My Team Is Better Than Yours: OKC Thunder Edition

Arguably one of the most exciting young teams, and I'm not talking about our second unit, the Thunder feature all sorts of youth and potential. They are of course headlined by University of Texas player, Kevin Durant. These upstarts trumped us twice last year out of four meetings making them the worst team (by winning percentage) to beat our team. I was even at the home loss. Double burn. I could not find overall head to head records against the Spurs but .500 might be one of the best of the last decade. That is a .500 record in San Antonio too. Nice start in your inaugural year, OKC.

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Emulating the best with a reserved fist pump. Who does that remind you of?
(Gratuitous UT picture. No more, I promise.)
via graphics.fansonly.com

This one was a real tough musical debate. I ended up choosing Journey's Only the Young. The others in contention were Live's Lightning Crashes, Bob Dylan's Shelter from the Storm, and Morrissey's The Youngest was the Most Loved. Obviously, I was going with themes of youth and storms. Pretty literal.

FSN Season Stats Head to Head

First, Fox Sports, I should NOT have to pick Seattle Supersonics to get the Thunder's season stats unless you are playing passive aggressive with the NBA.

Not only were they better than us at offensive rebounding like every other team, but they were a top 5 offensive rebounding team. They were a top 6 rebounding team. About 25% more offensive rebounds than us on about 3% more shot attempts. You can give them 20% more FTA's on that 3% more FGA's too. It's safe to say they have a nice aggressive offense. Both teams averaged the exact same 97.0 points per game. The major difference is that we only gave up 93.3 while they gave up 103.1 points per game. They ranked #1 or #30, depending on how you look at it, in turnovers per game and in points given up off turnovers. So that young offense is making mistakes and is not getting back on defense. Two other stats I want to mention is that these young players have a calm head because they ranked #1 in least number of player technical fouls and also #1 in opposing team technical fouls.

General Notes: Manu missed two games against them. We didn't get to play them while PJ was their coach. Our two losses to OKC were by a combined 3 points. Some people may point to the "Denver Rest Stop" game, but these two inexcusable losses are what cost us the number two seed. We play old/veteran ball so we can win these close games and capitalize on young player mistakes. I could rant more on this but I don't think this is the time or the place.

Sun, December 14 OKC Thunder We win 109-104. "Surging Spurs knock off Thunder in San Antonio"

We outscored them 39 to 19 in the first quarter. We went into half with an 18 point lead after pushing the lead to 26 at one point. They kept fighting and cut our lead to 2 points with under a minute left in the 4th quarter, but we kept our lead and won. The play that sealed it was TD quarterbacking it to Manu on the other side of the court who made a layup and got an and one call. Check it out at about the 2 minute mark in the highlights below. The layup is crazy.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs 2008/12/14 (via MarishaMarine)

Pop said this about the 26 point lead: "It's always the worst gift a team can get. This is the NBA, and there is a 24-second clock. Rarely, rarely does it stay like that -- it doesn't matter what a team's record is or who you're playing."

Green and Durant lead the Thunder with over 43 minutes of play each. They accounted for 47 of the Thunder's 87 FGA's, and 61 of their 104 points. Durant added 13 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 assists.

For the Spurs, it was a real team effort with 5 players in double figures and Hill so close with 9 points in his 13 minutes. Mason lead us in +/- with a +16 and Desmond Mason was their worst at -10. I'm guessing Mason dominated this match-up.

Key stats were our 9 more assists and 13 more free throw attempts. Both teams shot over 51%. TD (5), TP (7), and Manu (6) had 18 assists, 1 less than the Thunder's 19.

I mentioned that OKC gave up the least amount of technical fouls. From the Game Notes, "Thunder G Earl Watson was called for a technical foul in the first quarter when he tried to slap a dead ball away from the grip of George Hill -- right after the Spurs rookie was called for an offensive foul for lowering his shoulder into Watson."

