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Analyzing the Loss: Spurs 97, Thunder 106 (Spurs 2-1 series lead)

After losing their first two games in San Antonio by a combined 52 points, the Oklahoma City Thunder found a way to earn a win against the Spurs Sunday, with a 106-97 victory over San Antonio, as the Thunder were led by Serge Ibaka, who defied his original injury projection, and returned with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks in roughly 30 minutes of play.

Outside of getting 23 points from Manu Ginobili, the Spurs as a whole had trouble putting forth a complete game, as their defense allowed Oklahoma City a 29, 28, and 26 point quarter, while their offense couldn’t muster the same machine-like production, with San Antonio scoring no more than 29 points in one quarter. Meanwhile, in the hustle areas like rebounding, San Antonio didn’t seem to bring forth the energy to match what the revived Thunder team got with Ibaka’s return. Here were some keys to the Spurs’ loss.

Ibaka returns, Thunder defense ratchets up

With Ibaka returning to the floor, it seemed to have lifted the Thunder as a collective group. Outside of Ginobili, almost every other Spurs core player needed more shots than their total points scored. Where the points in the paint was an area San Antonio was dominating through the first two games, the Thunder made attempts difficult in the paint Sunday, as the Spurs were outscored 46-40 in the paint, as San Antonio was just 20-of-42 shooting the paint. With the Thunder shooting 46% on offense, it took away transition opportunities from the Spurs, as the Spurs were outscored 12-3 in transition. The Spurs were also sloppy on the offensive end, with 16 total turnovers. Tony Parker had four turnovers alone, while three other Spurs players had two apiece. The Spurs’ 16 turnovers awarded 16 points exactly, right back to the Thunder. Shooting the ball also wasn’t an area of strength for the Spurs outside of Ginobili, as the team shot roughly 40% on the night, and as you can see from their shot chart, whether contested or uncontested, the Spurs had a tough time putting the ball in the basket.

Spurs game 3 chart WCF

Going back to Ibaka, here are just two of many other defensive ways that Ibaka helps out the Thunder defense. On the first clip, Parker is running a pick-and-roll and beats Ibaka to the rim for layup. Normally, this is a Parker layup won by his speed, but with Ibaka still able to make defensive plays despite his injury, he’s able to recover and block Parker’s shot.

On this possession, Duncan sets the pick for Green and rolls, and immediately Ibaka challenges his shot for the miss. There were other plays throughout the game that Ibaka impacted whether as a help defender, or in blocking or altering shots in the paint.  

“They killed us on the boards…” – Coach Popovich

“I was very disappointed that we didn’t come out with more of a foot in the neck sort of attitude,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after the game. “They killed us on the boards, they beat us in 50-50 balls and that’s very disappointing to me.” As much as the Thunder get credit on both sides of the ball for the win, both the eye and numbers test both show San Antonio didn’t play with the full amount of energy needed to win a game, like game three. The first area was the rebounding battle. The Thunder outrebounded the Spurs by 16 rebounds (52-36) on the night, as it was really the Thunder second chance opportunities that helped them continue to hold or extend their lead, as they grabbed 15 offensive rebounds on the night. Per SportVU, of the 22 offensive rebounding chances the Thunder had, Oklahoma City grabbed 15 of them. A telling stat that shows just how much the Spurs struggled in grabbing rebounds, Derek Fisher, grabbed five boards on the night, more than all San Antonio players except Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, and Tiago Splitter. Another area where aggression can be found in numbers, is by the amount of free throw attempts. The Thunder shot 31 free throws on the night, while the Spurs only shot 16. Some may say the Thunder got more foul calls, but in fact, the Thunder tallied 24 personal fouls, to the Spurs’ 20 fouls.

Popovich still laughs after loss

After the game, check out how Popovich, despite his team losing by nine points, found a way to make himself laugh, as well as the media, in saying Ginobili would be fine for the next game, or could be out for the remainder of the playoffs…

Leonard goes lefty for the dunk

Though he finished with just 10 points, but needed 11 shots, Kawhi Leonard did have a highlight dunk, as you can see below (H/T @CJZero).

(Statistics via Video clips via Synergy Stats. Shot chart via

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.