Oh, wow, the San Antonio Spurs actually won a game of basketball. After losing their first five outings of this season’s Rodeo Road Trip, the Spurs got a 114-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back. The victory improved San Antonio to 23-31 on the season, while OKC dropped to 32-22.
Midway through the first quarter, the Spurs had a 16-14 lead. That’s when San Antonio’s defense locked in. In the final six minutes of the period, the Spurs went on a 9-0 run to enter the second quarter up 25-24.
The Spurs got up by as many as 14 points in the second and entered the locker room at intermission with a 49-41 advantage. While the Silver and Black had to be feeling good with their play to start the game, they also knew that they’ve been routinely collapsing in the second half of games. Confidence that the Spurs would actually win this game was still minimal at this point.
In the first four minutes of the third quarter, OKC outscored the Spurs 13-6 to get within a point, 55-54. The Thunder kept charging but the Spurs were able to stay in front. Going into the fourth and final quarter, the good guys were up two points, 79-77.
Oklahoma City scored the first two points of the fourth to tie the game. But instead of rolling over and proceeding to die, the Spurs responded with a 9-0 run. A couple minutes later, the Thunder were within four points. But, again, the Spurs responded — this time with a 6-0 run to push their advantage to double figures. From that point on, San Antonio kept making enough plays on both ends of the court to keep a comfortable cushion.
This was a really good win. DeMar DeRozan was out again due to a sore back. Desperately needing a win going into the All-Star break, that’s exactly what the Spurs were able to get. They got good production from some young players and better coaching. Consider the arterial bleeding stopped, for now.
Spurs at Thunder – Final Grades
LaMarcus Aldridge did yeoman’s work tonight. He was only 1-for-5 on shots 18-feet and out but he didn’t let his wayward stroke from distance negatively impact his overall performance. He was physical, got the line, battled on the block and found ways to score when he was San Antonio’s only hope to create something out of nothing. I also thought he made the right passes. Aldridge finished the game with a season-high 14 rebounds and he did more on defense than just pound the glass. His interior defense was stout and he wasn’t too much of a liability out on the perimeter. All in all, I thought Aldridge competed really well.
Dejounte Murray just had his third straight really, really good game. He’s looking more and more like an NBA point guard — and a high-quality one, at that. He was careful with the ball but he also pushed the tempo, smoothly ran plays, got rid of the rock at the right time and orchestrated everything in rhythm. When it came time to score, Murray was excellent. His mid-range jumper looks great right now and he’s using better touch around the rim. Defensively, he was active, used his length well and was helpful rebounding-wise. Murray suddenly looks like a very promising prospect once again. Let’s hope this continues after the All-Star break.
I didn’t like Bryn Forbes’ shot-selection. He forced difficult shots and missed open teammates. A few times he broke plays just to call his own number. Defensively, he was better than usual. Forbes wasn’t good on defense, of course, but he also didn’t get flattened.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker IV started again and was again okay-ish. Offensively, he helped out by pushing the pace to warp speed whenever he had a chance. And while he didn’t register an assist, his penetration-and-kick game was pretty good. That said, Walker is operating as the fifth man on offense and he’s obviously having a tough time picking his spots. Defensively, he had a few great plays; his reading of passes is getting better and better. Walker also had some mistakes on D. But, eh, that’s to be expected from a young player going up against a team that employs a cadre of talented guards.
I liked how Trey Lyles played. Defensively, he was being more emphatic with his decisions. He went after blocks or smartly used his fouls instead of succumbing to pressure when in the paint. Lyles’ defense out on the perimeter was also good. His quick feet allow him to venture past the three-point line, which is somewhat unusual for a big. Offensively, I most liked how he was able to use his dribble and a smidgen of quickness to get to the rim. Here and there, Lyles is beginning to look like a capable starter.
The bench has been too lifeless in the last couple outings. They also were lacking someone willing to viciously hunt down scoring opportunities. Tonight, Patty Mills was back and provided the Spurs what they needed. Sure, he went without a rebound, assist, steal or block in 28 minutes but Mills kept his mind on scoring, which is exactly what San Antonio craved. He scored 20 points and hit some of the biggest shots of the game. Defensively, while he was invisible in the boxscore, Mills’ was hustling and flopping enough to be disruptive.
A focused and confident Derrick White is a really good basketball player. Against the Thunder, White wasn’t hanging his head, shuffling his feet or second-guessing his every move. Instead, he relentlessly attacked for himself and utilized his great court vision to make opportunities for teammates seemingly appear from out of thin air. White’s every move wasn’t perfect but when he’s aggressive and relying on his natural instincts, he’s a game-changer. Defensively, he was pleasantly hyper out on the perimeter and played bigger and stronger than he looks when he travelled to the painted area.
There were some signs of Rudy Gay being a valuable cog in the wheel. The Spurs went to him when the lineup on the court needed a focal point and Gay delivered adequately. He didn’t score much but he got good shots or made heady passes. On defense, he used his long arms to his advantage and was conscientious about cleaning up the glass.
Well. Hmm. Last game out, Marco Belinelli had zero points and zero rebounds in 19 minutes. Tonight, Belinelli had zero points and one rebound in 16 minutes. Improvement? The math checks out, I guess.
Jakob Poeltl only played nine minutes but he was all over the court on the defensive end during that time. It was like his arms were an extra foot longer tonight. Poeltl was challenging shots well at the rim and was engulfing entire swaths of passing lanes all by himself. Being active on the offensive glass helped out on the other end.
Pop went with what the people have been clamoring for: Murray and White in the fourth quarter. It should be a no-brainer with DeRozan out but, unfortunately, Pop playing Murray and White has been anything but a no-brainer all year long. Tonight, that pairing worked really well. The added ball-handler on offense was useful, while the defense was — gasp — functional and multifaceted. Beyond Murray and White playing more and playing together, I also liked that Lyles got extended minutes, I liked Walker getting a good run and leaning on Mills worked out. Playing Aldridge 39 minutes after such a physically and emotionally draining schedule was risky … but it worked out. Belinelli playing 16 minutes? That was certainly questionable.
Next Up for the Spurs
The Spurs get to rest during the All-Star break. San Antonio is the only franchise in the league that doesn’t have any sort of representation in Chicago at All-Star weekend. That’s obviously not a great sign regarding the state of the team but the Spurs can use the rest and hopefully recharge for the stretch run.