Mon, March 16 @ OKC Thunder We lose 76-78. "Thunder charge ahead late to spoil Popovich's 1,000th game coaching Spurs"

Oh, this is one ugly game. We were 3 of 19 from three, -9 on FTA's, and +4 turnovers. We had a 29 point 1st quarter (holding them to 15), but only scored 13 points in the 3rd and 4th quarters each. We shot 42% and held them to 35%. George Hill and Ime Udoka were a combined 1 of 12 shooting and 0 for 7 on threes. Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green were a combined 8 of 32 shooting.

San Antonio Spurs vs Oklahoma City Thunder - 3/16/09 (via tzeyang7)

Our starters were all positive in +/-, and everyone from our bench was negative. The Thunder were opposite. Their bench dominated us in a game without Manu. Tony Parker played really well leading the team with 28 points and 7 assists. Parker did miss the potentially game winning three though.

Durant with the classy quote, "Playing a phenomenal team like the Spurs always helps us out in the confidence area. I think our defense just won the game for us. I know the Spurs can attest to that. They've won a lot of games defensively, and we can learn from a team like them."

Tue, March 31 OKC Thunder We lose 95-96. "Durant, Thunder stop playoff-bound Spurs in San Antonio"

We were eight of 25 from three. As Graydon Gordian from 48MoH said about our team last season, we lived or died by the three. Well we died on March 16th and we died again on March 31st. OKC was 5 of 8 in the same game. We were plus 4 on the offensive glass but gave up 8 more FTA's in a close game. I mentioned they lead the league in turnovers. Well, we only forced 9 this game.

Durant was an efficient 12 of 19 for 31 points. Like the game before, we successfully turned Green and Westbrook into volume shooters (a combined 12 of 32). Nenad Krstic was very good against us, eight of 11 shooting for 16 points and added 8 rebounds.

I hate to blame this loss on Pop or even Parker, but a couple of things from the box score lean towards these conclusions. First, Manu started the game and got 29 minutes and took 13 shots. That sounds good, but Parker only took 8 shots in his 35 minutes. His 11 points are pretty disappointing. Second, Mason wasn't able to find his shot off the bench (3 of 10, 1 of 6 for three). This is another example of why Mason needs to be the starting 2 guard and why Manu is the 6th man. Third, JV got 13 minutes and Hill got a DNP-CD. Come on, Pop, we needed to counter their youth with the limited youth we had. Still though, if we made our threes, all of this would be moot.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs 2009/3/31 (via MarishaMarine)

We had the ball for the final possession, and Finley took a shot as time ran out that missed. It was more complicated than that but we NEEDED to call a timeout. Pop is a master of the in-bounds play ,and once we didn't have a good look, we needed to set up a play.

"Duncan said he should have called timeout after blocking Jeff Green's layup attempt with 13 seconds left, calling it a "mental lapse." Coach Gregg Popovich said there should have "absolutely" been a timeout on the last play."

I said earlier that I was at this game. My friend dropped his ticket walking from the car to the front door. We missed the first quarter after walking back to the car and then back to the front where he had to scalp a ticket. The Spurs were outscored 27 to 16 in the second quarter. It was just a bad mojo night all around. The walk back to the car after that no timeout was an absolute hell. At least when you are watching on TV or on a feed, you can just turn your TV or monitor off and do something else. We were stuck just lingering on that horrible play.

Tue, April 7 @ OKC Thunder We win 99-89. "Gooden joins usual suspects in pushing Spurs to another 50-win season"

This game was about consistency on offense (4 quarters between 24 and 26 points). On defense, we gave up a 32 point first quarter, but then held them to 18, 22, and 17 in the next three quarters. We had 7 more FGA's on 2 more turnovers and 2 more offensive rebounds. That is always a positive sign for the Spurs.

SPURS vs THUNDERS APR 07 2009 (via checipossofareio)

Bonner was in full regression mode by April 7th. I won't show his embarrassing stat line but just know it's really bad. Drew Gooden was very good though. He went 7 of 14 and 6 of 6 from the line for 20 points. He added 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. Gooden's 20 points surpassed the entire Thunder bench combined.

Duncan and Parker each had double doubles. Duncan had 25 points and 15 rebounds. Parker had 21 points and 10 assists with 5 steals.

Hill got 1 minute of play as Pop was finalizing his opinions of the roster heading into the playoffs. We all know how we felt about this move. I won't expound.

