San Antonio Spurs 117, Oklahoma City Thunder 104
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?Â 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!),Â but not from Tim Duncan.Â 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.Â 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.