Thunder Closes Out First Half of Season
With Comeback Win Over Spurs
Game Recap: Thunder 107, Spurs 102
With the All-Star break on the horizon, the Thunder buckled down for 48 minutes to finish out the first half of the season strong. After trailing by as many as 14 points, the Thunder dug in its heels on the defensive end and demonstrated strong offensive execution late to defeat the Spurs on their home court.
There would have been many chances for the Thunder to bow out gracefully from Thursday night’s matchup. The circumstances were stacked up against OKC on multiple occasions: the second night of a back-to-back, one day removed from its lowest scoring game of the season, one game away from the All-Star break and down double-digits at halftime. But as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander noted the night before, this isn’t a team that’s going to let go of the rope.
“I thought our guys did a heck of a job hanging in there,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “I give our guys a lot of credit, we were down 11 at halftime and it’s easy to pack it in, you get a break two quarters away. That’s a thing that’s been a mark of this group all season and it was on display again tonight.”
Unlike the low-scoring game the night before, Thursday’s game got off to a much different start for the Thunder. OKC knocked down an early six 3-pointers in the first quarter at a 50-percent clip which lifted the squad to 27 points in the first frame – more than any of the Thunder’s quarters the night before.
However, San Antonio opened up the second quarter on a massive 20-7 run to build up a lead as large as 10 points. It was the Spurs’ second unit that got ball rolling as it put up 16 of the Spurs 37 points in the quarter, but it was Dejounte Murray who poured in another eight points to build up the momentum.
The Thunder hung tough in the midst of the run and refused to relent. With just under four minutes left on the clock, the Thunder had cut the lead to just six points after a 3-pointer from Mike Muscala from the corner with an assist from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder had begun stringing together stops on the defensive end and forcing rare turnovers by San Antonio and capitalizing on the other end.
After trailing by 11 in the first half, the Thunder burst out of halftime with a renewed surge of offensive energy that again stemmed from its defense. OKC forced an uncharacteristic seven turnovers by the Spurs in the third frame and outscored them 31-23. Offensively, it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who headlined the offense in the third frame with 13 points. The Thunder shot 56 percent in the third frame alone and going into the fourth, the Thunder only trailed by three points.
“I think the start of the third quarter was really important,” said Thunder center Mike Muscala. “The first unit did a good job of coming out of the gates, setting the tone for the second half and that’s such an important time.”
OKC built up its largest lead of the game in the fourth quarter thanks to a 14-2 run that was punctuated by a floater from SGA with just under six minutes left in the game. San Antonio continued to turn the ball over to the tune of 19 total miscues for the night which led to 26 points for the Thunder on the other end of the floor – nine of which occurred in the final frame. The Spurs average the fewest turnovers per game and its 19 on Thursday nearly doubled its nightly average.
“It was team defense,” said Daigneault. “Our guys were really compact. They were on a string. When you do that and you force teams to pass in a crowd, it's hard to play against.”
The disciplined defense translated into a disciplined offensive performance as well which was on full display in the final moments of the game where the Thunder continued a steady flow of offense with transition buckets and trips to the free throw line. By the end of the night, OKC made 21 free throws compared to San Antonio’s 12.
“Just trying to get the best shot possible,” said Gilgeous-Alexander in his postgame interview with FOX Sports Oklahoma. “We just got to stay resilient and just try to get the best shot we can for a full 48 and I think we tried to all night and it rewarded us.
“Everybody’s pitching in on defense” pic.twitter.com/xoJGdDotnv— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 5, 2021
Play of the Game
The Thunder was in the midst of its 18-6 run in the third quarter, but it wasn’t until a monstrous play from Isaiah Roby that Gregg Popovic was forced to call a timeout to rally his team. Dejounte Murray turned the ball over for San Antonio’s uncharacteristic 11th time in the game which sent the Thunder off to the races. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander accelerated up the floor, dished it off to Théo Maledon under the rim who noticed Roby sprinting down the middle of the floor. That’s when Maledon dropped the ball off to Roby in the middle of the lane as the second-year forward elevated, drew his right arm back and punished the rim with a one-handed slam over Jakob Poeltl.
“It was a transition play which had been good for us all night. We had been really connected on defense,” said Roby. “It was just a great team effort to get to that point.”
Stat of the Night2K
With a free throw at the end of the first quarter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander cashed in on his 2,000th career point in a Thunder uniform in his 100th game as a Thunder player. With that timeline, Gilgeous-Alexander became the third fastest player in OKC history to reach the 2,000-point milestone.
The offense only continued for the third-year guard throughout the contest as he finished the night a game-high 33 points and eight assists. Despite the fact that the Spurs looked to pack and protect the paint, SGA found ways to generate quality looks for both himself and his teammates by surveying the floor and picking the right spots and plays in each possession.
“That’s just something that I’ve worked on,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Every really good point guard has that in their game. Being able to do multiple things at the same time, survey the court, keep the guard on their hip, keep their dribble alive to extend plays and that’s something that I try to get better at.
“He's really talented getting downhill,” said Thunder center Mike Muscala who was the recipient of several of SGA’s assists. “He's such an elusive ball handler, creator and penetrator. His shooting makes him really hard to guard.”
Quotes of the Night
“It just shows our resilience. We have a group of guys that are competitors. At the end of they day they just want to win. Regardless of how the games going, in our way, not our way, falling not falling, that's something we can get to every night. You saw that tonight for a full 48. It ended up wearing on the other team. It was in our favor.”
“We put them in some tough positions, making jump passes and doing things that they didn’t want to do and we were able to capitalize on it.” –Isaiah Roby
After 36 games in a condensed first-half schedule, the Thunder and the rest of the NBA will enjoy a much-needed respite during the All-Star break. It will be a chance for the group to recharge and sharpen its blade before entering into another demanding half of the season. The Thunder’s first game back in action will be on Thursday, March 11 against the Dallas Mavericks inside of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“At the end of the day we want to come back better after the break. It's a good time to take a mental and physical reprieve. Everybody can kind of detach and it is good reflection time for guys. It allows guys to just take a deep breath,” said Daigneault.
“Just the emotions of the first half, with the condensed schedule, we certainly need this. We're going to take full advantage of it and knowing what's on the other side, which is another grueling schedule for every team in the NBA, it's going to be an uphill climb for every team in the NBA. It's a tremendous challenge for every team. It's one that we certainly are looking forward to but you've got to fill the tank before that and that's the goal of the All-Star break.”