What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Tonight was the first game I can recall where it really seemed like the rigors of the compressed game schedule manifested in the Thunder's performance. Previously in back-to-backs, OKC still had enough in the tank to put on a good showing. However in this loss tonight against the Spurs, not only were the Thunder slow in their close-outs on Spurs shooters but they allowed Tony Parker to get into the lane at will. The Spurs explosion was a result of one part the same lackadaisical 1st half defense that we've seen from OKC all this week, and one part lack of energy to do much else about it.
Also, halfway through the 4th quarter, my reaction was, "is this Tony Parker's career high?" Good news guys, it was not. He actually went off for 55 points a couple seasons ago, in a manner entirely consistent with his effort tonight.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?
This game was almost a mirror image of the first match-up between the Thunder and Spurs. San Antonio played well in the first half, winning the first quarter by four and the second by six. OKC kept it close however, even though they did not look great. Their performance at that point was reminiscent to their win over the Grizzlies on Friday night.
Once things got going in the 3rd, just like the Thunder did in game one, the Spurs really took off. Or, should I say, Tony Parker took off. The Spurs site Pounding the Rock has a picture that says it as well as anyone. Parker was at his absolute best, probing and penetrating the Thunder defense at will to score off of short jumpers and layups.
When all was said and done, the decisive 3rd was almost enough for the Spurs to effectively put the Thunder away for the night.
What's the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
The statistic that really hurt the Thunder is the same statistic which you would never think could hurt the Thunder - free throw shooting. Thus far this season OKC has had its problems at the charity stripe, from Kevin Durant on down the roster list. Consider KD alone has seen his FT percentage drop from 88% last year to 81% this year. OKC has been able to slide by this season without free throws costing them too much, but tonight it was a big reason why they could not keep pace with the Spurs. At the end of the game, OKC shot 17-28, leaving 11 available points on the table that could have made a huge difference in the outcome.
Sometimes, it is not just how many free throws are missed, but when they are missed that can have the biggest impact. For example, in the 2nd quarter the Spurs were clinging to a single digit lead. In the last four minutes of that quarter, Serge Ibaka missed all four of his free throws, misses that could have prevented the Thunder from going into the half down by double-digits.
Even worse, when the Thunder had narrowed the lead in the 4th quarter, a miss each by both Kevin Durant and James Harden on consecutive possessions meant that the Thunder had wasted an opportunity to cut the lead to eight with just under five minutes remaining. Obviously it is difficult for a team to recover once they go down by 20 points in a game, but it is even more so maddening when they make the effort to get back in the game, but opportunities to actually challenge for the win are thrown away when two good free throw shooters wasted free points.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder have precious little time to regroup because on Monday night they must head north to face their division rivals the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are a challenging match-up for the Thunder because they have one of the few defenders in Gerald Wallace that can give Kevin Durant fits. Furthermore, Portland took the first game of the season against OKC, and the Thunder must work hard to try to even the series. Monday night will be a huge challenge and the Thunder need to figure out a way to contend earlier on in games so they do not have to suffer the troubles of trying to recover when it gets late.