going to bleed in these games. You can't avoid that. We've just got to be a team that when that happens, we embrace it. We pull together through it, through thick and thin.”
The Spurs are playing an up-tempo style with one of the faster paces in the NBA, utilizing the pass to generate two-point shots at a high frequency, and efficiency. San Antonio ranks in the top five in field goal percentage and assists so far this season, with a balanced guard attack of Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV averaging a combined 58.9 points and 18.8 assists per contest.