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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

The Silver and Black look to start their first winning streak of the season against a lowly Western Conference competitor.

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

After snapping a two-game skid to pick up their first victory of November on Friday, the Spurs round their brief Western Conference road trip with a favorable matchup against an actively tanking Oklahoma City squad. San Antonio might only be a half-game ahead of the Thunder in the standings, but they have the depth and talent to put away the youngest team in the NBA as long as they show up mentally prepared.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has picked up right where he left off a season ago, continuing to blossom into an All-Star caliber point guard for second-year head coach Mark Daigneault. And while Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort, and Darius Bazley are capable of exploding from time to time, without a consistent rotation or legitimate second option on their roster, the offense has been an unmitigated disaster.

San Antonio Spurs (3-6) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (2-6)

November 7, 2021 | 6:00 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Ankle), Devontae Cacok (Out — Two Way), Joe Wieskamp (Out — Two Way), Josh Primo (Out — On Assignment), Jakob Poeltl (Out — COVID Protocols)

Thunder Injuries: Gabriel Deck (Day-to-Day — Heel)

Don’t Underestimate OKC

When looking at how Oklahoma City organized their roster this offseason, it’s abundantly apparent they are more concerned with developing young assets and vying for a top lottery pick in the process than winning games right now. According to Synergy, the Thunder are home to the second-worst offense and ninth-worst defense in the NBA, and so far, they’re on pace to finish with a 21-61 record.

The Silver and Black are a perfect 3-0 when they keep their opponents under 100 points. Oklahoma City is winless when they score less than 100 points, and they have failed to reach the century mark in five contests. Fans shouldn’t necessarily view this game as an automatic win, though the Thunder are certainly one of the easier adversaries San Antonio has drawn early in their regular-season schedule.

Their mishmash of inexperienced talent has led to three blowout losses over their first seven games, one of which came at the hands of a fellow bottom-dweller in the Houston Rockets. And though OKC is ill-suited for making any noise in the Western Conference this season, they’ve shown absolutely no give up, twice fighting back from 20-point deficits against the Lakers to pick up their only wins of the season.

San Antonio surrendered a 20-point first-quarter lead in a close loss to the Mavericks a week ago. They then suffered their first embarrassment of the season after coming out flat and dropping a winnable matchup with the then last place Pacers to kick off this week. Beating down the hapless Magic on Friday was a step in the right direction, and hopefully, the Spurs have learned their lesson about keeping their foot on the gas pedal.

Stopping Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the life force behind the Thunder. The 23-year old has averaged 23.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game on a moderately efficient 45.8% shooting, which is astounding given his subpar supporting cast. And as the only athlete in Oklahoma City who can create off the dribble for himself and teammates, it’s no wonder why they run the majority of their offense through the spindly guard.

The Thunder have given their rookie point forward Josh Giddey plenty of opportunities as the primary ballhandler, proving to be a strong facilitator at 6.6 assists per game. For all his maturity and poise at just 18-years-old, the skilled Australian doesn’t have the tools to fill the role of a secondary scorer quite yet. Dort and Bazley also fall short in that regard, only contributing a combined 23.5 points nightly thus far.

If the San Antonio Spurs want to stop an already pedestrian Oklahoma City attack, their game plan has to center around putting the clamps on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, and Golden State Warriors are the only teams to hold the crafty Canadian under 20 points this season, and it’s probably no coincidence those teams have outscored the Thunder by a collective 75 points.

Dejounte Murray is the Key to a Spurs Victory

Pestering Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be San Antonio’s top priority, and Dejounte Murray is precisely the right guy for the job. The sixth-year guard reestablished himself as one of the premier perimeter defenders in the NBA a year ago. Now two full seasons removed from ACL surgery, Dejounte has continued entering his name in the All-Defense discussion, hovering near the league leaders in deflections and steals per game.

That said, SGA dominated the Spurs to the tune of 31.7 points, 6.7 boards, and 4.7 assists on 63/53/83 shooting splits, which included a career-high 42 points in their second meeting. Murray was on the court for all three of those matchups, and while he was only responsible for relinquishing nine points to Shai when matched up one-on-one, there’s no doubt Dejounte has this date circled in permanent marker on his calendar.

Dejounte’s defense will be integral to San Antonio walking away with their first back-to-back victories of the season. But his offensive contributions should put the metaphorical nail in the coffin. DJM has averaged career-highs of 18.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists while raising his three-point efficiency and volume. It’s still too early to pencil him in as a 2022 NBA All-Star, though he’s playing like the face of a franchise.

For the Thunder fans’ perspective, please 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.