San Antonio Spurs 117, Oklahoma City Thunder 104

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With a little over a minute left in the first quarter, the San Antonio Spurs trailed the Oklahoma City Thunder by 12. And then they started to adjust, and simply make baskets. The Spurs kept the game close until halftime, and then blew the contest open behind Matt Bonner’s hot hand (7-7 3pt, 21 points) and terrific second half team defense. Between the end of the first quarter and the final buzzer, San Antonio slowly, methodically wore the Thunder down with crisp offensive and defensive execution, coming away with a convincing 117-104 victory. A few brief thoughts:

  • This was the Spurs’ first victory of the season against a quality opponent. Their 8-1 record is difficult to gauge given the Spurs’ favorable schedule. Still, this was an impressive win.
  • DeJuan Blair and George Hill have played poorly to begin the season, but both players are looking more comfortable in their role as starter and sixth man, respectively. Blair finished with 9 points and 11 rebounds in 16 minutes of play. Hill’s stat line is deceptive. He shot a woeful 1-10, finishing with 6 points and 5 assists. But his game leading plus-19 and 32 minutes of play were earned because of solid defense. The Spurs’ second half defense was anchored by Hill, who was the best defender on the court for most of the game.
  • The Spurs have scored 340 points in their last three contests. That’s a little different, right?  But here’s where it gets weird: in those three games, Tim Duncan has only scored 19 points. Yeah, that’s right. 19. It’s true that the Spurs have had the luxury of resting Duncan due to large second half leads, but it’s also true that the Spurs did not power ahead of their opponents behind Tim Duncan’s offense. In fact, Duncan is 7-23 in the aforementioned games. The Spurs are getting offense from most of their roster (hooray!),  but not from Tim Duncan.  Let me play the optimist and say this is a great development. You can debate it amongst yourselves.
  • The Spurs’ offense began the season in high gear, and it continues to motor along. Their team defense, on the other hand, started slowly but is noticeably on the rise.  Whatever Gregg Popovich is saying at halftime is working. San Antonio has outscored their previous two opponents by 30 points in the third quarter. The Spurs threw a blanket over their opponents in those games. And it wasn’t just the rah-rah, go-team group approach–several Spurs have played impressive individual defense. Namely, Tony Parker, George Hill, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, and Tiago Splitter. And the entire roster is putting forth good defensive effort. Gary Neal, for example, is never going to wear the defensive stopper label. But he’s tough, and his contribution helps the whole. Here’s an early season prediction: we’ll spend quite a bit of time prior to the All-Star break mulling over San Antonio’s sudden offensive prowess, but by April most of our oohing and awing will be reserved for San Antonio’s defense. One can already sense a juggernaut taking shape.
  • Gregg Popovich probably won’t win coach of the year, but he has my vote. I’m not sure what Popovich and the other Spurs coaches did with Richard Jefferson this summer, but someone should place big piles of praise outside their office doors. The time Popovich put in with Jefferson is more important than any single X or O scribbled so far this season. Richard Jefferson only had 18 point on 5-11 shooting against the Thunder, but he got to the line 7 times, and his defense on Kevin Durant was noteworthy. In short, he looks like a different player, and his play is probably the most crucial component of San Antonio’s 8-1 record. This, I think, is the mark of great coaching. That is, getting the best from one’s players. And, in this case, the coach transformed the player at a time better suited for vacationing.
  • Finally, isn’t it great to have Matt Bonner back? He breaks off plus-10 before most people wake up in the morning. Matt Bonner makes the Spurs a dangerous team. Don’t kill the messenger.
  • Tyler

    @td4life

    I agree. It’s early. I always try to keep the perspective of “nothing is ever as good or bad as it seems.” So while we are winning games, we’ve got a long way to go. Inevitably, we’re going to go through some rocky stretches. We’ll drop some games we probably shouldn’t, Matt Bonner and Pop will get their share of hate mail, TP trades will pop up here and there, etc. We just need to keep pounding on that rock as a team.

