Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs Game 3 Recap – May 6, 2016

With momentum already on its side after scoring five straight points, the Thunder thought it got the defensive stop it needed. Two massive hands reached up to grab an offensive rebound, and the man with the ball was the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard.

The board, which came with just 23.9 seconds left, was a backbreaker for the Thunder – the difference between being down by two with the ball and having to put San Antonio on the free throw line. Tony Parker made both of his free throws, as did Leonard a few seconds later, and the Spurs took back home court advantage and went up 2-1 in the series by beating the Thunder 100-96.

Donovan’s group trailed for nearly the entire game, but went on a 12-4 run in the third quarter and then put together another 8-0 burst early in the fourth quarter to take its first lead since the opening minute of play. At 81-77, after back-to-back three-pointers by Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook, it seemed that the Thunder had control.

The relentless Spurs had an answer, locking down on defense and scoring on free throws and midrange jumpers to make a 12-2 run.

It was 91-85 Spurs, then Kevin Durant and Westbrook scored on back-to-back layups, but then an Ibaka foul on Aldridge, a Westbrook turnover and a Durant turnover killed the Thunder’s momentum, allowing San Antonio to build its lead back out to 96-89. Westbrook scored on a put back dunk, plus the foul, then hit two more free throws on the next trip after Durant stole the ball from Leonard. That put the Thunder in prime position to get one more stop, but Leonard’s offensive rebound slammed the door shut.

“I thought our guys fought to get themselves back in the game down six,” Donovan said. “But no question, turnovers, them going to the free-throw line; I thought we had some stuff around the basket we weren’t able to finish.”

In the first quarter, the Thunder got cross-matched and left three-point shooters open four times, and the Spurs capitalized on all four of them. The same issue came back to bite the Thunder notably on one other occasion, when Tony Parker lined up an open mid-range jumper late in the fourth quarter.

“That’s my fault,” Westbrook volunteered. “I have to be able to get back and match up, especially when he’s wide open like that and with the game on the line.”

A seven and a half minute scoring drought for the Thunder in the first half was also handicapping, and Donovan’s club fell behind 35-20. It’s a make-or-miss league to be sure, but during that stretch that spanned the end of the first quarter and start of the second period, the Thunder didn’t quite get all of the shots it wanted.

“We missed shots and its execution,” Westbrook explained. “It starts with me. I have to do a better job of executing and putting guys in position to score the basketball. To beat this team, you have to find ways to move the ball around.”

Eventually, after Westbrook willed himself to the free throw line, the Thunder pulled itself out of the shooting slump to inch back into the game as it approached halftime.

“We just played our basketball. Dig down and fight,” Waiters explained. “That’s a great team over there. We did a great job of just battling. We didn’t put our heads down. We stayed with it.”

Outside of some missed assignments, particularly in transition, the Thunder’s defense was solid throughout the night.

The Spurs got loose and knocked down their threes, going 10-for-19 from behind the arc and got to the free throw line a whopping 34 times. But on two-point baskets the Spurs shot just 40.4 percent and made just 37.0 percent of their shots inside the paint. The Thunders’ rim protectors were there to alter shots all night, but it wasn’t quite enough to balance the damage the Spurs did from long distance.

“This is a team that likes to play from the inside out,” Durant said. “For them to only score 20 points in the paint and get 27 shots in the paint, that was a pretty good job on our part.”

“It was a game that was going back-and-forth, I thought we had a hard time scoring at a couple of points, but I give our guys a lot of credit from the standpoint that they kept battling and fighting,” Donovan added. “Actually, I thought we did a pretty good job defensively all the way around.”

Game 3 Thunder Highlights:

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By the Numbers

10-for-19 – The Spurs’ shooting numbers from the three-point line, compared to 10-for-30 shooting for the Thunder

34-20 – The Spurs’ advantage in free throw attempts on the night, where they made 24 compared to the Thunder’s 18

40-20 – The Thunder’s advantage in points in the paint on the night, where it went 20-for-37 compared to the Spurs’ 10-for-27

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The Last Word

“Coming down the stretch we have to do a better job of finishing the game and taking care of the ball. Every possession counts.” – guard Dion Waiters