OKC needed to show some mettle tonight, and did not disappoint in the 2nd half.
The Oklahoma City Thunder bounced back against the San Antonio Spurs, 122-112. Following what could very well be the best regular game of the season — where the only thing missing was a Thunder win — OKC earned that win tonight by snuffing out the Spurs attack in the 2nd half.
Although tonight’s game was highly unlikely to be a repeat of the 2OT thriller on Thursday — after all, the Spurs started out by missing their first 3-pointer — it still got off to a rough start, almost as if OKC expected the NBA Jam flame-throwing to continue. As a result, they finished down 8 after one quarter and 9 at the half, managing to shoot only 39% from the floor and once again heavily outrebounded. The one saving grace was Abdel Nader recording 10 points on 5-5 shooting, which helped OKC stay in the game. The offensive trio of Westbrook, George, and Schroder certainly weren’t doing it, as they were a combined 4-23 from the floor for 15 points.
But perhaps Nader’s performance was a signal of things to come.
In the 3rd quarter, we finally saw the Thunder refocus on the one thing they actually do better than most — play stifling defense. They flipped the script on San Antonio, winning the quarter 35-20, held the silver and black to 36% shooting, and forced 6 turnovers. OKC’s energy returned, they took away LaMarcus Aldridge from the offensive flow, and once again forced DeMar DeRozan into a horrid shooting night (combined 14-41 shooting, 8 turnovers).
Meanwhile, the Thunder offense started clicking, triggered off the kind of defense that has been lacking during their 3-game losing streak. Stops and turnovers turned into open looks, and when all was said and done, OKC shot 52% from the floor, 4-7 from three, caused 6 turnovers, and turned a 9 point deficit into a 6 point lead heading into the 4th.
And in the middle of it all? The mercurial Dennis Schroder, who was quickly becoming persona non grata ‘round these parts. Schroder, who missed all 4 attempts in the 1st half, responded by shooting 4-5 in the 3rd for 9 points, grabbed 2 steals, a tech, and a dashing end of quarter finish that gave OKC their largest lead up to that point.
I mean, consider this play. There are less than 4 seconds remaining before Schroder even has possession of the ball, and he then kicks on the jets and finishes at the rim as the horn sounds.
But all would have been for naught had the Thunder bench not responded to the 3rd quarter push. And certainly after last game, where the Spurs 2nd unit outscored the Thunder’s 45-28, and with Marco Belinelli once again balling like Marky Mark, the threat was real.
This time, OKC’s bench was up for the challenge. They pushed the lead from 6 to 12, outscoring San Antonio 17-11 during the first 4 minute stretch of the 4th. Overall, they remained competitive against the Spurs’ 2nd unit, only outscored by five, 53-48. Schroder, finally showcasing the potential he offers, finished the 2nd half with 19 on 8-13 shooting with 6 assists and 4 steals. Nader finished with 15 on a perfect 6-6 shooting, while Patrick Patterson, who really needed to be engaged in helping slow down Aldridge, finished with 13 in 23 minutes, and 3-3 from long range (The 23 minutes is the most 2Pat has played in a game since November).
All told, the Thunder bench was a big reason OKC snapped their losing streak, because Westbrook and George continued to struggle with their shot (9-24 from Russ, 5-17 from PG) and Adams, perhaps still hobbled by the ankle injury from last game, took only 5 shots, though finished an Aquaman-strong 6-8 from the free throw line.
In addition, OKC limited LaMarcus Aldridge to only 17 points on a critical 14 shots from the floor (he got 33 shots up last game), and OKC’s 3-point game was somehow on the mark as well. They finished 11-23 from beyond the arc (compared to the Spurs’ 10-31), a game after shooting 15-35 from long range. Even more important, and likely more valuable because it should be repeatable, OKC did not hurt itself at the free throw line. Collectively they shot 25-29 from the stripe, with usual suspects Adams and Westbrook finishing 11-13 combined.
Overall, this was a strong team win against a good opponent and ancient kin in San Antonio, and the Thunder have some things they can finally build on heading into next week.
Next game: @ Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 6PM CST