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The Spurs suffer another fourth quarter collapse in loss to the Thunder

Even though the Spurs never led after the first quarter, they kept it close until there was nothing left in the tank for the fourth.

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

After holding on for a nail-biting victory over the Utah Jazz last night, the Spurs traveled to Oklahoma City for a quick road trip before finishing 2022 at home. Although they started all four quarters slow and never actually leading after the first quarter, they had a response in the first three to keep the game close, but by the fourth quarter they were out of gas and didn’t have any comeback attempts left, falling 130-114.

The Thunder got out to a quick start, outscoring the Spurs 6-13, but Devin Vassell kept it from getting too out of hand early, scoring the Spurs’ first 8 points. OKC seemed to briefly lose some juice when Aleksej Pokusevski left the game after awkwardly twisting his ankle, and a 14-4 Spurs run gave them a 20-17 lead. It was back and forth for the rest quarter before the Thunder ended with a quick 5-0 flurry, including a buzzer-beating three from Mike Muscala, to take a 38-33 lead.

Then, less than a minute into the second quarter, Gregg Popovich decided he was not thrilled with the lopsided way the game was being called, said something unsavory (that no one heard) and was quickly ejected. It didn’t have the immediate motivational impact on his team that it used to, and the Thunder charged out to a 51-41 lead. The Spurs briefly woke up and got back within four on a 7-0 run, but the Thunder responded again. San Antonio just couldn’t keep them off the glass or prevent open threes, and the Thunder ended the half up 70-60, on the back of having hit four more threes and 12 more free throws.

Jeremy Sochan came out of halftime with some good hustle play and gave the Spurs a little burst of energy on both ends, and Thunder’s shooting wasn’t quite as hot compared to the first half. It took a while, but after getting behind by as much as 12, the Spurs finally started chipping away at the deficit again and got within two, 93-95, heading into the fourth quarter thanks to back-to-back threes from Vassell and Zach Collins, plus a tip-in before the buzzer from Josh Richardson.

Unfortunately, that would be end of the good vibes for the Spurs on this night. The Thunder scored the first 8 points on the fourth quarter and overall started on a 16-5 run to get back up by double digits, and the Spurs were out of comeback attempts. To make matters worse, Vassell headed to the locker room with just over six minutes left after awkwardly landing from a layup. Hopefully it’s just a tweak and he’ll be back soon. OKC kept gradually building up their lead, getting up by as much as 18 before handing the Spurs the 130-114 loss.

Game Notes

  • Sochan one-handed free throw tracker: 2-2 tonight, 11-17 overall (64.7% — up from 43% before the form change)
  • With Stanley Johnson on the roster and earning his share of playing time, Pop’s current approach to prevent his “veterans” from getting too much playing time seems to be rotating Doug McDermott and Richardson while Johnson gets the other’s minutes. Last night against the Jazz, McDermott played while Richardson sat, and tonight it was vice versa.
  • After dealing with much of the same last night against Utah, Gregg Popovich had seen enough of the Spurs getting called for ticky-tack fouls while not getting the same calls on their end. After an 11-2 free throw attempt advantage for the Thunder in the first quarter, he told the refs what he thought early in the second quarter and was ejected. As previously mentioned, it didn’t have the immediate impact on his players that it used to, and it didn’t really sway the refs, either, as the Thunder’s FT advantage only grew to 18-4 at the half and 31-14 by the end of the game (and it’s not like the Spurs didn’t do their share of penetrating or were just sticking to jump shots). Not the Spurs didn’t lose this one on their own, but that FT disparity was the difference in the final score. Just sayin’.
  • As predicted, the Spurs didn’t have an answer for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a surprisingly quiet but efficient 28 points, but Muscala was the surprise problem for them tonight. Coming in for the injured Pokusevski, he dropped 19 points on the Spurs on just six shots, 13 of which came in the first half. He was also one of many Thunder players who punished the Spurs multiple times with second-chance three pointers.

Play of the Game

I don’t know why this play looks funny, but it just does. You just don’t you usually see a big man jump pass to another jumping big man. On one hand, it’s a beautiful play between Jakob Poeltl and Sochan, but what is it? It’s not an alley-oop because the pass is to Sochan’s chest instead of up by the rim, but he does jump, catch and dunk in one fell swoop.

Up next: Thursday vs. the Knicks

The Spurs return home to take on a New York Knicks squad that is actually competent. For whatever reason, the Knicks always seem to be a thorn in the Spurs side in San Antonio, so we’ll see if they can get it back together and get win number 701 at the AT&T Center.