SAN ANTONIO —
The San Antonio Spurs came in to Oklahoma City without six of their best guys, and with 10.7 seconds left they had the ball and a chance to untie a 99-99 score with the shot clock off.
Patty Mills, who had scored seven-straight points to get the Spurs back in it, double dribbled with 3.9 to play. The Thunder capitalized on that mistake and overly-aggressive defense afterward, with Luguentz Dort hitting a wide open corner three for the win at the buzzer.
After the game, coach Gregg Popovich said he was proud of the fight his team showed despite playing for the first time after a long quarantine with new lineups full of guys who haven't played much this year.
"I was real proud of them, those combinations on the court were such that they'd never seen them before," Popovich said. "I know they got tired down the stretch, that's the first game in what, I don't even remember, nine or ten days? The mistakes just added up, we made too many mistakes and they added up as the game went along, but they scored 102 points, and that's good enough to win an NBA game, we just didn't score."
When asked about the mitigating factors after the game, Dejounte Murray wasn't interested. He had a team high 27 points.
"I don't make excuses, we fought hard, we lost the game by two points, three points at the buzzer, ain't no excuses," Murray said. "Everybody gets paid to do a job, and that's to be a professional and be ready to go."
He said he was proud of the way they played given the circumstances.
LaMarcus Aldridge came off the bench for the first time since his rookie year in 2007, and based on some of the post-game comments, this may be more than just easing him back in after recovering from a hip injury. When asked if the bench role would be permanent, Pop didn't directly answer.
"Tonight he had to test it all out, see how he felt, get his minutes, and we move forward," he said.
Aldridge spoke to the media after the game, and he seems to be focused on moving forward and improving in his strange new role off the bench.
"It was fine, very different. Still trying to figure it out, how to be ready to go, it's definitely a different task coming off the bench and not having the first few minutes to get loose and find a rhythm," Aldridge said. "I'm still figuring it out, it wasn't perfect tonight, and I don't think it's gonna be perfect for a while. It's gonna take some time for me to figure it out."
That last sentence reveals a lot about his mindset here. He isn't talking about it like a rehab step to starting again, he's talking about it like it's his new role at work that's different for him, but he's trying to get used to it. Like his coach, Aldridge didn't directly answer if he thinks this is permanent.
"I did it tonight, and it went decent," he said. "I'll keep working on it and trying to be better."
Murray said that Aldridge has handled the whole thing professionally.
"I tip my hat to him, because I don't know the feeling of being an All Star and having the career he's had and having to come off the bench," Murray said. "He's done everything he's supposed to do as far as keeping a great attitude, smiling, and helping us young guys."
Again, that doesn't sound like it's a one time thing. One of those young guys is Jakob Poeltl, who started ahead of a healthy Aldridge for the first time. The 7'1" Austrian anchors the defense in a way the aging Aldridge can't though he provides none of the shooting. At this point, it seems like a tradeoff the Spurs are willing to make.
Poeltl's all-around impact makes a difference, and Aldridge can still provide scoring pop in the second unit with less pressure on the defensive end.
If tonight was the first night of Poeltl's run as the starter, there were certainly a few moments he'd like to have back. Normally a patient defender, he gambled for a steal on the final play and it wound up costing the game.
It was a painful learning experience, and that's about all you can expect from a game where the squad just spent a week locked in a hotel room and the next men up gave it their best.
Dejounte Murray continued his scoring expedition, running pick and roll and forcing a big man to foul him. Keita Bates-Diop forced a steal, then got a tip-in to put the Spurs back in front. Drew Eubanks finished with his left hand off an assist from Murray, and the Thunder called time down 79-76 after the 6-0 run to start the quarter.
The timeout didn't help, as the Spurs forced a turnover inside and Patty Mills finished the runout with a triple. KBD got another steal and finished the break with gusto on a jam, pushing it to 84-76. The Thunder answered with a couple of triples, and Pop called timeout with San Antonio's lead cut to two.
OKC took the lead back behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who got away with an obvious hook on Jakob Poeltl. On the other end Poeltl had a sure dunk that he tried to lay up, got pushed and missed the shot with no call. The next trip he had to check SGA who got to the rim and scored his 41st and 42nd points.
Lu Dort hit a triple and pushed the Thunder lead to 97-90, but Patty Mills answered with a three, then attacked a closeout and got to the rim for a quick 5-0 run.
Al Horford scored, but Mills took it to him on the next possession for a tough layup. After another stop, Lonnie Walker IV caught at the arc, faked, drove, and finished a finger roll to tie it at 99. SGA missed a three and the Spurs called time to draw up a winning play with 10.7 seconds left.
It went to Patty Mills, but he double dribbled and gave the Thunder a chance to win with 3.9 to play.
The ball was passed to Al Horford, and Poeltl unwisely reached to attempt a steal. He missed and wound up chasing Horford, who had a good lane to the basket. Patty helped off Lu Dort in the corner, Horford made the correct pass, and Dort hit his third three of the final quarter.
Dejounte Murray got even better shots to start the second half. first he ran pick and roll and got a wide open layup out of it. On the next trip, he passed to Jakob Poeltl and it looked like he'd take a dribble handoff. Instead he went the other way, hitting a back screen from Trey Lyles and getting lobbed to for a layup.
