Back and Forth It Went, But Thunder Drops One on the Road – OKC 99, SAS 103

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

SAN ANTONIO -- Every Thunder run was parried. Every chance there was to break away got stopped short by the little things, and ultimately that allowed the San Antonio Spurs to hang around a bit too long.

After taking control in the third quarter with stout defense, the Thunder’s offense stalled in the final frame and the Spurs held on down the stretch. The final result was a 103-99 loss for the Thunder, dropping Oklahoma City to 44-32 on the season, and into 5th place due to tiebreakers with the Spurs.

“We played a good game overall, both sides of the ball, made it tough for them to make some shots,” Westbrook said. “We put ourselves in position to win.”

It was a big game for the Thunder, and after playing with force and focus for long stretches in the first quarter, which included a 14-4 run, it was clear this would be a neck-and-neck game with the Spurs through the night. The Spurs rallied in the second period, but Head Coach Billy Donovan got his group to rally and make it close at halftime. Then in the third quarter, the Thunder was tenacious defensively, forcing missed shots and preventing second chances while holding San Antonio without a field goal for about 6 minutes during a 10-0 run.

“We were just flying around. At that point we were limiting them to one possession,” said forward Paul George. “All together, we just made it tough defensively.”

In the fourth quarter, the was a devastating defensive possession with just over 9 minutes to go. It didn’t result in Spurs points, but it did generate three Oklahoma City fouls, giving the Thunder four team fouls with nearly three-quarters of the frame remaining. With that freedom and momentum on offense, the Spurs broke open a tie game at 85 with a 9-2 burst after a timeout that featured a wide-open layup and a pair of back-breaking three-pointers on the move.

“You gotta get off to good starts in quarters defensively without fouling to make sure you can string out as long as you can without putting a team to the line in the bonus,” Donovan said.

Just as it had all night, the Thunder responded, getting a Westbrook bank shot, a Corey Brewer transition dunk and a Steven Adams put back dunk before George was fouled on a three-pointer and hit all three shots to make it a 97-96 Spurs lead with 1:07 to go.

San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who was held much more in check in the second half than the first, drove middle around Adams for the first time all night for a huge dunk. The ensuing Thunder possession resulted in a turnover, and the one after that an airballed three-pointer.

The major issues down the stretch offensively for the Thunder were a combination of shot selection and turnovers. Westbrook missed two deep three-pointers with time still left on the shot clock, and while Donovan noted after the game that he trusts Westbrook completely in those situations, that there’s a good chance they could have gotten a higher percentage shot in those situations.

“I don’t think we generated good enough shots coming down the stretch,” Donovan said. “We had some opportunities.”

The giveaways were also a problem, as the Spurs’ drop coverage in the pick and roll, length in the middle and perfectly-timed digs down from the weak side caused some mayhem on Westbrook-Adams pass attempts. Westbrook tried to get his big man the ball and to finish around the bucket, but the lane was clogged and hands were high, meaning passing options were limited for Westbrook as he was on the move.

“They sell out on the paint, this team,” Adams explained. “The big man is back so they’re already one step in between me and one step to the ball. They’ve always played like that. Tim Duncan was really good at that. These guys do the same, playing right in that sweet spot in between. The weakside on their part was pretty on point.”

“We just gotta make the right play. It was open. Just gotta get it there,” Westbrook said.

The difference in the game were all the things that add up for teams on the road, like the Thunder were against the Spurs, who came into this one with the third-best home record. Offensive rebounds (14 allowed for 10 Spurs second chance points), turnovers (15, leading to 22 Spurs points), missed free throws (7) and transition defense (22 fast break points allowed) all contributed to a game where San Antonio was able to keep the scoreboard moving even while the Thunder shot better from the floor and seemingly got good looks and forced tough shots for most of the night. Those miscellaneous stats showed their power tonight.

“They add up over a period of time,” Donovan noted. “There were a lot of different things coming down (the stretch) there.”

Highlights: Thunder at Spurs

By the Numbers

11 – Steals by the Thunder in the game, all by the starters, including 4 by Paul George

26 – Points for Paul George on 3-for-6 three-point shooting to go with 7 rebounds and 6 assists

46-43 – The Spurs rebounding advantage in the game, including a 14-10 edge in offensive rebounds

The Last Word

“Everyone is just trying to win. Everyone is trying to make the right play to win. In that moment, whatever that play is what it is. You have to live with that.” – center Steven Adams


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