After three consecutive wins against some less than impressive opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder entered tonight’s matchup with the San Antonio Spurs with a lot to prove. For weeks now, the Thunder has played well below its potential, to the point where questions have floated around whether or not this team was capable of being successful longterm. While San Antonio has been without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker all season long, they have fared well, so they would serve as a decent test to see how far Oklahoma City has come since losing its fourth straight a little over a week ago in Denver.

The Spurs got on the board first as Danny Green stole the tip and put up a floater just inside the paint. The lead would be short-lived for San Antonio as Oklahoma City’s defense went to work, which led to some easy buckets for the Thunder. Three minutes into the game, Oklahoma City held a 10-4 lead over the Spurs, but San Antonio would pull back to within a point to make it 14-13.

The Thunder defense would then play some of its best basketball all season long, forcing turnover after turnover, and ultimately fueling the Oklahoma City offense. Over the course of the next six-and-a-half minutes, the Thunder would go on an 18-0 run. Oklahoma City would end the first quarter forcing San Antonio into seven turnovers and holding the Spurs to 32% field goal shooting, which would in turn translate into the Thunder’s highest-scoring first quarter of the season. Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams would combine for 18 points on 6/10 shooting from the floor and 6/6 from the free throw line to give the Thunder a 32-15 lead.

The Thunder would start off the second quarter hot, pushing the lead to 23 points two minutes into the period. Slowly, but surely, the Spurs would push back and begin whittling away at the deficit. After shooting 6/19 (31.6%) in the first quarter, San Antonio would shoot 10/20 (50%), including 4/8 (50%) from three, in the second. The Spurs would close in on Oklahoma City, but at halftime, the Thunder led 55-48.

The momentum continued to shift in favor of San Antonio in the third quarter, but not before the Thunder would extend its lead back to double digits. With 7:37 left in the third, Oklahoma City would take a 64-53 lead. San Antonio would then go on a 10-3 run to make it 67-63 with 4:36 left in the period. After some more back and forth, the Spurs would gain some leverage before finishing up the third quarter with a tie score of 78-78.

Heading into the fourth, the Thunder knew that they had to get something positive going because the Spurs had all the momentum in San Antonio on their side. The Spurs went to work quickly, however, running off six straight points before the Thunder could get some more points on the board. After taking that six-point lead, San Antonio held on for half of the quarter before Oklahoma City tied it up at 91 apiece with exactly six minutes left to play. Within three minutes, the Spurs had another six-point lead, and despite the Thunder’s best efforts, San Antonio was simply too much, and Oklahoma City would drop the game 101-104.

Box Score

3 Quick Thoughts

  • No Lead is Safe: In five of the Thunder’s last six losses, they have held a at least an eleven-point lead. Tonight’s 23-point lead was the largest in all of those losses, which makes it perhaps the most embarrassing loss. The Spurs are no joke, especially when playing in San Antonio, but this Thunder squad has to figure out what it’s going to take to finish ball games. For whatever reason, Oklahoma City struggles especially in the third quarter. Despite having a positive +/- in the first, second, and fourth quarters for the season, the Thunder has a -0.9 +/- for the third quarter. Coming out of halftime ready to go has been a weak spot for Oklahoma City, so perhaps that is something they could focus on in the future.
  • Free Throw Shooting Woes Impact Clutch Time: A common abbreviation on basketball social media is “YGTMYFT,” which stands for “you’ve got to make your free throws.” For the sixth time this season, Oklahoma City shot below 70% from the charity stripe, and out of those six games, the Thunder has come away with a win only once. Despite having some quality free throw shooters on the roster, Oklahoma City has struggled to hit on those opportunities. On nights like tonight where they found themselves with a number of chances, they have to be able to knock down those shots. In the final 3:09 of the game, Oklahoma City shot 2/7 (28.6%) from the free throw line, which is inexcusable. This has to be an area of improvement moving forward.
  • Know Your Role: One of the biggest issues for this Thunder team has been for Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony to find where they fit in and what role they are supposed to play. Tonight,¬†Westbrook shot 5/22 (22.7%), George shot 5/16 (31.3%), and Anthony shot 9/17 (52.9%), but only 2/6 (33.3%) in the final 4:48 of the game. These are not the numbers that players of their caliber should have very often, if ever. Chemistry takes time, and surely they will figure things out before long, but it’s almost time to stop claiming “it’s still early.” Whether Russ needs to step up and be a leader, which likely means taking fewer shots, or perhaps George or Anthony needs to take over in some form or fashion, I’m not sure, but these guys have to figure out how to play with each other instead of just around each other, and they need to do it now.

Another Chance on Monday

Oklahoma City gets a two-day break as they head to New Orleans to take on Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and the Pelicans on Monday night. Tip-off is at 7 PM, and the game will be aired on FSOK. The game will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM the Sports Animal.

Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.