Poeltl got a putback, and keyed the fantastic interior defense for San Antonio. Dejounte floated in a layup to give the Spurs their biggest lead of the game at 11 but the Thunder roared back with nine-straight points, including a soft four-point play for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Murray settled things down, ran pick and roll again, got a switch, and beat the bigger defender to the rim.
Trey Lyles got to the line for free throws, then made a really difficult spin-move layup. He stepped out of bounds while attacking a closeout, but drilled a three on the next trip.
SGA continued going off, and he scored 34 of the first 67 points for the Thunder, a new career high.
Jakob Poeltl continued to clean the glass and get good looks inside, and LaMarcus Aldridge provided scoring punch off the bench, dunking over two defenders and getting to the line with his crafty feet and fakes in the post.
SGA closed the fourth with four straight points to give OKC a 76-73 lead.
Keita Bates-Diop started the quarter by getting to the line for free throws, then Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge played a nice two-man game to get Patty an open corner three that he drilled. Next time, Patty passed it back to Aldridge at the top of the key for his second triple of the game.
Bates-Diop found himself open for three the next time down and drilled it. Sound team defense led to a steal by Dejounte Murray, who took it coast to coast and euro-stepped for a tough layup in transition.
He got to the line after another stop, and then Luka Samanic pushed his way to the rim with a euro of his own for a layup to make it an 18-2 run that gave the Spurs a 37-30 lead.
OKC stopped the bleeding with a few layups of their own, and Pop called time to get everyone on the same page. Out of the break, Lonnie Walker IV drilled a pair of triples off of assists by Dejounte to push the lead back to 7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander answered with his freaky-fast transition game, but Walker pulled up for a mid-range shot. He missed his next two, but made a nice strip just before grabbing a steal.
The Spurs won the second quarter 24-12, and carried a 45-40 lead into halftime.
Dejounte Murray took control of the game from the jump, looking aggressive and accurate as he hit four of San Antonio's first five buckets, though he did pick up two fouls in the first five minutes.
The other basket came from Luka Šamanić, who took a dribble handoff from Jakob Poeltl and drove strong to the rim, creating space with his shoulder and finishing a layup in close.
His next touch didn't go so well as he lost control of the dribble. San Antonio's mismatched team had a few communication breakdowns that gave the Thunder open looks from deep.
LaMarcus Aldridge did indeed come off the bench, as did Tre Jones who scored a quick layup. San Antonio's offense sputtered without Murray, and the defensive communication didn't help as the Thunder built a 22-14 lead.
Patty Mills got an open jumper off a screen from Drew Eubanks, and Aldridge posted up a smaller defender and got to the line for two. On the other end, the smaller guy answered with a triple. A few possessions later, Aldridge got a three of his own in the pick and pop and then stuck with his guy on a drive for a block.
The Spurs trailed 28-22 after the first.
When, where: Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., Oklahoma City
All-time series record: Spurs lead 97-78
Last season: Teams split series, 2-2
Season series: Spurs lead, 1-0
Last meeting: Spurs won 112-102, January 12, 2021
Thunder's last game: Lost vs Heat, 108-94
Spurs' last game: Won versus Hornets, 122-110
Thunder's last 10 games/streak: 3-7, lost 1
Spurs' last 10 games/streak: 7-3, won 2
Thunder's injury/inactive report: George Hill: OUT (thumb); Trevor Ariza: OUT (personal).
Spurs' injury/inactive report: Devin Vassell: OUT (healthy and safety protocols); Quinndary Weatherspoon: OUT (health and safety protocols); Keldon Johnson: OUT (health and safety protocols); Rudy Gay: OUT (health and safety protocols); Derrick White: OUT (health and safety protocols); DeMar DeRozan: OUT (personal).
The Spurs come into this contest with 10 active players on the roster, and head coach Gregg Popovich surprised many when he announced his starting five. It looked for a moment like he would play his cards close to the vest as he teased the reporter who asked, but then he revealed his plan.
Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker will start as expected, and Trey Lyles will get an opportunity after he started most of last year. LaMarcus Aldridge is back and will play with no minutes restriction, but Jakob Poeltl will start ahead of him.
The big news is second-year project player Luka Šamanić will make the first meaningful start of his NBA career. He was just called up from the G League where he averaged 22 points and 11 boards and keyed number of comeback wins for the Austin team in the bubble.
On Monday, the San Antonio Spurs held their first practice in a week and announced their injury report following four positive coronavirus tests that postponed three games.
Rudy Gay, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Derrick White, and Quinndary Weatherspoon are all unavailable for the foreseeable future due to the league's COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Additionally, DeMar DeRozan is not with the team after the passing of his father.
So who remains on the active roster? Luka Šamanić and Tre Jones were called up from the G league bubble where they were playing quite well. LaMarcus Aldridge's participation in this week's action was questionable entering Monday's practice, but as of Wednesday Aldridge is no longer on the team's injury report, clearing the way for the former All-Star to play against the Thunder.
Here's the full list of players who should be available for Wednesday's game: