AT&T CENTER – Coming into Wednesday’s matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs were already down two of their top defensive players in Danny Green and Tiago Splitter due to injuries. After just roughly 21 minutes of play against the Thunder, the Spurs learned they would lose arguably their best defender, Kawhi Leonard, for not only the rest of the night, but possibly a few weeks as well.
With 3:36 remaining in the second quarter, Leonard was subbed out for Manu Ginobili and he left to the locker room with the Spurs’ trainer. By halftime, word would be released that he would not return to the game with a Non-displaced fracture of the right fourth metacarpal (fractured finger). Even the Thunder were dealing with their own injury being without Russell Westbrook, but they had come in playing winning basketball as of late.
Kevin Durant (36 points, 7 rebounds, 5assists, 11 turnovers) and Reggie Jackson (27 points, 8 assists, 71% shooting) led the way for the Thunder as they held off Tony Parker (37 points) and the Spurs with a 111-105 victory. “The guys off the bench did a great job against some pretty good players,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich of his team after the game, “so I was really proud of them.”
Whether it was Cory Joseph, Parker, or Marco Belinelli having to guard Durant on several possessions, the Spurs fought hard down to the final seconds of the game where the Thunder had to convert free throws to put San Antonio away. “(Kevin) Durant hit some big shots,” said Tim Duncan after the game. “He hit some big three’s down the stretch and it just got away from us.”
The Thunder jumped on the Spurs early with a 10-point lead in the first quarter, as they scored 30 points in the opening 12 minutes. The Spurs, behind Boris Diaw (14 points) and Parker, would help San Antonio claw back into the game as San Antonio would recover and lead by two points, but eventually go into the half down 55-53. The Spurs’ defense would continue to thrive in the third quarter by holding the Thunder to 42% shooting in the quarter and 21 points. But the Spurs’ offense could not extend their one-time six point lead despite eight points in the quarter by Parker. In the fourth, Parker would put the Spurs on his back as he scored 12 points, but in the end, Jackson and Durant combined for 22 points in the final 12 minutes to help the Thunder pull away for the victory.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” said Parker of his 37 points after the game. “The shot was falling and I was going to the free throw line. I was just trying to make stuff happen.”
Moving forward without Leonard
After the game, when asked if he saw Leonard’s injury happen, Popovich said he didn’t. He said Leonard still played a few more possessions but once he got word Leonard hurt his hand, the Spurs immediately had him sent to the locker room for X-rays. Popovich said the X-rays showed the finger was broken and at the moment, there is no timetable of return.
When asked what the Spurs will do without three of their starters going forward, Popovich responded, “You watched it. We play the other guys. That’s the way it is. You just play the other guys.” Popovich also said despite Leonard’s injury, he won’t overplay his three healthy core players in Duncan, Parker, and Manu Ginobili just for wins. As for what type of lineups he’ll use going forward, Popovich said it’ll just depend on the matchup that opponent presents. In some instances the Spurs may play ‘small ball’, they may use a zone defense, or they could play a similar regular lineup with fill-in role players.
“We are dropping like flies right now,” said Duncan after the game of losing Leonard. “Losing Kawhi was huge in a game like tonight but other guy’s stepped up. We will sustain. We are going to move some bodies around and we have a tough road trip coming up and February coming up as well. Hopefully scattered through that time we can get some bodies back as we go.
“We are going to make it work and continue to work on the things we have to,” finished Duncan.
Said Parker of losing Leonard, “It is a big loss for us. We are already down Tiago, Duncan, but everyone goes through injuries and we have to deal with it.”
For those wanting the Spurs to make a trade or sign someone in Leonard’s place, there’s a few reasons why either of those scenarios are unlikely. On the trade front, three of the Spurs’ tradable assets (Green, Splitter, Bonner) are injured at the moment, and on signing a player, they do not have a vacant roster spot open unless they waive either Malcolm Thomas (owed $702,233) or Aron Baynes (owed $788,872), and then they would still have to pay more money to sign who ever that free agent or D-League call-up like Josh Howard for instance, would be.
As Duncan and Popovich said, the most likely scenario will be to continue to adjust and plug in bench players depending on matchups until Green, Splitter, and Leonard heal and return to the lineup.
Jackson continues to dominate San Antonio
Jackson continued with his dominance against the Spurs as he finished the game with 27 points, 8 assists, and 2 steals while shooting 12-of-17 from the floor. Take a look at his shot chart.
“He has had great games against the Spurs,” said his head coach Scott Brooks after the game. “I can’t put my finger on it.”
“I don’t know,” said Jackson of why he’s found success against the Spurs. “I just go out there and compete and play hard. I guess I have a tendency to find some holes and weak spots against them. Their bigs, their defensive scheme is kind of playing off and paying back, so I get a few floaters going early and I think I’ve just been feeling good.”
(Stats and Salaries via NBA.com/Stats and BasketballInsiders.com)