In what was a chaotic affair with a nail-biting ending, the Spurs narrowly beat the Thunder 122-120 on a Lonnie Walker IV game-winner.
The execution by both teams was a disaster for most of the night, but some standout individual performances and the sheer unpredictability of a lot of what happened made this one an extremely entertaining game to watch.
At first, there were no signs that this was going to be a peculiar game. The Spurs showed their superior talent early on, essentially getting everything they wanted on offense to secure an early lead. Isaiah Roby gave them some trouble inside, but in general the work on the defensive end was tidy in the starters’ first stretch. When the bench came in things got a little sloppy and the Thunder made a push, but a timely timeout by Gregg Popovich seemed to right the ship, or at least avoid it from crashing, as San Antonio held on to a small lead but never created big separation. Aleksei Pokusevski and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made some plays for the visitors, but aggressive drives from the Silver and Black allowed them to keep them at bay by getting to the line as often as their opponent.
While a look at the names on each roster suggested the Spurs would eventually run away with it, they simply weren’t sharp enough to do so for most of the first half. The Thunder just kept pace while San Antonio’s offense got stuck in mud, featuring little ball movement and relying on some free throws to get points on the board. Some ugly turnovers allowed OKC to run while Gilgeous-Alexander orchestrated their half-court offense competently. Things only changed because the Spurs got hot from outside the arc at the right time, as they hit five three-pointers in the last four minutes of the second period to the Thunder’s zero. It wasn’t the most inspiring way to build a double-digit lead, but San Antonio did just enough to be ahead by 12 at the break.
A good start to the second half would have sealed the win for the Spurs, but if we have learned anything about this iteration of the team it’s that they love close games against inferior opponents. To be fair, Gilgeous-Alexander deserves plenty of credit for carving up San Antonio’s defense repeatedly, en route to a 20-point quarter, and exposing how bad the Spurs are at rotating. The Silver and Black tried to load up on SGA, to get the ball out of his hands, but when they succeeded and he found the open man, no one made the effort to contests the shots. The only reason why the Thunder didn’t completely come back in the third frame was because their shooters were missing and the Spurs’ weren’t. Still, the home team managed to carry a seven-point lead into the final period.
The first 36 minutes of the game were a little sloppy in terms of execution, but the real chaos started in the fourth quarter. With Murray and SGA resting to start the frame, the offenses looked clueless at times, but the Thunder gave the Spurs a taste of their own medicine by hitting three triples in as many attempts to actually take the lead. Both teams missed good looks and got second chances, but neither could take full advantage of the other’s many mistakes. We were inevitably headed for a close ending.
Going into the final minutes San Antonio led by one but Keldon Johnson missed an ambitious dunk on the break before Lonnie Walker IV missed a three after the offensive board. Then SGA made the baffling decision to go for a two-for-one with a wild three with 34 seconds to go, but it worked out for him initially. Dejounte Murray missed a jumper on the following play, SGA grabbed the rebound and found Pokusevski for an open layup on the break with 4.8 seconds on the clock. Fortunately for the Spurs, they still had one bailout three up their sleeve, as Lonnie hit a game-winner to give them a victory they probably didn’t deserve, but will gladly take.
- It’s hard to describe just how bad the defense was, especially in the second half. No one could stay in front of Gilgeous-Alexander, which is understandable, but the rotations after he passed the ball when help arrived were just atrocious. Leaving guys open by design can be a valid strategy, but someone has to at least run at them. The Spurs just didn’t. Josh Richardson did once and ended up fouling Pokusevki. Just a complete mess.
- Devin Vassell took only six shots, which simply isn’t enough. It’s the third time in the last five games that he finished on single-digit shot attempts. Vassell doesn’t have the handles to just get himself shots, so the team needs to look for ways to get him involved more. The other wings were scoring, so it’s hard to be too upset at anyone, but getting Vassell more looks should be a priority, since he’s a big part of the future.
- The Spurs made 19 three-pointers, their highest mark of the season. After the game Pop said that the threes were the reason they won, and it’s hard to argue with that.
- Zach Collins got his fourth technical in just 16 games. He would be on pace for 20 if he played all 82 games of a season. The NBA suspends players after they get their 16th technical. It’s not going to be a problem this year, but maybe chill a little anyway, Zach.
Play of the night
Lonnie Walker, for the win!
The shot heard around the arena @lonniewalker_4 https://t.co/awIJtspFB7 pic.twitter.com/e9el5MCgaB— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 17, 2022
3rd place (1 point) - Keldon Johnson | 22 points, six rebounds, six assists
Jakob Poeltl could easily get this spot, and he would have probably made the podium if Lonnie Walker hadn’t hit the game-winner, but Johnson did too much to be left out. Not only did hit make five three-pointers, but also logged a career-high six assists. Keldon still doesn’t know how to find shooters when he drives, but he’s made strides when it comes to finding the center for a dump-off. He just keeps getting better.
2nd place (2 points) - Dejounte Murray | 26 points, four made threes, 12 assists
Murray hasn’t been as good on defense this season as he was in the past, as SGA’s (and most scoring guards, really) stat line shows, but the leap he’s made on offense is gigantic. The shot is not reliable yet, but the fact that Murray has the confidence to launch eight threes and has the potential to get hot from outside is a huge development. He also got the line often in this one, and had four steals, which shows that he can still be disruptive, even when he can’t really shut down opponents by himself.
1st place (3 points) - Lonnie Walker IV | 20 points, four threes, including the game-winner
Normally taking 18 shots to get 20 points while only logging two rebounds and two assists would not land someone on the top spot, but this game was different. Murray was arguably outplayed, Johnson struggled in the fourth quarter, and Poeltl didn’t really face a quality big. The game was also a bit of a mess and the Spurs actually came close to losing to a tanking team. So Lonnie’s huge bucket propels him to first place. He played his role of volume shooter and nailed the biggest shot of the night. That’s enough this time.
1st - Dejounte Murray - 107pts
2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 61pts
3rd - Keldon Johnson - 52pts
4th - Derrick White - 51pts
5th - Devin Vassell- 44pts
6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 37pts
7th - Doug McDermott - 16pts
8th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts
9th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts
10th - Tre Jones & Jock Landale - 7pts
11th - Keita Bates-Diop - 6pts
12th - Josh Primo - 3pts
13th - Drew Eubanks & Josh Richardson - 2pts
14th - Devontae Cacok & Zach Collins - 1pt
Next game: Vs. Pelicans on Friday
The Spurs will host the Pelicans for a battle with huge play-in implications. The Lakers’ ongoing implosion and the Trail Blazers’ overt tank job might mean both San Antonio and New Orleans make it, but beating Brandon Ingram and Co. at least one of the two times they will face in the next 10 days would put a lot of pressure on the Pelicans.