The Spurs came out strong on defense, looking to contain Russell Westbrook as much as possible. They were able to limit the scoring of the Thunder for a majority of the first half. In doing so, the Spurs managed to hold a lead as large as 18 points. Oklahoma City went on a little bit of a run, sparked by Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams. The little run made the scoring deficit somewhat manageable at halftime.
Starting off the third quarter, the Thunder continued to seem like they had no answer to the Spurs. However, things quickly changed when Westbrook and Oladipo led a 23-2 run for Oklahoma City. The Thunder led by 3 at one point, but ultimately ended the quarter down by 4. Oklahoma City’s bench started the fourth quarter, and allowed the Spurs to build a pretty good sized lead. By the time Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams had returned, the game was in the hands of the Spurs, and the Thunder could not do enough to mount a comeback.
Russ Delivers MVP Performance
Russell Westbrook did exactly what he does best tonight, but it was not nearly enough as he had no support around him. It is well known that the Thunder have struggled without Russ on the floor this season, but tonight it was as obvious as ever. Oklahoma City actually outplayed the Spurs while Russ was in the game, but got dominated when he was on the bench. He took a seat in the third quarter and the Thunder had a 1 point lead. When he returned with 9 minutes to go in the fourth, the team trailed by 11 points.
After watching the first two games without Enes Kanter, it is possible that Kanter not only hurt Oklahoma City’s chances this season, but he may have killed Westbrook’s MVP hopes as well. He finished with 27 points, 14 assists, and 6 rebounds, which is certainly MVP quality numbers. However, with little to no help around, Russ will struggle to find his way to the top of the MVP rankings due to the teams overall record. While this is not set in stone, there is no doubt that this team is currently in a world of hurt.
Bench Struggles to Hang with the Spurs
The loss tonight was very similar to the loss on Sunday against the Cavaliers. The Thunder’s starting rotation did just about all they could to come out on top, but the bench simply couldn’t have their backs when the starters needed a breather. The bench only produced 22 points, on 6-28 shooting from the floor, while the starters had four guys in double-digits.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise for me to say that the rest of this season will be determined by this group of guys on the bench. With Enes Kanter gone, someone has to come in and pick up some of the scoring for the second unit. Cameron Payne has got to do a better job at being a facilitator with this second group. If Payne can create open looks for guys like Abrines or Morrow, then this second unit has the potential to hang with any team.
The Thunder will be back in Oklahoma City tomorrow night to take on the Chicago Bulls. The game will start at 8:30 PM and it will be televised on ESPN. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM. The Bulls have been struggling lately, and the Thunder should take advantage of that tomorrow night in front of their home crowd.
Article written by Craig Hofeld. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.