Oklahoma City have been very good this season and they were very good against Boston in a losing effort. Oklahoma City played well throughout the game and took one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference all of the way, the Celtics did not have an easy time against the Thunder. However, I cannot help but feel a little disappointed, Oklahoma City could have very easily had the game in hand if not for a few small mistakes. For the Thunder to go from being a very good team to a great team, the mistakes need to be eliminated. OKC have a chance to rectify their mistakes against a San Antonio Spurs which has struggled of late. San Antonio have really struggled defensively on the road in terms of putting together a solid performance consistently on a nightly basis, this could be a good game for the Thunder to gather momentum before their one game road trip to New Orleans. The game starts at 8:00 (EST).
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
- Late Game Execution - Oklahoma City have been significantly better at executing down the stretch of close games since the start of the New Year. This was a serious issue in the first ten games of the season where the Thunder struggled to get over the line against teams. Against Boston, this issue reared its head again and cost the Thunder a good win. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turned the ball over as the Thunder chased a quick bucket. The turnover came out of Marcus Smart’s exceptional court awareness and careful hands. The game was over at that point. I cannot blame Shai for this mistake, at these late moments in the game, the coach has to bear responsibility for decisions regarding the offence. The coach has a lot of responsibility in this situations because his decision could feasibly decide who wins the game. Coach Donovan likes to let his guys flow naturally and play against a scrambled defence which does work against bad teams who lack cohesion. If the Thunder chose to play without stoppages against a team like Phoenix, I would be pretty happy because there is a solid chance that the Thunder will get a score. Against a good team like Boston who scraps hard on defence and is well-organised, it makes a lot more sense to burn a time out and draw up a play.
- Terrance Ferguson - Terrance Ferguson has had a tricky time this season. He has struggled to adjust to a new offensive system, with a changing role within the Thunder rotation and intermittent periods away from the team. The key issue for Ferguson this season has been his passivity on offence, there have been times where it seems like Terrance is apprehensive of receiving and shooting the ball. It has meant that the Thunder have needed to work 4v5 at times on the offensive end, a situation which is not desirable. If OKC won against Boston, Ferguson’s passivity would have been ignored but the Thunder lost, Ferguson’s decision in the closing moments of the game needs to be looked at. The team had forced a turnover out of Boston and Chris Paul had whipped a cross-court pass into the hands of a wide open Terrance Ferguson. Ferguson passed up the look and dished to Dennis instead, a decision which allowed the Boston defence to recover. That small moment was costly for the Thunder and a timely reminder that Ferguson needs to take open jumpers. He cannot pass these looks, he needs to shoot to break his slump and finds some confidence.
- Coverage - San Antonio are known to be the mid-range masters of the league. The Spurs run a lot of offence which is designed to generate good looks in this location of the floor, a form of offensive scheming which is totally different to the rest of the league. This is a deliberate decision by Coach Pop given the talent which he has on the roster, both Aldridge and DeRozan are very comfortable in this area of the floor. This season, OKC have run a defensive coverage which funnels players towards the mid-range area which would be suicide against the Spurs. The Thunder have to make it difficult for San Antonio to get easy looks. It could be a wise idea for Billy to run a hedge coverage where Adams comes out into the mid-range area before darting back towards the rim. The scheming should cause a distraction for a moment and provide enough time for the guard to recover from going around the screen.
- Rodeo Trip - The Rodeo Road Trip has been a staple of the Spurs’ season since the team moved into the AT&T Centre. It is an extended road trip where the Spurs do not play at their home arena for weeks. In the past, the Rodeo Road Trip has been an important part of the Spurs’ schedule in terms of establishing strong bonds between players and locking in for the final thirty games of the season. In recent years, the Rodeo Trip has been much harder as San Antonio grapples with defensive inconsistency. The Spurs have really struggled with defence away from home which has made this current road trip particularly ugly, San Antonio are currently 0-4. Coach Pop will find the adjustment that fixes the Spurs but it is a matter of time, he needs to work quickly so that the Spurs can start to right the ship.
- Patty Mills - Patty Mills came to San Antonio in 2011 as a reserve player who had to earn every shred of credit and playing time in the rotation. He is now the sole custodian of the Spurs Way, that unbroken lineage of accountability, dedication and personal growth from Robinson to Duncan to Mills. Patty does not carry the same level of the status as the legends before him but he has been an invaluable leader for the Spurs in a time where their way has been most directly threatened.
Darius Bazley will be out for four to six weeks with a bone bruise. Bazley sustained the injury against the Boston Celtics and will not be returning for an extended period of time. Darius has been a key part of the Thunder rotation as an energy and hustle guy off the bench who can plug in at the forward spots. I would expect to see Mike Muscala get more minutes at the Power Forward position.