Can The San Antonio Spurs Slow Down Russell Westbrook?

Jan 31, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles the ball as Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Andre Roberson (21) defends during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 31, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles the ball as Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Andre Roberson (21) defends during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs head back on the road tonight looking to get back on track against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Spurs want to put the Golden State Warrior game behind them, and they’ll get that opportunity tonight as they travel to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder.

The Spurs played just four games on the road in the month of March, going 2-2. One of those losses came back on March 9th in Oklahoma City.

While the Warriors game probably pushed the Spurs out of contention for the first seed in the Western Conference, tonight’s game still carries a ton of significance.

The Spurs can clinch the division title with a win tonight @ OKC or another Houston loss.

— Analyzing The League (@ATLeague_NBA) March 31, 2017

The Spurs can clinch the division AND secure the number two seed tonight with a win against the Thunder. If the Spurs lose, they can still clinch the division and the number two seed with a Houston Rockets loss, who just so happen to be visiting the Warriors tonight.

If the Spurs clinch, it gives Gregg Popovich immense leeway with the rotations in the final seven games of the season. In other words, you can expect to see the starters get some extra rest.

This allows Popovich to make sure the offensive continuity continues to improve without overplaying his key players. Knowing Popovich, he will capitalize on this flexibility.

The Spurs would have to go 1-7 & the Rockets 8-0 in each of their last 8 games for Houston to finish with the 2-seed.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 30, 2017

The Thunder, on the hand, are 43-31, 8-2 in their last 10 games, and are currently sitting in sixth place, 1.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth place. The Thunder have created separation between the seventh seed Memphis Grizzlies, increasing their lead to 2.5 games.

Judging on the Thunder’s remaining schedule, it’s unlikely the Grizzlies will be able to catch them, setting up a first round matchup between the Spurs and the Grizzlies.

The Thunder, fittingly enough, may draw the Rockets in the first round, in a marquee battle of the two leading MVP candidates for the 2016-2017 NBA season.

Previous Matchups

The Spurs and Thunder have played twice this season, both teams winning on their home floor.

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  • The Spurs won the first matchup in San Antonio, 108-94. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 36 points on 13/26 shooting, along with eight rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. Aldridge contributed 25 points on 8/15 shooting, including six rebounds and three blocks. No other players were in double figures.

    Westbrook, of course, led the way for the Thunder, scoring 27 points on 7/17 shooting, 14 assists, six rebounds, one steal and six turnovers. Steven Adams chipped in 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Victor Oladipo scored 15 points and four steals.

    On paper, this game was much closer than the final score. It came down to the fourth quarter, and the Spurs were able to execute more efficiently. The Spurs shot 7/8 from the charity stripe, 8/17 from two-point range, and 2/5 from beyond the arc. The Thunder shot 5/6 from the free-throw line, 4/12 from two-point range, and 2/10 from the three-point line.

    The bench was the other deciding factor, as the Thunder struggle to score without Westbrook. The Spurs second-unit scored 32 points, while the Thunder scored just 22 points.

    The Thunder returned the favor in Oklahoma City, winning 102-92. If you guys remember, this was the game Leonard left late in the third quarter with a face injury that resulted in a concussion.

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    Westbrook took advantage, scoring 23 points on 7/21 shooting, including 13 rebounds and 13 assists, notching yet another triple-double. Oladipo poured in 20 points, four rebounds and three assists. Enes Kanter had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

    Despite leaving late in the third quarter, Leonard still led the Spurs with 19 points on 6/15 shooting, along with two rebounds and two assists. Aldridge had 17 points and six rebounds. Pau Gasol had a strong showing off the bench scoring 18 points and seven rebounds.

    The Thunder outplayed the Spurs in most facets of this game. The Thunder shot a higher percentage (46.6%), rebounded better (48), committed less turnovers (11), and assisted at a much higher rate (23). Essentially, this can all be attributed to Westbrook, who led his team in points, assists and rebounds, resulting in a resounding victory.

    Can the Spurs slow down Westbrook?

    The answer is no. The only person that can slow down Westbrook is Westbrook. The best chance you have is clogging the paint, doubling off pick-and-rolls, forcing him into bad decisions.

    The Thunder are at their worst when Westbrook is trying to do too much, leading to turnovers and transition buckets for the opposition. However, when Westbrook records a triple-double, the Thunder become one of the scariest teams in the NBA.

    According to a statistic provided by ESPN, the Thunder have a winning percentage of .815 when he records a triple-double, and a winning percentage of .333 when he doesn’t.

    The Spurs opened as a 2-point favorite and are now favored by 1.5 points tonight at OKC.

    — Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 31, 2017

    If the Spurs want to come away victorious, they cannot allow Westbrook to impact every single facet of the game. His weakness, and probably his only weakness, is his perimeter shooting. If you force him into deep shots, this favors the Spurs defense. If he gets into the paint at will, he is likely to either score the basket or get fouled and head to the free-throw line.

    In the first matchup, Westbrook had six turnovers. In the second, he had just three turnovers. If you can force Westbrook into bad decisions, the Thunder are a very beatable team.

    Unfortunately, Westbrook is coming off a 57-point triple-double against the Orlando Magic, so slowing him down seems like an impossible task.

    However, if anyone can, it’s the best team defense in the NBA.


    The Spurs are aware that they can clinch the division and the two seed tonight, as well as avenge that loss to the Warriors, so I believe they will come out with plenty of intensity tonight.

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    The Spurs tend to struggle against teams who defend at an elite level, because disrupting the Spurs ball movement offensively makes them incredibly one-dimensional. Luckily, the Thunder are a middle-of-the-pack type defense, ranking 18th in opponents points per game at 106.1.

    As long as Danny Green is on Westbrook for a majority of the game, the Spurs should come out with a division clinching win tonight. Tony Parker is not at an age where he can keep up with Westbrook. Truthfully, there aren’t many guards in their prime who can keep up with Westbrook. However, having Green and Leonard take turns on him is the best defensive scenario you can possibly ask for.

    Despite having a plethora of big-men, the Thunder allow 47.7 points in the paint per game, ranking 28th in the NBA, just ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers and Rockets. This is a game where Aldridge will impose his will in the paint and lead the Spurs to victory.

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    Aldridge and Leonard score 25+ each.

    Gasol and Patty Mills have double digits off the bench.

    Westbrook gets 30+ points, but does not record a triple double.

    Spurs win, 105-99.