“Game of the Year” is the best way to describe what happened between the Spurs and Thunder last night. San Antonio outlasted Oklahoma City 154-147 at home in double overtime.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 56 points, the Spurs set a record for most consecutive made three-pointers to start a game (14) and Russell Westbrook crammed the stat sheet with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 24 assists.
Let’s gather some Spurs-related thoughts from this eventful contest.
This felt like a double win for the Spurs
Some wins just feel like that, don’t they?
San Antonio played a stinker of an offensive game in their loss against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, submitting season lows in points (86) and assists (14). The last opponent the Spurs needed to see the next night was the Thunder and their No. 1-ranked defense.
But the Spurs came out guns ablaze on offense against OKC, led by their bench. The ball moved well and Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills and Davis Bertans combined to shoot 9-of-9 from three-point range in a stretch of six minutes and 46 seconds of game time.
This was also a key game for Derrick White. The second-year guard continues to make so many things happen on both ends. He showed out at important points late in this contest and ended with 23 points, five rebounds, eight assists, two steals and one clutch block on a Jerami Grant dunk attempt.
San Antonio had its weaknesses in this game — we’ll have more on that soon. but the team fought hard against the West’s No. 3 seed despite tired legs. It says a lot about the squad’s heart that it could win in two overtimes on the second night of a back-to-back against a very good team.
The Thunder’s athleticism overwhelmed the Spurs
The Spurs should be thankful that their jumpers were falling so frequently in this game. Oklahoma City led the offensive rebound battle 14 to 5 and forced 17 Spurs turnovers, compared to 13 turnovers for the Thunder.
The Thunder offense, particularly Russell Westbrook (24 points, 13 rebounds, 24 assists and two steals), did what it wanted for most of the game. Westbrook zoomed past any defender San Antonio put on him and wreaked havoc as a passer after he collapsed the Spurs defense. The Thunder are a terrible three-point shooting team, but they went 15-of-35 from downtown thanks to the clean looks Westbrook created.
White is in the 88th percentile as a perimeter defender in the NBA, per BBall Index’s talent data. Unfortunately, he just can’t rotate his hips quickly enough to contain Westbrook.
Paul George got his hands on lots of balls defensively and elevated over Spurs for lots of tough jumpers. Grant’s (25 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks) leaping around the rim and Steven Adams’ strength (19 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks) were problematic.
LaMarcus Aldridge was San Antonio’s saving grace
When the Spurs got to 14-of-14 from downtown with 5:41 left in the third quarter, the Thunder really tightened up the perimeter defense and forced the Spurs off the three-point line. San Antonio went only 2-of-5 from behind the arc in the remaining 27-plus minutes of the game.
That’s no big deal when LaMarcus Aldridge is playing like a total boss, though. LMA pumped in 42 of his 56 points after halftime. He shot 14-of-22 from the field and 14-of-14 from the free-throw line in that span to carry the Spurs offense down the stretch.
This game was a showcase of both Aldridge’s post game and his midrange jump shot. He made 12 baskets inside of six feet and drew most of his fouls in the paint, but he also nailed eight shots between 10 and 16 feet.
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It was one of the league’s top individual performances this season. Aldridge deserves a hearty congratulations for the big night.
Is DeRozan or Aldridge more likely to earn an All-Star nod?
San Antonio and its two biggest stars haven’t been quite good enough this season to merit All-Star appearances for both DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge. I think the Spurs have an excellent shot at getting one of them to Charlotte, though.
The choice between them would have been obvious until a couple of weeks ago. DeRozan had a hot start to the year and settled into a nice groove as a scorer and facilitator. Meanwhile, Aldridge spent all of October and November looking for his scoring touch.
Right now, though, I’m leaning toward LMA.
Aldridge has picked up his defense as the Spurs’ anchor in the middle. He’s also made at least half of his shot attempts in 18 of 21 games since December started. In that span, he’s averaging 23.7 points in 30.7 minutes per game on a true-shooting percentage of 64.5. DeRozan has had some poor games recently, too.
Aldridge has also taken the lead from DeRozan in PIPM Wins Added (3.0 to 2.4). The way things are trending, it’s looking more and more like the San Antonio big man will be the right choice if voters decide to place one Spur on their ballot.
Can Pau Gasol stop playing more than Jakob Poeltl?
Gregg Popovich is trying to find a role for Gasol. He’s playing him with different lineups to see where he can fit, but it’s just not working. Lineups with Pau have been 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse than lineups without Pau in his first three games (and 44 minutes) back from injury.
To be fair, that’s not a massive swing over such a small sample size, but Gasol’s presence has changed a lot of things. Pop’s substitution patterns have been unpredictable and lots of new five-man groups are suddenly seeing burn together.
San Antonio started to play really well in December while exclusively playing one-big lineups with Aldridge or Poeltl. Both guys were thriving in most of their lineups.
Now, it seems like Pop is trying to demote Poeltl to a fringe rotation role in favor of giving Gasol a more sizable rotation role. Gasol has played significantly more minutes than Poeltl in each of the last two games.
Gasol seems like a classy individual, and he’ll do some good on-court things even at age 38, but his clumsiness and lack of speed are not what the Spurs need right now. If Gasol is adamant about playing significant minutes, San Antonio should start exploring trades.
The Spurs will struggle in a potential playoff series against the Thunder
This Spurs team has grown on me really quickly. I think they can give any team in the Western Conference a competitive series, save maybe the healthy Warriors.
But there are much more favorable matchups for San Antonio than the Thunder.
Oklahoma City is the most athletically gifted team in the NBA. San Antonio is well, not that. The Thunder caused problems for the Spurs with their length on defense, energetic offensive rebounding and speedy offensive penetration in this game. Remember, Andre Roberson and Nerlens Noel will probably be back for the postseason.
Getting Rudy Gay back from his wrist injury will help defensively on Paul George in a series, but I still worry about George and Westbrook getting a bit too comfortable. A healthy Dejounte Murray would be nice to have to guard Westbrook, but that’s not an option here.
George is also one of the premier defenders in the league. He, Roberson and Grant should be key in limiting DeRozan and Gay.
San Antonio would still probably be competitive in a series against OKC due to skill, experience and coaching, but I would predict a Thunder series win if they have home-court advantage.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of NBA.com. Video is from ESPN’s YouTube account.
Photo by Zach Beeker/Getty Images