In a highly anticipated matchup between the projected top two Playoff seeds in the West, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder put on a show Monday night, as San Antonio won, 105-93.
This was the fourth game in a row for San Antonio with out their best player, and possible MVP candidate Tony Parker, who is out for about a month with a sprained ankle.
The key to this game for the Spurs was Tiago Splitter, who played one of the best games of his career, totaling 21 points and10 rebounds on 9-11 shooting from the field. The other notable performances from the Spurs came from Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Leonard had 17 points, 4 boards, and 3 steals on 8-17 shooting. Green had 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals as well; shooting 6-9 from the field and 4-4 from three.
For the Thunder, Kevin Durant had 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists on the night; a bulk of his scoring coming from the free trow line, as he went 11-11 there and 7-13 from the field. Russell Westbrook had 25 points, 6 boards, and 6 assists on a less-than-stellar 11-27 from the field.
After a underwhelming first quarter, the game tilted to the Spurs favor in the second, spurred on (pun intended) by 3 quick three pointers from Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, which began a 26-8 run which put San Antonio ahead by at the half. From that point, the Spurs were able to hold off the Thunder due to some aggressive defense in the paint and some steady shooting of their own.
With this win San Antonio extends it’s lead over Oklahoma City by another game in the Western Conference Playoff push for the first seed. The Spurs also get closer to owning a tiebreaker against Oklahoma City if it comes down to one. They can either win it outright in their next game against the Thunder on April 4th, or they can have a better overall record against other teams in the Western Conference, which Oklahoma City currently has.
The Spurs next game is against the Minnesota Wolves on March 12th at 8:00 PM.
- First off, I would like Spurs fans to know that, unfortunately, this is not a preview of what could be in the Western Conference Playoffs if these two teams were to play. There are too many variables that will be changed by the time that happens to make it a different type of series. Tony Parker is still injured, Kevin Durant didn’t take nearly as many shots as he is required to, and Gary Neal played entirely too well for it to be a realistic preview. So while this win was nice, don’t expect a series against the Thunder to be as easy as this was.
- One thing I did see that could translate over to a seven game series is the play of Tiago Splitter. I’m not saying he’ll get 20-10 in a series, because he’s not going to keep that up. But, he was able to produce in the post, which is key for the Spurs against the Thunder, because it forces them to play their bigger lineups. And, if the Thunder have to play bigger lineups with less effective players like Kendrick Perkins, then the Spurs can get out on the break and force the pace, even with Splitter. Without Perkins, the Thunder can run with, ad possibly better than the Spurs, so it’s imperative that Splitter is able to produce against them.
- His shooting numbers may not show it, but Kawhi Leonard was fantastic in this game. He showed his improved ability to handle the ball on more than a few occasions, even crossing over Kevin Durant to get in the paint for a bucket once or twice. He also showed the ability to hit from midrange, as he executed a series of dribble moves to get free for wither a pull up or stepback jumper on multiple occasions. He was heated up in the second quarter, scoring 9 of his 17 points in the quarter, including a play where he stole the ball, went behind his back to evade an opponent, and unleashed a ferocious dunk on the fast break. He also again showed his ability to be a defensive playmaker, getting 3 steals on the night. Leonard’s game has grown exponentially in the short time he’s been in the league, and it’s been a joy to watch.
- The Spurs were extremely aggressive on defense tonight, forcing 17 turnovers, 9 of which came from Durant and Westbrook. Whenever either player would put the ball on the floor a swarm of Spurs would surround them, forcing many a loose ball. Winning the turnover battle will be another important key to the Spurs gameplan if they have to face Oklahoma City in the Playoffs.
- Russell Westbrook was really off his game tonight. Coming off a very good stretch of games, I expected he would carve up Tony Parker’s replacement starter Cory Joseph. And although Westbrook was usually able to beat Joseph, the Spurs played great team defense on him, and either forced a turnover or a midrange jumper from Westbrook, which is optimal. This year, the only real criticism in Westbrook’s game is that he takes too many jumpers. Whether it’s that he merely settles for them, or if he takes them out of habit doesn’t matter. The fact is that he is not a good shooter this year. Last season, Westbrook was shooting around 40 percent from midrange, which made his game nearly unstoppable. This year, that percentage has gone down a lot, which has provided a flaw for the opposing teams to exploit. In future games against San Antonio I would expect Westbrook to have a better game, because he is a great player, but his performance from the field is something to keep in mind going forward.
- The Spurs closed this game out in about the worst way they could. With about 3:30 remaining in the game, and a 15 point lead, the logical thing for San Antonio to do would be to run as much clock as possible, right? Well, they eschewed that line of thinking, and rushed to close the game, committing turnovers and missing quick shots, always leaving the door open for the Thunder to climb back in until Danny Green finally shut the door with a corner three. Oddly enough, this rushed closeout was led by veteran Manu Ginobili, who hadn’t had a very good game up to that point. (12 points on 4-11 shooting.) He pushed the pace late, and pushed Coach Popovich to the point of giving him a death glare and more than a mouthful when the Thunder called a timeout with about a minute left. Again, this should’t be the case going forward, as Ginobili is usually someone San Antonio can trust late in the game. But, it was interesting to see the Spurs, who are seen as a veteran team that will take care of any situation imaginable, show some flaws late.