    I’d look for Manu and TD’s minutes to decline further – Manu is averaging 32.8 per game right now, which would be a career high (!) if he kept it up for an entire season. Probably not a career high we’d want him to achieve at this point.

    Now having said that, the versatility and cohesion we’ve seen so far is what has me excited. And the best part? We’re not even firing on all cylinders. We’ve yet to fully incorporate all the new guys. As they learn the system and our team defense starts to get more consistent, we could be really good.

  • BlaseE

    RJ’s improvement speaks more to his work ethic and character than anything our coaching staff did this summer (not to make light of their efforts). We are seeing dividends of what RC and Pop invested in a year ago.

    Does anyone think we would have RJ on the roster if he played this consistently well to end last season? I think he would have gotten 10-12 million per year from NJ, LAC, or NY after LeBron spurned them.

  • DorieStreet

    Didn’t see the game (ESPN highlights were lame). Sounds as if we’re improving on defense. Bonner making 3′s on the road–keep it up! And it looks like everyone is taking their freethrow shooting seriously this season. I would like to see the team get the turn-overs-per-game average below 10. That and 80% FT will get us 5-6 more wins this season.

  • SpursSurge82

    Trying to be an optimist, one thing that I find encouraging from Tim’s current slump:

    In years past when Tim struggled from the field, he would often try and shoot wis way out, be it from the field or drawing fouls and getting pts from the line. He would exert a lot of energy in trying to get the shots to fall or draw contact, not to mentioned he had to play more minutes because it meant were were probably down. It would take away from Tim’s game on the defensive side as well.

    This year it’s different, if his shots arent falling, he can confidently defer to whoever has the hot hand,
    and concentrate on playing defense without wearing himself out. Timmy’s only averaging 7 pts a game the past three simply because he doesent HAVE TO do more to help us win. It is encouraging to know we are approximating a very good offensive balance.

  • ThatBigGuy

    @ Tyler

    That alley over Neal was just humiliatingly awesome. We use to yell “Pantene” when a guy got dunked on like that, you know, since Neal’s going to need it to get Ibaka’s ball sweat out of his hair.

  • junierizzle

    THE RED MOTHAFING ROCKET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • manufan

    Hornets are willing to move Marcus Thornton and he is a cheap 23 year old scoring machine. Quin and future secoon round pick?

  • grego

    In order for Manu and TP’s minutes to drop slightly, Hill is going to have to pick up his point guard skills and also his scoring more consistently. Otherwise, one of them will always be the other guard with Hill for the majority of the game.

  • David Salazar

    Red Rocket, how about the Ginger Avenger!!!!!!! Greay game Bonner, GO SPURS GO!!!

  • DieHardSpur

    I have had it with all the critics.

    “Look at who we have beat and how we beat them…”

    Seriously – take a hike.

    We won 50 games last season and played like crap for the first half of the season. I am really interested in seeing what we can do when we win the tight ones that we couldnt do last year.

    At the end of the day – this is still the NBA. The most competitive basketball in the world. Any team can win on any given night. I think our record of 8-1 is incredible, considering we already had a half dozen losses by this time last year. Get with it folks, we are winning and you dont like it…

    “A win is a win.”

    Spurs fans are soooo spoiled. Will you ever be satisfied?

  • Bankshot21

    I do NOT want to see TP’s minutes drop. That man is 28 not 35. Injuries decreased his production last season but before that he was steadily improving. He seems to be back on track with that. Manu is also good for 32 minutes a game. I truly hate the way minutes are monitored. I remembered the teams of the 90′s minutes weren’t monitored as much no matter what the age of the player. If they’re still playing @ an elite level play them. There aren’t any 38 year olds on our team. I know many of the players have many miles on their legs but micromanaging is not going to help the team. Just my opinion. If you can’t play 8 minutes per quarter why are you on the team?

