Before the game, Thunder vs. Spurs seemed like it was going to be a high-scoring affair, like the two previous two matchups that Oklahoma City won. Instead, the absences of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and three San Antonio starters turned it into a gritty fight that wasn’t always pretty but was often entertaining.
Unfortunately for the Silver and Black, the change of style didn’t provide them with a better job of avoiding a season sweep, as the visitors took advantage of their opponent's mistakes to take home a 102-90 win.
The troubles started early for the home team. The perpetually shorthanded Spurs got off to a nice start in the first few minutes, before foul trouble for Zach Collins and an injury to Malaki Branham left them with even more holes in their rotation. The Thunder, despite missing their best player, did a better job of executing on offense as the minutes went by in a battle that saw both teams compete on defense while trying to wall off the paint. San Antonio hit a couple of outside shots and enjoyed a good stretch from the second unit to keep things close, but an awful end of the opening frame, in which the home team allowed wide-open threes and a few fastbreak points, got the Silver and Black in a hole, as the Thunder led by 10 after a low-scoring period.
There were a few minutes in the second frame in which the visitors were close to running away with it. Their drives were giving them either buckets inside or good looks from the outside as the Spurs struggled to keep up on the other end. The energy was low and there were too many turnovers and fouls coming from San Antonio’s side. Luckily Doug McDermott and Zach Collins came to the rescue at the right time on offense and Romeo Langford made some great plays on defense to give the team some life. Slowly but surely the Spurs started to chip away at the lead against an opponent that occasionally struggled to score without their star lead guard. It wasn’t the prettiest of halves, but the home team was just down five at the break when the dust had settled.
With Branham out for the game, Blake Wesley got the nod to start in the second half and the downgrade was noticeable, which was bad news for a team that was already missing ball handlers and scorers. The Thunder took advantage of the general lack of cohesion to put a run together and led by 10 points. In most matchups these days that separation means nothing, but on a night in which both teams were missing their top scorers and San Antonio was lacking firepower, the deficit felt significant. As they did for most of the night, the veterans managed to put enough points on the board to avoid a blowout, but stops were hard to come by, especially when Langford was not on the floor. The Spurs were only down seven after three, but they were going to need someone to get hot to have a chance.
Alas, it didn’t happen. The bad shots and turnovers continued and fueled a Thunder offense that was ready to make San Antonio pay. The lead ballooned to 16 around the midway point of the final frame and the visitors mostly managed it without any big scares. Once again the veterans led the way for the Spurs in trying to mount a comeback but it just was not meant to be. If a couple of shots had gone in the ending could have been more interesting, but the energy wasn’t there late for the Silver and Black, which is not a surprise considering the absences and the good win they had against the Nuggets in the previous game. We’ve seen that the Spurs are better than this at full strength, so a letdown loss against a decent opponent shouldn’t be too concerning this late in the season, even with the young guys struggling.
- With all the absences, Devin Vassell and Malaki Branham needed to pick up the slack when it came to scoring and playmaking. Unfortunately Branham was only on the court for about six minutes total due to an injury of his own and Vassell had an off night, missing eight of his 10 shots and having more turnovers than assists. It happens.
- As mentioned, the veterans stepped up to make this one as close as it was. Zach Collins, Devonte Graham and Doug McDermott combined for 54 points and 11 assists to keep the offense afloat. Collins in particular looked impressive from beyond the arc, hitting four three-pointers. Before this game, he was averaging just 32 percent from the top of the arc, but he made some from there against the Thunder. That has to become his shot.
- Sandro Mamukelashviili couldn’t string together two great performances. The big man missed all of his three-pointers and had a couple of turnovers. He still pulled down seven boards and looked comfortable running the break a couple of times, so it wasn’t a terrible night for him, but Mamu-mania is unfortunately now on hold.
- Blake Wesley had only two points despite taking 12 shots. He can’t shoot, he can’t finish and he’s too slim on defense at this point. He’s not ready for big minutes, which isn’t surprising considering his age and the fact that he missed so much time with injury. The flashes of vision and especially the elite quickness are enough to remain optimistic about his future, but his development might take some patience.
- Keita Bates-Diop had 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists in under 25 minutes. Every time the Spurs need someone to start or sop up minutes, he’s ready. A pro’s pro.
Play of the night
Devonte’ Graham is first and foremost a shooter, but there’s some craftiness to his game on drives. Not having shot blockers around helped, but he had a couple of nifty finishes around the rim on the break against the Thunder.
Next game: vs. the Orlando Magic on Tuesday
Likely Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero and the Magic will visit San Antonio next. If the Spurs have most of their guys available, it could be a fun matchup between two young teams.