Every Inch Counts, Thunder Comes up Short – OKC 101, SAS 104

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

SAN ANTONIO – A toe-length made all the difference at the end on Friday night. But it was what happened after a blistering hot start by the Thunder that caused a 104-101 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

After a wild, scrambling possession that featured a pair of Thunder misses, Carmelo Anthony pulled up around a Steven Adams screen with a chance to tie the game at 102 with 5 seconds to go. He drained the shot, but after official review, it was determined that the toe of Anthony’s black shoe was just over top of the black three-point line on the Spurs home court.

“It was tough. I was just trying to get a shot up,” Anthony said.

It was bad fortune on the Anthony jumper, but there were plenty of correctable mistakes that happened in the possessions preceding that as well. All in the final minute, the Thunder turned it over and got the ball back, Paul George missed a free throw then got the offensive board and got fouled again, but only made one of the ensuing free throws. Then came perhaps the most pivotal defensive possession of the night, and the Thunder allowed an offensive rebound and put back to LaMarcus Aldridge.

After thwarting the Spurs’ initial action, Steven Adams switched out onto Spurs point guard Patty Mills, who drove to the middle and dished to Danny Green behind the three-point line. Despite having made five three-pointers earlier in the game, Green’s shot was errant. Under the rim, the Spurs had 7-footers in Aldridge and Paul Gasol fighting with the Thunder’s forwards, George and Anthony. Aldridge’s height won out, and that outback set up the Thunder’s next desperate possession with only 24 seconds remaining.

“It’s hard,” Donovan said of Anthony and George’s duties under the rim. “I’ll have to see the film. That certainly was a big play where we switched out and Aldridge got that offensive rebound.”

When Anthony’s shot dropped, the Thunder still had a timeout, so they got a foul as quickly as the referees would give them one. Gasol knocked down both of his foul shots, and the Thunder’s side out of bounds play with 2.3 seconds couldn’t get liftoff, given that everyone inside the building knew a three-pointer was on its way.

“They put Aldridge on the ball to make it difficult to inbound and then they basically spread everyone around the three-point line knowing we were going for a three,” Donovan explained. “We tried to run some screening and some movement and they were able to switch some actions.”

This one could have been sealed up for the Thunder a whole lot earlier, if Donovan’s club had been able to maintain their level of execution on both ends past the first quarter. Once again the Thunder burst out of the gates on fire, leading 32-15 lead after the first 12 minutes. The Thunder’s lead rose to as many as 23 points in that first half thanks to an 18-0 first quarter run. A quarter later, the Thunder’s edge was down to single digits.

“There’s always going to be runs in the game. Especially when you’re up like that, that early,” Donovan said. “I wasn’t surprised in terms of them fighting back into the game.”

Midway through the second quarter, things started to turn. The Spurs began to get offensive rebounds and turn them into second chances. In that period alone, San Antonio out-rebounded the Thunder 13-3. The seven first half second chances resulted in 10 Spurs points. Rebounding has been a point of emphasis all season long, and it but the team tonight. As the Thunder continues to play small, that’ll be something it must keep tabs on.

An issue tonight that hadn’t been a problem all year was chasing down three point shooters in transition. Most of Green’s threes came in the secondary break, as Thunder players were either picking themselves up off the floor from a missed rim attack or scrambling back from an unbalanced floor in an attempt to match up.

Green’s three’s were backed up by some more hot shooting by Spurs stalwarts and newcomers alike. Gasol and Manu Ginobili each sank two threes and in just 10 minutes of action, reserve forward Davis Bertans hit three of four shots behind the arc. All of those open shots stemmed from the normally plodding San Antonio picking up the tempo, initiating offense sometimes with 21 seconds still on the shot clock.

“It’s going from dictating what they’re doing to then chasing them,” said Adams, who returned to the lineup after missing three straight games. “When you chase these guys, they do whatever they want. When you’re a step behind them, they can get whatever. How to fix it is getting that stamina, anticipating the plays.”

“We started off hot. We knew every single play that they’re doing,” Adams continued. “Everyone’s sharp, anticipating, but you have to keep doing that once it’s sped up as well.”

Heading into the game, the Spurs were playing at one of the slowest paces in the NBA. When that didn’t work against the Thunder’s long, athletic and locked in defense, the Spurs had to push the ball up floor and get into offense quickly. That quick-hitting offense led to 63 combined points in the middle quarters.

“Giving up 33 in the second quarter, giving up 30 in the third quarter, that was the game right there,” Anthony said.

“It is hard, because at that point we’re trying to keep our matchups but sometimes it’s causing us to have two guys guarding one person,” George added. “Them pushing and getting down there and putting pressure on us, they’re swing the ball and they’re moving. They’re one of the best moving teams, and it’s allowing the ball to find open shooters.”

As the Thunder’s defense got more stretched out, it’s offense got more condensed. In the first half Donovan’s group whipped the ball around and made a conscious effort to get downhill. As the game wore on, the Thunder’s shooting percentage continually dipped, from 54.5 percent in the first quarter down to 43.8 percent by the end of the game. It’s a continued work in progress for the Thunder, and the key is maintaining the diligence and togetherness to fight through adversity and keep striding forward.

Watch: Thunder highlights

By the Numbers

14-for-35 – Three-point shooting numbers for the Spurs on the night, good for 40 percent

16 – Points for Steven Adams in his return from injury, on 6-for-8 shooting to go with eight rebounds and two blocks

24 – Assists for the Thunder, compared to just nine turnovers. Those giveaways however, led to 13 Spurs points

The Last Word

“You know the home team is going to make a run. I didn’t think that was going to continue or maintain for the entire game. We weathered a couple storms there in the second and then midway through the second we took a nice lead and then we didn’t close the second great…From that point it was just back-and-forth the rest of the game.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan