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February 23: Oklahoma City Thunder vs San Antonio Spurs - Preview & Game Thread

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The Thunder look to build on a strong performance against Denver

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder played a superb game against the Denver Nuggets where they controlled the game throughout the fourth quarter. This kind of control has been missing from a lot of Thunder performances this season and it was refreshing to see OKC play in this manner. The game against San Antonio will be an interesting test for the Thunder as the Spurs always play hard but it is a team that Oklahoma City should expect to beat. While San Antonio have been good this season, their team has struggled to generate production consistently on a nightly basis. A win here will start to bring the Thunder into the race for home-court due to Utah, Denver and LA dropping games yesterday. The game starts at 7:00 (EST)

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

  1. Cool, Calm and Controlled - The game against Denver was hard fought for the Thunder, the Nuggets were able to answer OKC’s offensive runs with their own and kept the game within three possessions or so. This was the kind of game which could have easily turned into a shoot-out where the winner is decided by sheer luck rather than the skill of the players. It was fairly easy for the Thunder to start chasing the game but the team refused to during the final twelve minutes of the game, Oklahoma City turned in a mature performance which shut the door on Denver. The Thunder played a brilliant team game and I thought that the mental resilience of the players was impressive. Denver had managed to cut the lead down to just one possession but Oklahoma City did not get nervous, they continued to run their offence and won the game. This attitude has to carry forward into tonight’s game, it is a positive trait that needs to be cemented into the team’s outlook going forward.
  2. Accountability - Over the last few days, there has been a lot of talk about accountability. The conversation has largely stemmed from a Dennis Schroder quote about team leadership and how this Thunder was different to last year. The leadership has come from both the coach and the player, Chris Paul is more than willing to talk to Billy about the team’s focus while Billy has become more comfortable in directing players. It did feel that Billy Donovan was unable to express himself fully to Russell Westbrook last season for whatever reason which hindered Oklahoma City. This season has been different, Donovan made team sacrifice a priority at the start of the season when he chose to implement the ‘Three Amigos’ Lineup. This specific lineup required all of the Thunder’s point guards to spend less time handling the ball as a lead guard and more of a possession working off the ball. Both Donovan and the guards bought into the idea which has now led to a lot of success for Oklahoma City.

3. Adams - Steven Adams had a big night against Denver as he dropped nineteen points, seventeen rebounds, four steals and two blocks. It was a consummate performance for the Kiwi as he stifled Denver’s inside scoring and was a consistent creator offensively. It was really good to see Steven play in this way as it is will be valuable for the Thunder going forward, Oklahoma City need strong production in the front-court so that the team is unpredictable in the play-offs. If Oklahoma City can have four or five players who are capable of carrying the load on offence for stretches at a time, defences cannot key in on one particular player.

Spurs’ Singles:

  1. Dejounte Murray - Murray started the season looking unsure of himself. The guard out of Washington did not display the same tenacity on offence than he did before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Murray’s hesitancy was a consequence of a long injury lay-off and also a different role on the Spurs. When Murray last played for San Antonio, he did not need to score heavily, LaMarcus Aldridge carried the load for the team. San Antonio need Murray to score the ball and run the offence this season, they do not have a steady hand like Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker who can deal with their responsibilities easily and ably. Dejounte has started to come around in recent weeks, his offensive production has improved as Murray grows into being a two-way nightmare. The defence has been stellar but the improvement as a outside shooter is truly special, Murray has corrected the one glaring flaw in his game by becoming a competent threat from deep. Murray will likely be a key part of the Spurs’ future and a good comparison for Murray would be Jrue Holiday. Murray can become a monster like Holiday if he adds more depth to his play-making.
  2. Race for Eight - San Antonio are still fighting for a play-off berth much to the surprise of many pundits. Many talking heads felt that the Spurs were done as a basketball team, it would be impossible for Coach Popovich to continue working miracles. The Spurs are still in the running and have a strong chance of continuing ‘The Streak’. The team sits only four games back from Memphis while having a significantly softer schedule than the Grizzlies. It is entirely possible that San Antonio is able to sneak into the play-offs as they have done for decades.

Random Side-Note:

Oklahoma City started the season poorly on the road but the team has rebounded into being a good road team. The Thunder are 16-10 in all road games, a respectable mark which is encouraging in regard to post-season success. OKC will likely start the playoffs on the road which makes it incredibly important for the Thunder to steal a game and gain home court advantage. It is reassuring to see that road form is not a concern for the Thunder as this can be a huge issue in the play-offs for teams.