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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

The shorthanded Silver and Black hope to bounce back against the Thunder in the finale of their five-game road trip.

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

San Antonio dropped the second leg of their midseason miniseries with Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night, stopping their winning streak at three games and scoring their lowest point total of the season. It was an unspectacular outing from the Spurs, who failed to build a sustainable rhythm without DeMar DeRozan present to generate open shots off his patented drive-and-kicks.

The Silver and Black drastically improved their perimeter defense, but that alone wasn’t quite enough to keep the Timberwolves at bay. Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell picked apart San Antonio even without the support of Karl-Anthony Towns. And Gregg Popovich and a shorthanded Spurs roster had no answer for Minnesota down the stretch as they were outscored 30-19 in the final frame.

A 5-4 Oklahoma City organization is the only obstacle standing between the San Antonio Spurs and heading back to the AT&T Center with a winning record after an exhausting five-game Western Conference road trip. The familiar foes have both displayed the double-edged tendency to mirror the level of their competition. And this matchup should be an intriguing toss-up between two young(ish) ball clubs.

San Antonio Spurs (5-5) at Oklahoma City Thunder (5-4)

January 12, 2021 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Quinndary Weatherspoon (Out — Knee), Derrick White (Out — Toe), Drew Eubanks (Out — COVID Protocol), DeMar DeRozan (Out — Personal), Devin Vassell (Questionable — Knee)

Thunder Injuries: Trevor Ariza (Out — Personal), Ty Jerome (Ankle — Game Time Decision)

Limiting the Long-Ball

The Spurs have allowed their opponents to shoot the highest three-point percentage (40.9%) in the NBA this season, and the gap between them and the runner-up sits at 1.3 percentage points. And while that might sound like a startling statistic, San Antonio has mitigated some of the potential damage by keeping the corresponding long-distance volume precisely at league average (12.8 3PM).

With that in mind, it would behoove the Silver and Black to shore up their long-range defense if they hope to climb up the standings anytime soon, and a date with the upstart Thunder should put them in a prime position to do so. Oklahoma City is shooting the third-most triples per game this season (40.4 3PA), and despite sporting the fourth-worst success rate (33.5%)from that range, they shouldn’t be left open.

Minnesota came into their miniseries with the Spurs ranked last in three-point accuracy, but they lit up San Antonio from downtown and rose four spots on the leaderboard by the end of the weekend. The Thunder may frequently misfire as a team, but George Hill, Isaiah Roby, Luguentz Dort, and Mike Muscala can make their defenders pay for losing track of them on the perimeter.

Operating Without DeMar DeRozan

San Antonio was a visibly worse team without DeMar DeRozan on Sunday night, scoring just 88 points and registering the ninth-lowest single-game scoring output in the NBA this season. The four-time All-Star may not lead the Spurs to a championship anytime soon, though it is abundantly clear his isolation scoring, improved distribution, and willingness to take charge in crunch time fuel the offense.

Unfortunately, the good guys won’t have DeRozan at their disposal when they travel to Oklahoma City, and that means fans will have yet another opportunity to see what this franchise might look like if DeMar departs this offseason. Our first glimpse was rather dreadful, though a last-minute alteration to the starting lineup and Lonnie Walker IV succumbing to late-game cramps didn’t help their cause.

LaMarcus Aldridge put together an underwhelming 20 point outing. And Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay combined for a similarly disappointing 36 points on an abysmal 15-of-46 (32.6%) effort from the field. That conglomeration of vets and up-and-comers will come face to face with a Thunder team that holds the eighth-best defensive rating (107.5) in the NBA, so temper expectations.

Stopping Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

It should come as no surprise that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads the Thunder in points per game for the second straight season, especially after Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danillo Gallinari, and Dennis Schroeder parted ways with the organization this offseason. The third-year guard has upped his scoring average and paced his squad in assists, but his team hasn’t seen much success when he struggles.

Oklahoma City is a respectable 4-2 when their young star notches at least 20 points and a pedestrian 1-2 when he fails to reach that target. The Thunder have seven players outside of SGA who average double-digit points on a per-game basis. While some people might call that a well-balanced attack, I tend to believe their spread-the-wealth scheme is more out of necessity than preference.

When your second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth-leading scorers only hover around 10 to 12 points per game, competitors can focus most of their energy on stopping your go-to guy. Though that may leave you susceptible to an outburst from elsewhere, most coaches would probably welcome the idea of minimizing the impact of an opposing star at the expense of conceding a career-night to a limited role-player.

For the Thunder fans’ perspective, visit Welcome to Loud City.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.