  • AKsBIGGEST SPURS FAN

    Im glad to see we have momentum going this early in the season, Im glad they spurs are playing with a sense of urgency. This is most definetly going to be a very different season than in previous seasons. It is so good to see Tim not having to carry most of the work load during the regular season, I feel like most teams already knew that if they shut TD down they shut down our offense, I am happy to see that now we have more options on offense, we keep opposing teams on their toes !

  • Jim Henderson

    Bankshot21
    November 15th, 2010 at 7:42 am

    “Jim….your boy is looking GREAT out there. His style of play will garner him fouls but I’d rather that than him shooting 15 footers. Red Rocket was even more impressive than your boy Blair. So it goes to show your assessment can be hit or miss.”

    What do you mean? Bonner had a very hot shooting game. It says nothing different about his relative value game in and game out over an extended period of time. Bonner has always helped us win “some” games here and there as a result of his hot shooting, especially during the “regular” season. But in case you didn’t know, Bonner doesn’t shoot 100% from the three for his career, or even over a three-game stretch he probably never has. “My assessment” had nothing to do with isolated “game-by-game” performances. It had to do with average overall production game-in and game-out over a long period of time. That assessment has not been “hit or miss”.

    By the way, Blair has had 23 rebounds in slightly less than his last 40 minutes of game time. Very few players in the league have done that recently, Kevin Love being the most prominent one.

    Bankshot21
    November 15th, 2010 at 8:24 am

    “Suprisingly no one has yet to mention the game changing spark that Blair provided in the opening minutes of the third quarter before picking up his fourth foul. He was gobbling up boards, getting steals, and And 1′s.”

    Yes, I was going to mention that. Kudos to you for giving it some attention. That was a big spark coming out of the half-time deficit.

    ThatBigGuy
    November 15th, 2010 at 9:20 am

    “Blair, Ginobili, and Hill combined to shoot 9-35 (26%), although they shot a collective 16-17 from the free throw line.”

    Manu, Hill, and TD shot a combined 7 for 31 (23%), a collective 17 for 20 from the line.

    “I’m still not ecstatic with Blair’s shot selection (by my count he got blocked 3 times), but he’s rebounding much better, and had 7 offensive boards in 16 foul trouble shortened minutes. That’s his game, no need to take Ibaka 1-on-1 all the time.”

    Get used to it. He’s experiencing a fairly large learning curve during his transition to PF. His offensive game as a PF is not going to be transformed overnight. Far from it. It’s a multi-year process, just as it was for Paul Millsap.

    “….but he’s rebounding much better, and had 7 offensive boards in 16 foul trouble shortened minutes.”

    That’s an understatement. He had 11 total rebounds in 16 minutes, which is 33 rpg. 48! He’s one of the best rebounder’s per minute in the entire league. Because he’s had some struggles in the early going this year is essentially meaningless.

    “Someone stated on here that they were encouraged my the way Splitter continued to be aggressive even though he had 2 fouls early. I agree. He needs to stay aggressive until Pop pulls him, not matter how many fouls he has.”

    I don’t know how someone can rationalize that someone committing 3 fouls in two minutes is good. It’s just one game, so it’s obviously nothing to panic about. But it’s not good. He’s going to need to figure out how to reduce his fouling.

  • rob

    Jim Henderson

    “I don’t know how someone can rationalize that someone committing 3 fouls in two minutes is good. It’s just one game, so it’s obviously nothing to panic about. But it’s not good. He’s going to need to figure out how to reduce his fouling.”

    2 of those fouls were questionable at best. He only got them because of his tenacity. That’s what was good about them. It showed he wasn’t passive and hanging back.

    He’ll get more like that too until the league and him get better acclimated to each other. In the game against Philadelphia…Tiago took a charge just like the one against Durant. Difference was in the Philadelphia game it was a charge and against Durant it was a blocking foul.

    Blair averages 5.3 fouls per 36. Something he needs to improve upon as well. And probably will. Just like Tiago probably will improve.

    3 (stupid) fouls in 2 minutes is not good. 3 (2 being questionable) fouls in 2 minutes playing tenacious D is a good thing to see.

  • td4life

    grego,

    Obviosuly:
    the more minutes that Hill earns, the fewer that TP and Manu will have to play… with Hill on the floor you can rest one of them, without Hill, you can’t really rest either. Simple math, 6 more minutes from the bench (and Hill is the main option as the sixth man), could potentially get Manu’s average down to around 28-29, and Tony’s down to 32 or so. Which over the course of the season, helps protect against injury. Hill can rest more when Neal is on the floor, but the more court time Hill gets, the more capable he will be of taking over with Manu and Tony resting, and run the second unit. If we play well enough against weaker competition, then we can rest our starting guards much more often than we saw in 6 of the first 9 games, and get our bench valuable court experience. But Hill also gets the nod when we need defense, so I think it’s reasonable to expect him to eat into our stars’ mpg.

  • td4life

    In the last post I was referring to the ideal. With James recuperating, Hill will be resting RJ, so that plan skews things, but I like getting Neal in there as well (and he can stretch the floor subbing for Jefferson).

  • Espoon

    @Jason

    I am happy Bonner had a good game too. However, I am one who believes he should be traded unless the Spurs use him in the right way. First off he is a below average defender. The Spurs need to hide him defensively (that is put him on somebody who won’t exploit his weaknessess) or double team his man. I have no problem with him gaurding Ibaka, C. Frye, M. Camby, T. Chandler, N. Collison, or even SF’s that don’t score. However, he should not be gaurding Dirk, Pau, Bynum, Odom, Scola, D. West, Amare, D. Howard, Boozer, or anybody that can take advantage of him. He is what he is a 5th big and 4th at best. If Pop begins to understand that then I have no problem with him on the team.

  • rob

    If I may chime in on Hill. Hill has proven to be a good defender; A good scoring guard; But he’s not a facilitator like a true PG would be.

    Now if the Spurs can continue to mask that flaw…that’s a good thing. And they can. And they have.

    But several times in the game against Oklahoma (or many games for that matter)…Hill missed on several opportunites to give it to the best option on the court to score. And even ill advisibly forced some shots on his own when a better option were to be made to dish to a better option on the court.

    I know it’s still a learning curve. But he’s had 3 seasons to become better at this. Hopefully he will grasp the nuances of playing PG better when it comes to finding, knowing and distributing the ball.

    And I think he can. It’s just probably hard to not do what comes natural than to consciously do what doesn’t.

  • ThatBigGuy

    @ Jim

    “I don’t know how someone can rationalize that someone committing 3 fouls in two minutes is good.”

    As rob pointed out, 2 of his fouls were questionable. I wasn’t really applauding the fact that he got 3 fouls in 2 minutes, I was applauding the fact that he didn’t let the number of fouls make him play timid. Some games he’ll get that charge call, sometimes he won’t. But if he’s playing timid, he doesn’t attempt to draw the charge, and Durant dunks. Instead, he made a great effort and sent Durant to the line to earn his points.

  • rj

    i just don’t see george hill as a consistent offensive spark off the bench. i think a comittee of hill neal anderson(healthy) and bonner will provide the offense while splitter dyess provide the interior d.

  • Ronald

    I’m surprised no one mentioned how much better Duncan’s defense is this year. Especially this game. Last year he could never get to help in time. This game his help defense was amazing, especially on Westbrook.

  • Jim Henderson

    The Beat Counselor
    November 15th, 2010 at 9:48 am

    “Is it me or does it seem like whenever Gary Neal is on the floor (whether he’s hot from outside or not) just seems like he’s EVERYWHERE? I really like this guy’s energy, a true spark plug off the bench.”

    Yes, one of the main reasons he gets some minutes even when he’s not shooting well is because he’s very “active” out there, and is not afraid to go in among the tree’s and rebound the ball. In fact, at 6’3″, his 7.1 rpg. per 36 minutes is even ahead of Matt Bonner, and only behind Blair, Duncan, McDyess, & Splitter.

    As far as the OKC game:

    We played one half of decent defense. We will not continue to beat top-tier teams with that kind of effort (66 points given up in first half). The consistency must pick up or we’re going to garner some losses over the next week or so. The offense is looking good, but we can’t afford to rely as much on 44% shooting from behind the arc to save our ass, and we’re still not getting out on our opponent’s 3-point shooters well-enough.

  • td4life

    I casually follow the guys I once hoped the Spurs would acquire, so I check in from time to time on Dorrell Wright, the shooter and defender who left Miami for the Warriors… he’s not bad, and hitting 47% of his threes… but the thing that I keep noticing, and waiting to change, is that Monta friggin’ Ellis is hitting over 51% of his FGs through 10 games. What? Monta Ellis? I know it’s early, but if he keeps that up, he’s got my vote for the first player in history to win the Most Improved Player award twice.

    Then again, I just hopped over and checked his career stats, the last time he won the award he averaged .531(!) for 20ppg through 81 games… I guess the stats tell me a different story than my limited viewing of him have… I always thought he was just another Allen Iverson wannabe, just as inefficient as the icon himself.

  • grego

    @td4life – with the current starting lineup, having Hill as the backup guard puts more pressure on minutes for both Parker and Manu. Obviously there’ll be some overlap and one guy will get rest. However, nearly every moment, Spurs need TP or Manu on the court.

    While Duncan is getting more rest this season, more than ever, Manu’s minutes are going up. I mean he’s playing great, but there are times, when he’s becoming fatigued, because he has to be all over.

    It’s tough to have a 2 guard lineup of Hill/Neal in without a ball distributor. Yes, when Anderson comes in, you have a better balance at the 3 position, but that doesn’t solve the ball distributor issue. Honestly, when Anderson is back, it’ll make it tougher for Anderson and Neal to get the time they deserve possibly.

    Also, Hill isn’t the greatest at creating for himself. As much as I like Manu starting, it hurts Hill in the process. Although with Hill’s inconsistent shot, that probably wouldn’t help much. With Manu of even TP off the bench, there’s a better overlap on the minutes.

    Hill’s at his best when he’s a 2 guard and be set up from Parker or Manu. Honestly, even if Hill’s not a PG, he needs to pick up more of the TP like scoring or he won’t grow any further.

    That said, I love Hill.

    @Jim
    Yes, one of the main reasons he gets some minutes even when he’s not shooting well is because he’s very “active” out there, and is not afraid to go in among the tree’s and rebound the ball. In fact, at 6’3″, his 7.1 rpg. per 36 minutes is even ahead of Matt Bonner, and only behind Blair, Duncan, McDyess, & Splitter.
    —–
    Well this is party because Anderson is out. His minutes would balance out in a few months. The big men position is probably the worst one to look at as far as minutes go. Bonner is just coming back from injury. Splitter in the same boat. Blair has his story. And TD and Dice are old.

    That said, Neal is a great option to have, albeit it short for the 3 position as a temporary stop gap (although Manu is playing the 3 to help cover this area at times when Neal’s in). I’m almost sure Neal will have a few game winners this season and at least one in the post season.

  • Tim in Surrey

    @td4life – With Ellis, I think you’re seeing two things: First, just how difficult the relationship between Ellis and Nellie really was and second, a strong response to adversity. It’s that latter one that’s interesting. I remember Elvis Costello saying once that getting booed off the stage early in his career was the best thing that ever happened to him. Monta turned pro straight out of high school and never really faced doubts, boos, failure, etc., until recently. But after the moped accident he was really demonized. Some people respond well when they reach that kind of a crossroads, some respond poorly. Looks like he’s responding well so far.

  • Tim in Surrey

    BTW, there were some interesting comments from RJ to the SA Express-News after the game. First, his response to all the praise for his defense of Durant was this:

    “Whenever you have a scorer like that, you typically have an assignment, and then your teammates have an assignment,” Jefferson said. “My job was to drive him off the line or front him, and then your teammates have a job. It starts with me doing what I’m supposed to do, but it’s team defense. No one can get credit for an individual performance like that.”

    I’m actually a lot more impressed by that than I am by how well he played! It wasn’t just your usual false humility, straight out of Bull Durham fodder for the press. He actually took the time to explain WHY he didn’t deserve to be single out. Nice.

    There was also this, when asked about how he feels about his improvement this season:

    “I love my job, regardless of what other guys say around me. You can’t let how you are playing dictate how your day goes,” Jefferson said. “But that being said, you want to play well and you want your team to play well.

    “We won 50 games and beat Dallas and got to the second round of the playoffs. Only in San Antonio is that really a failure. You embrace that pressure and that respect that comes with this organization. So I think that’s why everybody had such a great summer working out, because it wasn’t good enough.”

    Again, this really the epitomises the team concept. He was asked about HIS improvement and his response was about the TEAM’S improvement. It’s like a cross-pollination of John Wooden and Zen Buddhism. Very cool.

  • duaneofly

    As much of a Bonner-hater that I am, if he can consistently hit the 3, then he should play. However, I don’t think Pop should/will let Bonner slow the progress of Splitter. Bonner has bombed it in the playoffs the past couple years, so hoping that this year he’ll come out and nail those open threes is probably not the best how-to-win strategy we could have. Developing Splitter, however, could, and most likely will, pay big dividends at the end of the year.
    Plus, I think Bonner plays WAY better when he’s the 4th or 5th option on the floor. If other people are hitting shots, it eases up the D on Bonner, and he hits his shots. Unlike last year when everyone was clunking shots and Bonner was expected to drill threes, and didnt. So developing Splitter, and Blair, would help Bonner as well IMO.

    The great thing about Duncan is, he’s not playing many minutes, and the offense isn’t based on him anymore, and he’s fine with that. The guy really is a true professional, he’s more concerned with banner #5 than with MVP #3.
    That obviously separates him from a guy like Kobe.. but also guys like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. I know PP and KG want to win, but I think they want theirs too.

  • GEBO

    Muscular young bulls like Blair and Millsap seem to match up well with Oklamoha City’s front line (We all remember Blair’s 20/20 game against them last year). This bodes well for any possible playoff match up this Spring. I think there is a very good chance that Blair will also match up well with Miami’s frontcourt (Millsap really roughed them up recently). I’m happy and proud to be a Spurs fan. It’s good to root for guys I respect.

  • Jim Henderson

    grego
    November 16th, 2010 at 1:37 am

    “Well this is party because Anderson is out. His minutes would balance out in a few months. The big men position is probably the worst one to look at as far as minutes go. Bonner is just coming back from injury. Splitter in the same boat. Blair has his story. And TD and Dice are old.”

    Well, Anderson only averages 2 rpg. per 36 minutes. Whoever would be in with Neal at the SF instead of Anderson averages more, so that really doesn’t seem to make intuitive sense. It’s not like Neal is replacing Anderson at SF. Nobody ever plays SF in this league at 6’3″, 200 lbs. So if Neal wasn’t doing other things on the floor other than shooting, his minutes would stay about the same in Anderson’s absence, and additional “Anderson” minutes would go to RJ, Manu, & Hill. Also, even before Anderson went out after game six, Neal was averaging more rebounds per 36 minutes than any non-4/5 player on the team. There’s no question that Neal’s rebounding is a key factor that keeps him on the floor, even when having an off shooting night

  • Flavor

    They waived Alonzo Gee…

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