Facing the Oklahoma City Thunder generally brings out the best and worst of the San Antonio Spurs, as shown by the split results of their home-and-home set.
In a long and storied league full of heated rivalries, iconic players and record-setting performances, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder always provide wildly entertaining outings against each other. These two Western Conference powerhouses have competed relentlessly over the years with modern day legends of the game dueling in pursuit of glory and championships.
Through his extended stint as the commander of this franchise, Gregg Popovich has found ways to key in on the weaknesses of Oklahoma City while setting his team up for success. In all of his years of facing superstar point guard Russell Westbrook, he has yet to devise a game plan to limit his production.
Westbrook is a polarizing player whose high-octane style of play can be difficult to contain. While San Antonio deploys many different defenders and strategies to slow Westbrook down, it’s simply impossible to escape the Thunder without giving up a monster stat line.
San Antonio showed signs of toughness in the 122-112 loss in Oklahoma City after pulling out an outrageous victory in LaMarcus Aldridge’s career night just two days prior. The Spurs finished off a stretch off six games in nine nights with a 7-2 record in that span, but a rigid schedule has had an impact on some of the veterans.
Small forward Rudy Gay remains sidelined with a wrist injury and has missed the last four games for San Antonio while DeMar DeRozan has seen a sharp decline in his field goal percentage as of late. This home-and-home faceoff with Oklahoma City has been telling for a Spurs team that’s seen high highs and low lows this year.
Next: Staggering the minutes of veterans
Staggering the minutes of veterans
Preserving players and increasing longevity has allowed the San Antonio Spurs to flourish into a true dynasty under Pop and the Big Three. Year after year people speculated about the decline of the Spurs with Duncan, Ginobili and Parker aging until they ran it back for the fifth championship in franchise history close to the twilight of their careers.
In San Antonio, veteran players continue developing skills under the expert coaching staff with the goal of elongating their playing time and competing for a championship ring. These players were oftentimes preserved during the regular season to enter the playoffs with fresh legs and a rested body. It’s a strategy that was often criticized until opposing teams caught on and began following the trend.
Resting players is more common in today’s game than ever before, and yet Popovich is running up the minutes for LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. Now at the halfway point of the season, it’s appropriate for Popovich to lighten their workload and increase minutes for developing players.
DeMar DeRozan’s scoring has dropped a bit overall, but he’s added one more rebound and assist to his stat line.
He’s now averaging 22 points, 6.4 assists, and 6.2 rebounds.
Other players averaging over 20-6-6
James HardenKevin DurantLeBron JamesRussell Westbrook
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) January 13, 2019
DeRozan seemed particularly gassed in the last two games against Oklahoma City, resulting in a sharp decline in his efficiency. The 29-year-old shot 34.1 on 41 field goal attempts in his last two games, though it doesn’t help that he was oftentimes matched up against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Paul George. Even so, it’s disconcerting to see DeRozan missing many of his usual pull up jumpers.
Through masterful roster construction and player development, the Spurs once again have one of the best benches in the NBA. Sharpshooter Marco Belinelli brought the sauce with him to Oklahoma City, scoring a season-high 24 points on Saturday night while hitting nine of his 11 attempts in this short two-game run. With more favorable matchups on the horizon, the Spurs should consider redistributing their minutes in favor of their explosive bench.
Next: The point guard situation is fixing itself
The point guard situation is fixing itself
There was some warranted panic following the season-ending injury to Dejounte Murray, heir of the starting throne held by Tony Parker for years prior. San Antonio has always had solid rotational point guards available and this year is no different, but losing Murray opened up a gateway for Derrick White and Bryn Forbes to take leaps of their own.
Neither Forbes nor White shot the ball particularly well on Saturday night, combining for just 22 points on 2-of-11 shooting from behind the arc. Both gave great effort in the first meeting as White finished with 23 points and hit a momentum shifting three-pointer late in the game to help San Antonio win in double-overtime.
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Both of these young guards play with effort that jumps off the screen to viewers at home because of their unusual motors and hustle on both ends of the floor. Forbes doesn’t have the physicality or athleticism to keep up with Westbrook, but he gave it his all and played a major part in limiting the former MVP to 37.5 percent shooting in the contest.
White, on the other hand, has shown over these two games that he can be a dangerous perimeter defender for years to come. His ability to read his opponent’s move before they make it is impeccable for a player in his second season. Though he commits clumsy turnovers and is a bit loose with his fouls at times, White is a poised and collected player that can be trusted over the home stretch of this season.
Between those two scrappy guards and veteran Patty Mills off the bench, the Spurs are handling their lack of point guard depth extremely well. It helps that DeRozan can take over as primary ball handler when necessary, but Forbes and White are quickly growing into a deadly duo on the perimeter.
There’s plenty of basketball left to be played, including one more meeting between these teams, but this hard-fought series against the Thunder should be considered a success for Pop’s crew.