We blew out the Spurs.
Wow. I feel like Ben Stein advertising for Clear Eyes. I have nothing to say but that clear, drawn out, "Woooooow" sound he makes when eye redness goes away. It's not that I'm devoid of enthusiasm, but what I'm looking at totally deceives me. After jumping up and down in celebration about a hundred times, I just have to sit back and appreciate what the Thunder have accomplished. Again, all I can think of is, "Woooooow."
It's hard not to feel great about being a Thunder fan right now. Sure, there's things to pick at. The Spurs were missing Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. Their backups were almost able to make a game out of it late in the fourth. Westbrook didn't shoot well. Blah this and blah that.
But man! The Thunder are on Cloud 9 right now. At this rate, we'll be clinching a playoff seed before the All-Star break. I love intense and sometimes heartbreaking basketball as much as the next guy, but when you can kick back with 5 minutes to go against the #2 team in the West, then you know something's going right.
Anyway, let's break down the win. The Thunder's biggest breakthrough was their ability to get San Antonio to foul. One of the oldest Popovich coaching adages has been to avoid fouling at all costs, so the other team doesn't get free points. The Thunder made that strategy useless by continually attacking the paint and forcing Spur defenders into bad situations.
For this reason, I think it's easy to ignore the sub-par shooting of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Westbrook in particular was a dud, with his mid-range shot becoming more and more unreliable. But again, he played aggressively, got to the line, and was virtually flawless everywhere else. When you compare it to his 6 turnover 5 assist performance in the season opener, it's like night and day.
Going back to the paint, there was tons of post activity tonight. Tim Duncan looked like he'd be a factor early, but he quickly faded, and even took a play off in the third quarter, apparently sustaining a minor injury. In his place was the indomitable Tiago Splitter, who split the defense for lots of easy baskets. He was key to a couple of San Antonio second quarter runs, and provided a perfect example as to why Hasheem Thabeet is a horrible post defender for the most part. He can't hold his ground, and will get eaten alive by most solid post scorers in the NBA. Fortunately, for him, most NBA benches don't have post scorers worth a darn.
Other players had solid post action too. Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins got a lot of touches down low, and they were able to produce well for the offense. Perk was a bit more questionable, as he got the ball in the post a few times and didn't really know what to do with it. But it's undeniable that they made the post environment a lot more physical, and played a big role in getting the Spur defense to foul more than they should.
Serge Ibaka didn't score in the post a lot tonight, but he was a tremendous asset. Whenever he was matched up against the slower Duncan, he was able to easily take advantage of that for easy mid-range shots. His shooting was the catalyst for a 20-9 first quarter run, and he provided a solid option all night. At this point, Serge is just money in the bank. I'm actually shocked when his jumpers don't go in.
Similarly, Kevin Martin was able to get back to what he does best, dropping 20 on an amazing 7-10 shooting. I noticed that he worked well on the weak side, grabbing the ball when the initial play didn't work and faking out the lagging defender. He was also good at keeping the pace brisk and preventing the Spurs from pressuring one side of the court.
The only obvious huge negative tonight was Thabo Sefolosha. The dude was just missing makeable shots. I will admit that he fired off a couple that were probably a bit questionable, and it was clear that he tried to shoot himself out of a slump. Moreover, he often sagged off his defender and gave the Spurs some easy, open shots. Still, I hate to harp on the guy, because I'm just glad he has offensive confidence. He's come a long way from the guy who would be totally ignored in the corner while the opposition double-teamed Durant. There will be nights like this, but there will be other nights where he shoots 2-3 from beyond the arc and you value his contribution.
Looking at the other end of the floor, the Spurs played a solid team effort, but they weren't able to get contributions from the players that mattered most. Tony Parker looked like he had the flu out there, and was outright forcing shots in the third. At one point, he hit the side of the backboard. (Note: I'm pretty sure it was him, but I was in the arena and have no access to the replay right now.) San Antonio's hit a bit of a rough patch with all of their injuries though, and I'm sure he and Neal were feeling the effects of being both undersized and without a true scorer to take the pressure off. Couple that with the fact that 16 of their first 26 games have been on the road, and it's easy to understand their disarray.
Could Leonard and Ginobili have made the difference tonight? Possibly. But what I find hard to get over is the fact that San Antonio wasn't struggling because they had a short bench that they had to play for prolonged periods. Even James Anderson managed to have a semi-decent game. Rather, their starters failed them in the third quarter. They couldn't control the paint, they had nothing to keep their offense afloat when the shots stopped falling, and 6 turnovers didn't exactly help, either.
At the end of the day, it was another fantastic Thunder win, and the winning streak now sits at 11. The Thunder have a back-to-back coming up against Atlanta and Minnesota, before an unprecedented four day break and Christmas Day game at Miami. If the Thunder can somehow escape that road trip unscathed, then we'll know if this team is something truly special. I don't mean to trod upon what they've accomplished so far, but the truth is, they've played a home-heavy schedule against a lot of bad teams, so it's no surprise that their record is where it's at. Once they start conquering the rough territory, we'll get a better idea of where this team stands in the Western Conference.
But for now, I'm still completely captivated. Woooooow.
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, who I equate to Cold Hard Cash
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, who can do everything but shoot
Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha, who went 1-8 despite a good +/- rating.
Thunder Plunderer: Tiago Splitter, for a solid second quarter run.
Next Game: At the Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday, December 19th, 6:30 PM Central Standard Time.
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