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Analyzing the Loss: Spurs 92, Thunder 105 (Series tied 2-2)

With 7:00 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the San Antonio Spurs were facing a 69-49 deficit at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich already had Thursday’s game five in his mind, as he pulled his core players and inserted Boris Diaw, Cory Joseph, and Marco Belinelli with 6:46 left in the third.

The Spurs’ bench would make the 25-point initial blow out competitive in the final 17 minutes, outscoring the Thunder 43-36 the rest of the way, and San Antonio even trimmed the Thunder lead down to 12 late in the fourth quarter, but alas, the Thunder held on for the 105-92 victory that evened the series at two games apiece. Here were are a few trends that have stuck out in the Spurs’ last two losses.

Since Ibaka return, Thunder putting clutches on Spurs’ offense

How important is Serge Ibaka to the Thunder on both sides of the ball? His on and off court statistics will show you just how vital his presence is for the Thunder in the last two games.

  Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
On the court (64 minutes) 119.8 per 100 possessions 95.8 per 100 possessions 24.0
Off the court (32 minutes) 96.9 per 100 possessions 95.2 per 100 possessions 1.7

In the last two games, the defensive rating has been stable when Ibaka goes to the bench for a rest, because of rookie Steven Adams’ solid support minutes on the defensive side of the ball. As you will see below, Ibaka’s effectiveness on the defensive end changed the series in the Thunder’s favor in Oklahoma City in a majority of statistical factors.

First, let’s examine the Spurs’ offensive preferred scoring possessions per Synergy Sports. In the chart below, displayed is the Spurs’ three most used scoring possessions this season, along with the percentage of the time used, and the field goal percentage. Then, I’ll have the numbers of those play types run in the first two games without Ibaka, and then with Ibaka on the next area of data.

Scoring Possession Season (% of time) G1 & G2 (Total) G3 & G4 (Total) Season (FG%) G1 & G2 (FG%) G3 & G4 (FG%)
Spot Up 19.4% 42 52 43% 38% 43%
P&R Ball Handler 16.9% 42 39 46% 65% 37%
Transition 13% 26 20 56% 62% 50%

As you can see, since Ibaka rejoined the Thunder lineup in Oklahoma, the Spurs have been more reluctant to take more spot-up shots, but a key area is the Spurs’ effectiveness in the pick-and-roll from their ball handlers. The Spurs went from shooting 65% in San Antonio without Ibaka on the pick-and-roll, to just 37% with the series shifting to Oklahoma City. The Spurs’ transition opportunities have also decreased with their turnovers and the Thunder offense starting to shoot more effectively.

Here are a few last metrics showing how the Thunder defense has locked down the Spurs’ offense with the return of Ibaka, and the series shifting to Oklahoma City.

Location San Antonio (No Ibaka) Oklahoma City (With Ibaka)
FG% 53.8% 39.7%
Points 117.0 94.5
Assists 27.5 19.5
Turnovers 11.0 14.5
Offensive Rating per 100 possessions 123.4 95.6
Fast Break Points 13.5 1.5
Points in the Paint 60.0 38.0

Some areas that have significantly dropped for the Spurs’ offense are their assists, points in the paint, and fast break points. Without Ibaka, the Spurs’ guards were able to penetrate the paint at will, either score or get the ball moving for good looking shots. Also, with the Spurs’ defense in tune in the first two games, the team was able to get out on the fast break and create more scoring opportunities. With Ibaka being a presence in the paint, it has allowed Russell Westbrook to gamble more on the perimeter, because he has his frontline for insurance, which has led to more turnovers for San Antonio, and an inability to run their offense as successfully as they were doing, without Ibaka.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Spurs have also had their troubles in Oklahoma City, as you can see below.

Location San Antonio Oklahoma City
Defensive Rating per 100 possessions 94.0 111.5
OKC FG% 43% 47%
OKC Free Throw Attempts 16.5 31.0
OKC Points off Turnovers 10.5 18.5
OKC Fast Break Points 12.0 16.5
OKC Points in the Paint 37.0 45.0

Defensively, the Thunder have feasted off the Spurs’ turnovers and missed shots, with an increase in both points off turnovers and fast break points. The Thunder have also been attacking more in the last two games, as evidenced by their increase in points in the paint, and free throw attempts.

Will Popovich have to make lineup changes?

Like last year in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, the trend is starting to become apparent that unless Kendrick Perkins is on the floor, the Thunder have become a matchup where Tiago Splitter may not see as much playing time. Like Danny Green and Patty Mills, Splitter relies on Parker’s penetration and attack in the pick-and-roll to be effective on offense, either by being a roll man, or grabbing offensive rebounds for put-backs. However, with the Thunder defense closing off the paint to Parker more frequently with Ibaka’s return, Splitter’s become a non-factor on the offensive end of the ball, and he doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with the Thunder lineups when they play small, or have Adams in with Ibaka. Here’s Splitter’s Offensive and Defensive Rating in the series.

  Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
On the court (80 minutes) 101.1 per 100 possessions 103.5 per 100 possessions -2.4
Off the court (112 minutes) 115.2 per 100 possessions 102.0 per 100 possessions +13.2

The default option for more of Splitter’s minutes would likely be Boris Diaw, if Popovich went with that route. Diaw finished Game 4 with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists in roughly 30 minutes of play. The key way Diaw can make a difference, is by knocking down his 3-pointers at a solid percentage. Right now, Ibaka has been leaving him open from beyond the arc, and since Diaw has been reluctant to shoot the three until Game 4, it was allowing Ibaka to hover around the paint. If Diaw can start knocking down the three at a respectable percentage, it could force Ibaka to linger out to the 3-point line, which could allow more driving opportunities for Parker.

Another area Popovich could look to make a change is with his backup point guard. Cory Joseph was impressive in game four, as he finished with 11 points, three rebounds, one assist, and one steal in 17 minutes. Against the Thunder, Patty Mills hasn’t been able to find a rhythm, as he’s averaging 3.0 points, shooting 25% from the floor, and shooting 15% from three in 13.3 minutes.

(Statistics via, Synergy Sports)

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.