As the Oklahoma City Thunder players left the AT&T Center of San Antonio, Texas with their heads down, they didn’t just leave as losers.
They left as the clear-cut No. 2.
The San Antonio Spurs and Thunder aren’t strangers to each other. In the 2011-2012 season, the Spurs and Thunder battled for the top spot in the Western Conference with the Spurs ultimately taking it. The Thunder were looking to change that this year and were considered the best team in the conference, despite the Spurs having a slightly better record. Now that the two have played each other, it has become obvious that the Spurs are the better team at this moment.
Monday’s 105-93 loss was actually much worse than that, though. San Antonio was playing without Tony Parker, whose stellar play had put his name in the MVP conversation. His 21 points, 7.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game had to be picked up by the rest of the Spurs. Tiago Splitter, who averages 10.6 points per game, racked up 21 points for the Spurs. Danny Green scored 17 points, which was about seven above his average. The Spurs were out-rebounded 43-35 but out-assisted Oklahoma City 25-16 and also crushed them in points off the bench 34-16.
The game also highlights one of the Thunder’s flaws, which is one that was assumed to be solved. Russell Westbrook is shooting the ball too much. Westbrook took more than twice the shots Kevin Durant took (27-13) and made only four more baskets. He also was outscored by Durant 26-25, despite how many more shots he took. Westbrook is also on pace to be the second player to ever lead his team in field goals attempted when his teammate is the scoring champion. Westbrook is taking 18.8 attempts per game and Durant is taking 17.9. The only other time that happened was in the 1954-1955 season when Paul Arizin shot more than Neil Johnston for the Philadelphia Warriors.
The key point to take from the loss to the Spurs is that what the Thunder is doing isn’t working. The Thunder are 1-4 against the two top teams in the league (0-2 vs. Miami, 1-2 vs. San Antonio). They have to get Durant shooting the ball more than Westbrook. They also need more production from the bench. Durant and Westbrook have to rest for periods in the game and they can’t let opponents catch up. The same can be said about the defense of the bench players when Ibaka and Perkins sit on the wood. Not having Harden on the bench is killing the Thunder and they will need a better effort if they want to get back to the NBA Finals.
-Marty F. Nemec