The Thunder start Taj Gibson for the first time tonight, Russell gets his first ever triple-double against the Spurs, the Thunder beat the Spurs for the first time this season, and the Thunder get their first win in their last five games.
A lot of firsts tonight as the Thunder come out with a big win at home against one of the Western Conference’s elite teams in the San Antonio Spurs.
The Thunder were coming into this game off an extremely disappointing 4-game losing streak to 3 different sub-500 teams. Personally, I thought they were going to take “L” number five tonight, but the Thunder were not looking to let the Spurs come in and walk all over them on their home floor.
Before the game, Billy Donovan announced that Taj Gibson would get his first start tonight as a member of the Thunder, and Domas Sabonis would be coming off the bench. Domas had started every game of his career up to this point, and you wondered how the rookie would take his newly assigned role and how the Thunder lineups would shake out tonight.
The Thunder started off this game with a lot of energy on both sides of the ball. They went to Steven Adams early, looking to exploit the matchup with the Spurs’ Dewayne Dedmon. Adams has, as I’m sure you’ve seen or at least heard by now, been slumping as of late. The Thunder big man has not been getting many touches, has been struggling on the defensive end, and overall, has just looked lethargic on the court. However, tonight he was aggressive early, particularly on the offensive end, getting up five shots (which ties the number of shots he took in the last two Portland games combined) and making three of them. Along with Adams, Russ was Russ early, working the mid-range game and tacking on 11 points of his own to go along with five first quarter rebounds and two assists. Danny Green had the assignment on Russ to start, and he wasn’t able to do much to slow the Thunder guard down. Victor Oladipo was in the giving mood tonight, as he was aggressively attacking and kicking out to the open man, racking up 3 assists after one.
For the Spurs, it was mostly Kawhi and LMA early on, as the Thunder refused to double the Spurs’ scorers, and they were able to get things going in the mid-range. The Spurs rested Manu and Parker tonight, so without that added penetration, you knew they would be looking to get things going with the mid-range jumper. That being said, Andre Roberson was playing incredible defense on Kawhi, really making him work for his shots. Along with the two usual suspects for San Antonio, Pau Gasol found the fountain of youth somewhere in downtown OKC before the game and he looked very spry on his way to 9 first quarter points.
The Thunder led by one after the first 12 minutes of play.
In the second, Russell was able to get to his spots and score when he wanted, but he was also looking to get his teammates involved. He’s been criticized by some of trying to do too much as of late, and not looking to get his teammates involved as much as he had been. Some of this may be unwarranted, but it really showed in the last game against Portland as there were definitely opportunities where Russ could’ve, and should’ve, looked to facilitate. Well tonight he did just that, finishing the half with 7 assists. He got scoring help from all-around as 7 different thunder players besides Westbrook scored in the first half. Adams had a solid offensive half with 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting, and the Thunder were able to get Doug McDermott some looks, and he finally started knocking them down, finishing the half with 7. Domas also seemed to be accepting his new role well, as he looked energized off the bench, and he put Dedmon on a poster:
For the Spurs, Leonard chipped in 8 and Gasol added 7 more of his own, for probably one of the best offensive halves he’s had in a long time. The Thunder defense really stepped it up though, especially the reserves, as they not only held onto the lead while Russ was out, but were able to build on it slightly until their All-Star leader checked back in.
The Thunder shot 51.1% from the field, had great ball movement with 15 total assists, and were +6 in the rebounding battle going into the half up 7.
The Thunder have had a tendency to come out hot, and then slowly give up their lead and lose their energy. Well, that was not the case tonight as the Thunder started the second half off how they started the game and really came to play on the defensive end. Oladipo really got it going in the third as he knocked down two corner 3’s and was able to get to the rim as he pleased, finishing with 11 points in the quarter. Russ wasn’t shooting particularly well, going 1 of 5 in the quarter, but he tacked on 4 more assists and a few rebounds and played smart basketball on both ends. The bench continued to play well, as Semaj Christon saw all of the backup PG minutes tonight over Norris Cole. And you know what? He played an awesome game tonight. He was playing great on-ball defense and was able to get the Thunder into their offensive sets and not make any careless mistakes.
Aldridge and Leonard got some help from Danny Green in the third as the Spurs’ sharp shooter knocked in two from distance. But, the Thunder defense prevailed again. Roberson held Leonard to 6-15 shooting on the night and you could tell he was really bothering Leonard and wasn’t letting him get anything easy. He really showcased his elite level on-ball defense tonight (and pretty much every night).
The Thunder went into the 4th quarter up by 11 and it never really got too much closer than that. Russ was able to tack on his 10th rebound and notch his 31st triple-double of the season, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the second most in a single season. He’d had a 4-game stretch where his didn’t get one, and I think that made tonight’s all the more sweet. He still may have taken some bad shots, but he played a great all-around game on both ends of the floor.
As a team, the Thunder had 23 assists, 3 above their per game average, were +8 in the rebounding battle and only turned it over 11 times. If you are able to do that, and play well on defense, despite less than stellar shooting, you can win some basketball games. And the Thunder did just that tonight as they defeated the Spurs, 102 – 92.
- In Taj’s first start for the Thunder, he had 7 points to go along with 3 boards in 22 minutes. Those are all right around Sabonis’ averages for the season… send him back to the bench! But seriously, I thought he played decently in his first start and I like what he brings on defense with the first unit.
- Kawhi was getting some super star calls tonight against Dre. Don’t get me wrong he deserves them, but Roberson was playing some pretty solid defense on Leonard and I think he got bailed out by a few soft fouls.
- That being said, Kawhi is amazing. He truly is a joy to watch and he gives it his all, 100%, on both sides of the ball, for the full 48. Also, his post-game is absolutely incredible. I feel like that’s become a true strength in his game. Roberson’s length kept him in check at times, but I don’t see how anyone can guard that dude.
- The Spurs were going to LMA early and often as they were trying to exploit the one-on-one defense the Thunder were using. With his length, he’s hard to stop even if you bring a second defender over, and I liked the Thunder’s strategy tonight on the Spurs big man.
- Pau was killing the Thunder in the first half from literally everywhere. He knocked down a couple of 3’s, had the mid-range jumper and finished a couple inside.
- There was a TNT graphic that showed the Spurs had used 21 different starting lineups this season. I know they’ve had injuries and tend to rest players at times, but I thought that was pretty interesting.
- After tonight’s triple-double against the Spurs, Russ only has the Bulls and Hornets left as teams in which he has not recorded a triple-double against.
- The Thunder were playing their usual extra physical style of defense, and tonight, the refs were letting them play a little bit. That bodes well for this Thunder team when they can play how they want and avoid getting into foul trouble and giving the opponent free points.
- Both teams did work on the offensive glass. The Thunder had 15 OREB and the Spurs finished with 13.
- Pop called a timeout 24 seconds into the third quarter… I would not want to be part of that huddle.
- After a solid first half, Adams disappeared in the second half, only getting up 1 more shot attempt in 14 second half minutes. I’d love to see him remain involved consistently throughout the game, but hey, I’ll take what I can get after his recent stretch of play.
- Speaking of involvement, I know he hasn’t been shooting well of late, but the Thunder really need to make it more of a point to get looks for McDermott. He’s an elite shooter who can get NBA Jam On Fire-style hot if he sees a few go in.
- Man, I’m glad Vic is back!
- Danny Green leads the Spurs in techs this season after he picked up one tonight in a little shoving match with Steven Adams. How many does he have you ask? 2… yes, he leads the team with 2.
- Around the league – Lebron did this tonight… RIP Tobias Harris
Next Up: Saturday at home against the Jazz at 2:00 CST