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Inconsistent Spurs end Rodeo Road Trip with embarrassing loss to the Thunder

After two quality road wins in a row, the Spurs showed just how painfully unpredictable they are by getting destroyed by the Thunder.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

After dominating the Jazz on Friday, the Spurs reminded us why we shouldn’t be too optimistic about them potentially turning a corner in the second half of the season by losing to the Thunder 131-103 on Sunday. The loss concludes a Rodeo Road Trip in which San Antonio went 2-6.

The theme of giving fans hope only to take it away has been a staple of this season and was present early in the game. Despite Dejounte Murray getting into foul trouble almost immediately, the Silver and Black looked primed to compete. The Thunder lived up to their reputation as a bad outside shooting team by squandering some good looks while a few DeMar DeRozan buckets and the help of the bench had San Antonio actually looking like the more solid team. The Spurs were simply playing with more effort and physicality than their opponent, particularly on the glass, and making the right plays on offense. It wasn’t the prettiest of performances, but it was encouraging to see them keep Oklahoma City off the free throw line and execute on the other end.

But alas, the Thunder eventually adjusted. Instead of wasting time when they got the constant mismatches the Spurs surrendered in hopes of keeping their ball handlers from getting open, OKC started attacking them right away or running their normal offense and finding good looks for role players. The home team also started to take advantage of its edge on athleticism, with Luguentz Dort and Nerlens Noel making plays on defense that intimidated the Spurs into bad decisions and missed bunnies. The Thunder quickly regained control of the game with a 16-0 run late in the second quarter and carried a six-point lead to the break. More concerning for San Antonio’s chances was the fact that OKC seemed to have figured out how to dominate the matchup on both ends.

The only way for the Spurs to stay in the game would have been for the starters to come out strong in the second half to stop OKC’s momentum. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. In hopes of getting LaMarcus Aldridge going, the ball went to the big man repeatedly on offense, but he couldn’t deliver. Meanwhile the Thunder continued to fire on all cylinders and quickly grabbed a double-digit lead. Gregg Popovich tried to stop the bleeding by subbing out all five of his starters before the nine-minute mark, but the bench couldn’t turn things around. Other experiments, like playing Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl at the same time, dusting off Marco Belinelli, or going small with Lyles at center also failed, OKC continued to build on their lead and cruised to an easy blowout win.

The loss is a fitting end to a Rodeo Road Trip that only confirmed that the Spurs, while capable of pulling off some great performances, are simply not consistent. Games like the one in Utah will understandably make us wonder if perhaps a big run at the postseason is possible, but we’ve seen time and time again that this team just can’t sustain that level of play.

The 2019/20 Spurs have a pretty high ceiling from game to game but on the aggregate they have seriously low floor, and it will probably cost them a shot at the playoffs.

Game notes

  • The Spurs shot 37 percent from the floor, their second worst mark of the season. After starting out hot from three, they ended up making just 11 of their 38 three-point attempts. If you missed this game, you are lucky. If you DVRed it, I wouldn't blame you if you deleted it sight unseen.
  • DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge were once again unable to get the offense back on track when the Spurs struggled. Too often, they disappear in key moments until Pop calls plays for them after timeouts or to start quarters or halves, which is something we’ve covered before. I wonder if maybe it’s not entirely their fault but simply a byproduct of having young lead guards that lack the awareness to call and run plays for the stars that veteran floor generals have. It’s something to consider.
  • What a nightmare of a game for poor Dejounte Murray after such a good performance against the Jazz. He made two silly fouls early and could never get into a rhythm later on, finishing with zero points. The lack of consistency as a scoring threat is still a big issue with Murray.
  • The Spurs were good when the bench was good. When Rudy Gay and Patty Mills were hitting shots, Derrick White was orchestrating the offense and Jakob Poeltl was protecting the paint well and destroying the Thunder’s defense by rolling hard to the rim, San Antonio looked good. Once OKC took control of the game, however, they couldn’t do much to turn the tide.
  • Lonnie Walker IV didn’t have a good night but another one of the Spurs’ young wing prospects did enough to keep the excitement about the future intact. Keldon Johnson got 13 garbage time minutes and flashed the type of athleticism, slashing ability, and feel for the game that makes him such an intriguing player.
  • It pains me to admit it, but Chris Paul is still good. The Thunder had seven other players who scored in double digits in part because Paul was finding them for open looks all night long. The other Thunder ball handlers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder, also did well at finding their teammates, but Paul’s mastery shined through.

Next game: Vs. Mavericks on Wednesday

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Spurs, who will take on the surprising Mavs on the first of three consecutive games at home.