The Spurs came into Oklahoma City well rested but severely shorthanded, ready to take on a Thunder team that is further along in its rebuilding process but equally shorthanded. While the Spurs were missing starters Jakob Poeltl and Jeremy Sochan, plus Josh Richardson, the Thunder were missing 30-points a night with their star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out, as well as Mike Muscala. A strong first half made it look like the Spurs were ready to turn a corner and end their eight-game losing streak, but an equally dismal second half put an end to that hope just as quickly as it began.
In a good sign of things to come, at least for the half, Keldon Johnson hit his first three of game. The Spurs later had three nice possessions with 8 quick points to take a 15-11 lead on a Zach Collins three, Keita Bates-Diop baseline drive, and a Devin Vassell three. In all they hit nine straight shots after starting the game 2-6, although the Thunder were able to do enough on their end to keep things close, and the Spurs only led 35-32 at the end of the quarter despite shooting nearly 61% compared to 44% for the Thunder.
However, it didn’t take long for the Spurs to start realizing they had more scorers available than OKC and take advantage. A 6-0 run got the lead to 43-36 and forced a Thunder timeout just three minutes into the second quarter. The Spurs kept building from there, with Johnson finally finding his touch from outside with three more threes in the quarter. They got the lead as high as 20 before settling for a score of 77-60 at halftime. It was their highest scoring first half of the season, and they did it on a blistering 64.3% shooting.
Unfortunately, everything went downhill from there. The Thunder were the team that came out of the locker room with a sense of urgency, while the Spurs may have been a bit complacent. After a Vassell three to open the third quarter, the Thunder responded with a 9-0 run, forcing a Gregg Popovich timeout. They got the lead to as close as eight a few times, including at the end of the quarter, 96-88. Other than the Thunder’s initial burst, it was an ugly offensive quarter for both teams, with plenty of missed (but contested) lay-ups and tip-ins refusing to go in. (Maybe it had something to do with the tight rims. It felt like every shot from both teams had to be a swish, or it wasn’t going in.)
With all the momentum on their side, the Thunder started the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run to tie the game up at 98 apiece, and they finally took the lead at 105-103 on a long Tre Mann three in transition. The Spurs continued to play iso-ball and fumble the ball away, finding themselves down 107-102. Gregg Popovich then challenged bad out-of-bounds call, and the timeout seemed to settle his team for a bit. They got as close as one point and had several chances to either tie or take the lead inside the final minute, but they just couldn’t get it done on the way to their 9th straight loss, 111-119.
- With Poeltl out and Collins starting, Pop went small with the bench unit. Isaiah Roby was the first to sub in for Collins at center instead of Charles Bassey or Gorgui Dieng, and he came out motivated against his old team, bringing some energy and quickly scoring on a lay-up and dunk. Then, new signee Alize Johnson subbed in for Roby in the second quarter and had a nice bucket of his own before Collins returned. Unfortunately, like everyone else in the second half, neither contributed much else.
- After having 20 assists on their 27 first half field goals, the Spurs were a completely different team on offense in the second half. The ball movement stopped, everyone was playing iso-ball and taking ill-advised shots, and the Thunder were grabbing every rebound and winning every 50-50 ball. In all, the Spurs only scored 34 points in the second half and had just 7 assists on 14 made field goals. If “A Tale of Two Halves” ever applied to a game, this was it.
- Doug McDermott was the latest Spur to leave a game with an injury. He re-turned his left ankle after stepping on a Thunder player’s foot while attempting to drive in the third quarter. He was subbed out at the next dead ball and went straight to the locker room with trainer Will Sevening. He did not return.
Play of the Game
Roby got a chance to show his old team what they let go, and this drive from the three-point line into the paint, with the nice ball fake and soaring slam was his shining moment.
Up Next: Friday vs. Pelicans
The Spurs return home on Friday for another shot at the New Orleans Pelicans. It will be a tall order to maintain Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas without Sochan and Poeltl, but Collins and Bates-Diop are tough by their own rights and will be ready for a fight. (Not literally. Don’t make anyone bleed, Zach.)