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"Hey Mason, so that's what a dunk is again? In my short stint with Pop, I already forgot." via www.hoopsdaily.com

Durant, Green, and Westbrook were solid again. Westbrook only shot 3 of 10 but contributed 6 assists and 5 rebounds. He also got 6 FTA's. Sefolosha started for the Thunder and was efficient. He played in the last 3 games against the Spurs and was a combined 10 of 17 shooting for 9 points per game.

Thunder Roster Changes

First, they added James Harden, BJ Mullens, and Robert Vaden in the draft. Check out ATS's Summer League Microscope on James Harden here. B.J. Mullens is a 7 footer out of Ohio State, and everything I've read seems to think he is pretty rough and could have benefited from another year in college. I don't know much of anything about Vaden, but he appears to be a shooting guard with 3 point range. I'm not sure he will make their roster next year.

James Harden Mix (via jwester555) I'm sorry for the music on this one.

They also added Etan Thomas through a trade and Kevin Ollie through free agency. These guys add some extra depth which was lacking from their rotation last year.

They've lost Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins. They also bought out Earl Watson's contract. Shaun Livingston looked promising in Summer League. Between him and Kevin Ollie, they should be able to fill the minutes behind Westbrook who is young enough to carry quite a bit of load.

They have a lot of money free if they wanted to sign a FA still as well. Their biggest asset is really the growth of their young players and not the additions though.

Malik Rose, Desmond Mason, Robert Swift are all unsigned free agents from their roster right now.

The Match-Up

Starters

PG: Tony Parker versus Russell Westbrook: Advantage Spurs: I love this match-up. Westbrook is an exciting young player. He averaged more than 5 assists per game last season. If he can reduce his turnovers and become a more efficient scorer, he can be a really great PG. He probably needs to become a better defender too. One of his best assets though is that he really seems like a leader. I read good things about him in the Orlando Summer League.
SG: Roger Mason versus James Harden: Advantage Toss up. I'm probably leaning slightly towards Harden, but without having played a single game, I'm not sure how ready he is to start and contribute. He may also contribute to OKC's turnover problem. ATS already gave me the impression in his microscope that he won't help their transition defense.
SF: Richard Jefferson versus Kevin Durant: Advantage OKC. Jefferson is the better defender though. Durant needs to improve on his turnovers if he is going to handle the ball as much as he does for OKC. I think he is up to the challenge.
PF: Antonio McDyess versus Jeff Green: Advantage OKC. McDyess is obviously a better post player and a better rebounder, but I have to give this to Green because he is more of a cornerstone of his team's offense. He can take 20 shots in a game and not waste them. So overall, OKC, but Spurs win some with this match-up as well.
C: Tim Duncan versus Nenad Krstic: Advantage Spurs: Krstic is a solid player but is completely outclassed here.

Bench: Manu, Hill, Blair, Mahinmi, Finley, Bonner, Haislip, Ratliff and Hairston over Shaun Livingston, Kevin Ollie, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Weaver, D.J. White, B.J. Mullens, and Etan Thomas.

Sefolosha played well for them last year, and they have added depth at SG with their draft picks. They've added front court depth to help Collison with Etan Thomas and B.J. Mullens. Serge Ibaka played well against us in Summer League as well. He had 7 offensive rebounds in 22 minutes against Blair. Shaun Livingston and Kevin Ollie fortify their backup point guard position as well.

Coaching: Advantage Spurs.

Result: Even with Blair, Ian, and Hill, opposing youth still scares. I dread games against Portland and OKC. On paper, there is no way we should lose any games against OKC unless Durant goes crazy for 60 points or something. We are the better team, but depending on how much we can count on our youth, this team could prove to be a tough match-up. I don't think they are a playoff team but they can create trouble for us. No way we lose the season series, but we could drop a game if we aren't careful or a game falls on a SEGABABA.

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Let's hope we can show Durant some more team defense next season even if we don't have Ime or Bruce.
via cdn0.sbnation.com

So that is the Spurs-Thunder preview for next season. Next up is the Memphis Grizzlies, our first division match-up of this series.

Past entries in this series: Clippers, Wizards and Kings.

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