A slow start offensively for the Thunder foreshadowed the sluggish flow of Tuesday’s game. While the Thunder struggled to find a rhythm offensively, its active defense put it in a position to win down the stretch despite the Spurs’ scoring runs.
In the Thunder’s final game at home before the All-Star break, the shooting clip got off to a slow start. Shots that the Thunder usually sink with ease were rattling in and out and the quality looks it generated weren’t falling at their usual clip.
“Offensively, it was a hard night for us,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “We just never really got going like we have been. We’ve been so good offensively for a number of games now, and this probably was one of those games, offensively, that wasn’t as good.”
In the first 10 minutes, the Thunder made only five of its first 21 shots from the field and only one of its first six 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, the Spurs suffered a similar struggle from behind the arc yet found their stroke in the paint which resulted in a 12-2 discrepancy in paint scoring in the first quarter.
With San Antonio clogging the lane and the Thunder struggling to shoot from downtown, the Thunder were held to only 14 points while the Spurs notched 26 in the first quarter.
A 3-pointer from Chris Paul, Mike Muscala and Dennis Schröder on consecutive possessions in the opening minutes of the second quarter ignited a 9-0 run for OKC to chip away at the 14-point deficit and force Gregg Popovic to call a timeout. Immediately out of the timeout, Bryn Forbes missed a 3-pointer which Paul scooped up, accelerated coast to coast before dropping it off to Abdel Nader for an easy dunk.
Twenty-eight seconds following his first timeout, Popovic was forced to call another one.
Paul’s 3-pointer in the early going of the second quarter was only the beginning of a phenomenal performance in the second frame. The 10-time All-Star notched 10 points, four assists with zero turnovers to help bring his squad back to a single digit deficit going into intermission despite the lowest scoring half of the season for the Thunder. Paul’s 10-point quarter served as the catalyst for a season-high, game-leading 31-point game.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 12, 2020
“He obviously had a really, really good night, Chris. He carried us in a lot of different ways,” said Donovan. “He was really efficient with the number of shots and scoring that many points on that few shots. It was a really efficient night for him.”
The entire third quarter, the Thunder fought to overcome a one-possession deficit. A step back 3-pointer from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander brought the game to one point with just under eight minutes left in the frame. In the midst of the battle to gain a lead, the Thunder racked up 36 points in the third behind an efficient 12-18 shooting performance from the field to go into the final frame only trailing by two points.
A dunk from Hamidou Diallo on the opening possession of the fourth quarter tied the game at 79 with a considerable amount of life radiating from the fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 12, 2020
Unphased, the Spurs answered with a 9-0 run of its own led by LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs’ center who went 3-12 through the first three quarters knocked down 6-8 in the fourth on the way to 12 points in 12 minutes.
“We had very good defense,” said Danilo Gallinari. “Steven [Adams] was playing amazing defense against him, Nerlens [Noel] did too, so we were holding him to a bad percentage for the first three quarters, and in the fourth quarter he was able to make some tough shots.”
Of the many times the Thunder brought the Spurs lead to two points, Abdel Nader had one of the most memorable. After a timeout, San Antonio looked to get the ball inbounds on the baseline. Patty Mills lost his footing and fell as the ball was passed in his direction forcing him to throw a desperate pass to no one in particular. Nader, at the right place at the right time, caught the ball and erupted in the opposite direction.
With Aldridge ahead of him to deter his open look, Nader attacked the left side of the rim and turned his body toward the left sideline to protect the ball from the Spurs starting center. While taking contact, Nader layed the ball up with his right hand as he ricocheted off Aldridge for the foul and the basket.
The Thunder’s defense kept the Spurs scoring at bay for the majority of the night. In the fourth quarter, however, the Spurs shot 13-18 from the field (72 percent) with both Aldridge and Dejounte Murray racking up 12 points each. Fourteen of the Spurs 35 points in the fourth quarter came from the midrange behind an efficient 7-10 performance from that area.
“Give them credit because they all shot at a very, very elite level,” said Donovan. “I felt like we were giving good effort to try to contest and challenge as best we could.”
“Just keep trusting habits and the work that you put in. Also, just following the game plan, and we did that tonight to get back in the game, just not enough to win.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
“It was a tough scoring night. A lot of lay ups missed, a lot of easy threes that we normally make, missed. We’ve been hot for a while and games like this happen.” –Abdel Nader
OKC will look to put this one behind them as they set off for the final matchup before the All-Star break. Wednesday will be a day of practice before traveling to the Big Easy to take on the Pelicans on Thursday.