At halftime in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the San Antonio Spurs found themselves with a slim 46-43 lead. Then, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker were leading the silver and black with a combined 23 points while Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were a combined 6-of-24 shooting for 15 points.
And then this happened in the next 12 minutes.
15 points, 5-of-20 made baskets (25%), 1 assist, and 3 turnovers.
The above numbers represent what the Spurs did on offense in the third quarter as they were outscored 25-15 by the Thunder. After throwing 12 assists in the first half, the ball movement discontinued in the third and players began shooting all sorts of jumpers instead of playing their ‘machine’ like system on offense.
The Spurs would bring the Thunder’s once 11-point lead down to three points in the fourth quarter, but by the time the final whistle blew, the Spurs couldn’t complete the comeback as their 11-game win streak came to an end in a six point loss to the Thunder.
How exactly did the Thunder limit the Spurs’ machine like offense and survive a night where their two star players played nothing like their usual selves? The answer was a big game from a Jackson, an Ibaka, and an off-night from the Spurs’ offense where they had lapses that ultimately haunted them.
Reggie Jackson and tying a career high
On a night when their two main offensive weapons struggled shooting from the floor (Durant, Westbrook), the Thunder got a career-tying-high night from Reggie Jackson as he came off the bench for 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting. First, Jackson made his mark on the game as he scored 9 points in the second quarter. Spurs guard Patty Mills tried playing his normal-hounding style of defense on Jackson, but Jackson was so quick that he was able to shake Mills for either an open jumper or drive to the lane. Actually, the Spurs’ best defense in the second quarter was Westbrook returning to the floor as Jackson was on fire. Westbrook took most of the offensive possessions which slowed down the big quarter Jackson was having.
In the fourth quarter, Jackson would play the role of the closer as he scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Mills and Tony Parker just couldn’t keep pace with Jackson so Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich finally decided to put Danny Green on Jackson. With Green’s bigger size and speed, Jackson slowed down. But, as the Thunder began to expand their lead Popovich put Manu Ginobili in for Green and then the result was Jackson getting around Ginobili.
It was just one game and you have to consider Jackson tied his career high for points, but like former Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe and former Golden State Warriors guard Jarrett Jack, the Spurs have had issues in the past with backup point guards who can score the basketball. Jackson continued that trend Wednesday.
Ibaka’s third quarter
In the third quarter, Ibaka changed the game as he began the third by scoring the first 10 points for the Thunder, mainly off pick-and-pop jumpers. Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan dared him to shoot the jumpers and he did, the result was a change of momentum in the game. Ibaka finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 1 steal.
Ibaka’s defense and the Spurs’ stagnant offense
Going back to Ibaka, his 5 blocks in the game don’t provide enough evidence as to how much he disrupted the Spurs’ offense when attacking the rim. He altered multiple lay-up attempts from Parker, Leonard, Duncan, Splitter and more throughout the night any time they got into the paint. The Thunder came into the game limiting teams to 38.8 points the paint (6th) and the Spurs finished with 44. On average, the Spurs are 4th at scoring in the paint with 47.7 points in the paint.
On the Spurs’ stagnant offense, if you had watched some of their most recent blow-outs recently, there were times in those games where the starting group would stall on offense. The ball movement would stop flowing between multiple players as either Parker, Leonard, or Duncan tried to create on their own, or Green was missing 3-pointers and Splitter wasn’t receiving the ball deep in the paint off pick-and-rolls.
Such was the case especially in the third quarter Wednesday as Parker ended up shooting 2-for-6 in the quarter, Duncan 1-of-4, and Leonard 0-of-3. With the Thunder forcing Parker to the outside on any pick-and-roll, it made Splitter a non-factor on offense and Green had another one of those weird nights where he seemed to lose his 3-point shooting touch, even when looks were wide open. Green finished the game shooting 0-of-4 from beyond the arc.
The starters as a whole took 63 shot attempts and made just 51 points as a group. The Spurs’ bench had better spurts on offense and would help build runs, but as a whole they were outscored by the Thunder’s bench 39-37.
Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Spurs were assisting on 62% of their made baskets, a mark that made their passing attack almost ‘machine’ like. Wednesday, the Thunder defense held the Spurs to just 53% of assists on their made baskets.
Lastly, one positive the Spurs can take from Wednesday’s game was how they defended Durant and Westbrook. Mind you, Westbrook did have one of his worst shooting games, but their plan worked as they would just switch off picks and let him take his favored quick-fire jump shots. Westbrook shot 2-of-16 from the floor for 6 points but one of the biggest stats was the Spurs only allowing him to shoot 4 free throws. Westbrook had come into the match attempting almost 7 free throws per game.
After the game, in an interview with Fox Sports Southwest, Splitter said Leonard did an “outstanding” job of defending Durant. Leonard was like glue on Durant throughout the night as Popovich would only play Leonard when Durant was on the floor. Durant finished shooting 10-of-23 for 24 points, he grabbed 13 rebounds, but two of the biggest areas where Leonard’s defense affected him was with his turnovers (6) and in holding Durant to just 3 free throw attempts. Before the game, Durant came in averaging 12.5 free throw attempts per game. Throughout the night Leonard was constantly in Durant’s comfortable shooting areas and disrupting them. No matter if Durant called for screens to shake Leonard, Leonard usually found a way back to him. It can you make you wonder just how much Leonard learned in guarding LeBron James for 7 straight game in the NBA Finals last summer.
With the loss, the Spurs are now 13-2 and still lead the Western Conference in first place because on the same evening, the Portland Trail Blazers, who also had an 11-game winning streak, fell to the Phoenix Suns. The Spurs will have Thanksgiving off before playing in Orlando to face the Magic on Friday.