Analyzing the Loss: Thunder 106, Spurs 94

The San Antonio Spurs went into Oklahoma City averaging 28.5 assists and 13.9 turnovers per game during their 19-game winning streak. After 48 minutes of play without Manu Ginobili (rest), the Spurs left the floor with more turnovers (19) than assists (18) against the Thunder defense, as Kevin Durant (28 points), Russell Westbrook (27 points), and the Thunder snapped the Spurs’ winning streak with a 106-94 victory.

While Patty Mills (21 points), Kawhi Leonard (17 points), and Tim Duncan (17 points) led the Spurs in scoring, it was the Spurs’ offense that was out of its element against the aggressive, lengthy Thunder defense. Here were some keys to the game in the Spurs’ first loss since February 21.

Thunder defense stops the machine

With all the stats and data available for basketball games, there’s one that’s not too common that can be found, and that’s measuring a team’s length and athleticism. By the eye test, the Thunder just look longer and make the inside of the arc look congested for a team trying to run its offense. Take a look at a few screen caps that sort of support what your eyes might be seeing when looking at the Thunder defense.

First is a half court set from the Spurs on Wednesday, from facing the Golden State Warriors. As you can see, the Warriors, who were without David Lee and Andrew Bogut, had a tough time switching and playing constant defense on the Spurs’ ball movement, spacing, and motion sequences. Just look at how much open space is available for any player to work in.

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Now look at this half court set of the Spurs’ offense trying to get Marco Belinelli the ball off a screen. The amount of open space is just clogged and Andre Roberson is paying so much attention to detail, he nearly stole this pass, but Belinelli caught it close to near the half court line. As said above, there’s no way to measure length and athleticism, but the Thunder clearly possess it in the way they’re able to cover the ground and passing lanes.

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Now look at this next play below. Against an average defensive team, Danny Green would have himself in a comfortable position to shoot the open 3-pointer. However, look what happens in the picture below. Reggie Jackson, in two steps, fully caught up with Green, and made Green put the ball on the floor, as the 3-point attempt was eliminated.

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The data supports the eye test as the Spurs, who usually look robotic in the passing department, actually had a shot clock violation on one of their plays. The Spurs still got passes off, as eight players touched the ball 40 or more times, and seven threw 30 or more passes, but San Antonio was overpassing just to try to find an open play anywhere. The result of the Thunder’s defense were the 19 turnovers by the Spurs, which led to 30 points off those turnovers for the Thunder.

52% of the Spurs’ shots were uncontested, but they weren’t the normal uncontested shots. Instead, these were rushed attempts just to get a shot off before a Thunder defender could recover. Of the 45 shots the Thunder defense did contest, the Spurs only made 18 of them (40%). Against elite defenses, the Spurs’ offense is tested and has shown it struggles recently. Against the Pacers recently, the Spurs finished with just 18 assists and zero secondary assists. The Thunder also limited the Spurs to 18 assists and just five of their assists were secondary assists.

Per Synergy, the scoring type of plays the Spurs had to resort to throughout the night was spot-up shots (29). The Spurs made just 8 of those 25 spot-up attempts (32%).

Some of the Spurs’ core players who struggled against the Thunder defense were Parker, Tiago Splitter, Duncan, and Belinelli. Parker finished with just six points on 3-of-10 shooting and three assists, along with three turnovers. The Thunder contested seven of Parker’s shots, and he made just two of those seven contested looks. Of Duncan’s 15 shot attempts, 11 were contested, and he was only able to make three of them. Splitter had four shots contested, and he made just one, as he was also blocked three different times on the night. With Ginobili out, Belinelli shot 3-of-10 for eight points, as he was rushed on some of his open looks, where he finished 1-of-6 on uncontested looks.

One of the bright spots offensively for the Spurs was Mills, as he finished with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and he shot 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Of the 11 uncontested looks the Thunder gave Mills, he took advantage by making eight of them.

The Thunder defense limited the Spurs to 43% shooting, and only gave up more than 25 points once in a quarter to the Spurs. Whether it was Ginobili being out or it being the second night of a back-to-back for San Antonio, on this night, the Thunder defense was able to stop ‘the machine.’

Outside of third quarter, Spurs played solid defense on Thunder

If you wipe away the third quarter, where the Thunder outscored the Spurs 32-20, Durant scored 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and the Thunder shot 68% from the field, the Spurs’ defense was actually fairly solid in the other three quarters. The Spurs held the Thunder to 22 points in the first quarter, and just 26 in the second and fourth. The Thunder did shoot 49% from the field, but the Spurs contested 42% of the Thunder shots on the night. Though the Thunder did get 30 fast break points on 12 of 15 shooting, a majority of those could be attributed to the Spurs’ 19 turnovers.

Digging deeper, Durant needed 26 shots for his 28 points – a credit to Leonard, and of the 23 contested shots Durant took, he only made nine of them. The area to watch should these two teams meet in the postseason is Leonard’s ability to stay out of foul trouble. He finished the game with four fouls, but with three by the half, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich elected to have him come off the bench in the third quarter, as the Thunder built their large lead with Leonard on the bench. Neither Green, Belinelli, nor Boris Diaw showed any visual success of contesting Durant’s shots in the way Leonard did.

Of the 12 contested shots Westbrook took, he only made four of them. Westbrook feasted on the Spurs’ turnovers for points in transition, as he finished the game with four steals. The free throw discrepancy is an area the Spurs will have to watch in the future, as the Thunder took 23 free throw and made 20 of them. Both Westbrook and Durant took and made six free throws apiece.

Spurs unable to solve the Thunder puzzle in regular season

With the loss, the Thunder were able to sweep the season series against the Spurs 4-0. Against the Thunder, the Spurs just haven’t had any success in the regular season (though each game had different lineups or players available). The Spurs are getting beat by an average of 9.3 points each time they’ve faced the Thunder. The Spurs are shooting 44% from the floor, 39% from three, and averaging 21.8 assists and 15.3 turnovers per game against the Thunder.

One player who continues to play efficient basketball against the Spurs for the Thunder is Jackson. He’s averaging 21.3 points, shooting 68% from the field, 73% from three point range, and averaging 4.5 assists against the Spurs this season.

Though he had just 14 points Thursday, he still scored on 6-of-8 baskets. Whether contested (3 of 4 shooting) or uncontested (3 of 4 shooting), Jackson continues to produce solid performances each time he faces the silver and black.

6 Regular Season Games left

With six regular season games remaining, the Spurs just completed a stretch of 10 games in 16 days. The team had not had consecutive days off since March 17-18. With two days off before Sunday, when they host the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs are holding onto the best record in the NBA at 59-17, and San Antonio has a 3 game lead over the Thunder (55-19) in the Western Conference. San Antonio has a 6 game lead over both the Indiana Pacers (53-23) and Miami Heat (52-22) overall as well.

Where San Antonio Stands

  • Regular Season: 59-17 (Lead the NBA)
  • Road Record: 29-9
  • Vs. Opponents with +.500 records: 26-15
  • Vs. The Western Conference: 35-11
  • Post All-Star Break Record: 21-2
  • Of the Spurs’ 17 losses, 10 have been by double-figures.

(All Stats and Player Tracking data via NBA.com)

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.

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