I recall that once upon a time, Gregg Popovich talked about the San Antonio Spurs’ strategy when it came to defense. What he said was they try to hold their opponent to 22 points or less every quarter, which when you extrapolate the data, comes to 88 points. While that’s not the easiest thing to do in this era of basketball, it’s still a number I keep an eye out for.
That’s what the Spurs held the Oklahoma City Thunder to in the first quarter tonight, as they limited the Thunder to shooting 10-28 from the field and 3-10 from the three-point line. The defense continued into the second quarter even though they gave up 29, they ended the half with eight total blocks, three steals, and held the Thunder’s three best players (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Josh Giddey to 8-29 shooting).
Offensively, everything was working. Inside, outside, the Spurs were scoring seemingly at will. They followed up their 32-point first quarter with 37 in the second. And it was coming from just about everybody who touched the court. Devin Vassell led the way with 14, hitting all three of his three-point attempts, Dejounte Murray was right behind him with 13. Derrick White and Keldon Johnson also found themselves in double figures at half. Jakob Poeltl and Doug McDermott soon joined them in the first few minutes of the third quarter. In fact, those two scored 18 of the Spurs’ first 21 points coming out of the locker room, with McDermott starting 4-4 from three – the fourth gave him his second 20-point outing as a Spur.
The last five minutes of the third was when Dejounte Murray decided to take over and did everything he could to make the fourth quarter a game of bench units. He was successful in this quest, scoring 10 of his team-high 23 points, earning himself yet another triple-double, and making the play of the night with an assist to Drew Eubanks.
In the final frame, Pop was able to trot Thaddeus Young out onto the court for the first time in 2022, got Tre Jones some minutes in his game since January 5, and could let his starters rest. This led to some not-so-pretty basketball, as both teams combined to score 30 points, but The Spurs will take that 10 times out of 10 when it’s them in the lead. When all was said and done, the Spurs rolled to a 118-96 win and are now 11-1 when allowing less than 100 points, avenging the only loss (Spurs lost 99-94 to the Thunder on November 7).
Devin Vassell looked every bit the part of a player Spurs fans are expecting big things from in this one. He came out firing, going 5-6 (3-3 from three) in his first seven minutes. Overall, he ended 7-10 (4-5) with 19 points – that’s tied with the most he’s scored since November 14 against the Los Angeles Lakers. On top of the scoring, he grabbed 8 rebounds, got 2 steals, and blocked 2 shots. The bench struggled against the Phoenix Suns, so this was a nice bounce back from one of its key pieces.
At one point in the game, Pop went to a lineup where Derrick and Jakob were flanked by Keldon, Vassell, and McDermott. This lineup has seen the floor this season, but rarely – 5.9 minutes to be exact. There has been a lineup where Dejounte is on the court instead of Derrick that has played 25 minutes over four games, but that’s still not a lot when the Spurs are 45 games into the season. We knew going into this season three-point shooting was going to be a point of focus for the Spurs, and it has been, but it’s surprising Pop hasn’t used these two lineups more often. Running a pick-and-roll with Jakob setting a screen for Derrick or Dejounte with three-point shooters that on the season are shooting 44.1% (Keldon), 34.3% (Vassell), and 40.5% (McDermott) presents a lot of problems for an opponent. Not only does it open space for the two-man game, but those three shooters are plenty capable of driving passed a hard closeout. I hope we get to see more of these lineups with Bryn Forbes now in Denver.
The Spurs did a tremendous job defending Gilgeous-Alexander in this one. In his first eight games against the Spurs since getting to OKC, he was averaging over 24 points on 54.8% shooting. Dejounte and Co. held him to 13 points on 5-21 shooting in this one (four of which were caused by blocks). The Thunder just don’t have enough firepower after him – one of the reasons why they’re last in the league in points per game and 29th in Offensive Rating.
Play of the night
I was watching this game, keeping an eye out for something I could deem worthy of “Play of the Night.” There was a three here, a block there, but nothing that really stood out from the rest. That was until Dejounte Murray, possibly thinking adding a highlight play to his All-Star Game nomination reel would yield a look from the coaches, got Spurs fans at the game and on the couch off their feet with a slick between-the-legs bounce pass to Drew Eubanks – who rewarded Dejounte’s generosity by throwing down a two-handed dunk. All that was needed after that was to wait until the video was tweeted.
3rd place (1 point) – Jakob Poeltl | 13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks
Honestly, Doug McDermott, Derrick White, or Keldon Johnson could’ve been put here or even in the next spot – that’s how good all six of these players played. I landed on Poeltl solely for the fact he had four blocks. I don’t have matchup data yet to determine how good certain players guarded the Thunder, but what I do know is that Poeltl tortured the Thunder when they tried getting to the rim.
2nd place (2 points) – Devin Vassell | 19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks
After getting pulled for a minute, two minutes into his time on the court, Vassell settled into the game nicely by hitting five of his first six shots. One of which was floating off the ball into the corner, catching a pass where he was almost completely behind the backboard, and drilling a three. He brings a lot to the table, as noted by his rebounds, blocks, and steals, but when his shot is falling, he’s on a different level.
1st place (3 points) – Dejounte Murray | 23 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds, 3 steals
Seems like this has become the norm, as Dejounte once again led the Spurs in scoring and assists. He couldn’t get the three to fall tonight, but he was masterful in every other aspect of the game, which includes ending the night with only one turnover. He’s becoming more and more comfortable finding teammates early in the game to get them going, then take control when it’s time for him to. He knew that if they could end the third strong, they would be able to rest key rotation pieces in the fourth, so he went out and scored 10 of his 23 points in a span of 3:23.
1st - Dejounte Murray - 70pts
2nd - Derrick White - 44pts
3rd - Jakob Poeltl - 38pts
4th - Devin Vassell - 29pts
5th - Keldon Johnson - 25pts
6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 17pts
7th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts
8th - Doug McDermott - 11pts
9th - Thaddeus Young - 9pts
10th - Keita Bates-Diop - 5pts
11th - Jock Landale - 4pts
12th - Josh Primo - 3pts
13th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts
14th - Tre Jones - 1pt
Next Game: Vs Nets on Friday
The Spurs continue their homestand against a Brooklyn team they lost to recently in overtime. This time around, they’ll see Kyrie Irving instead of Kevin Durant, as Kyrie only being able to play road games has been noted time and time again.