The Thunder And Spurs Preview What The Second Half Has In Store For The Western Conference

If you missed Thursday night’s Thunder-Spurs game, you missed a doozy. It went to double overtime, and the teams combined for 301 total points, which made this the first 300-point NBA game since 2006. The superstar players were mostly fantastic, but there was enough time and room in the game for guys like Derrick White and Jerami Grant to shine. The Spurs eventually came out on top, 154–147, in a game that was fought tooth and nail all the way to the finish.

Lots of very cool things happened. Too many! LaMarcus Aldridge had his first ever 50-point game, going for 56 points on 33 shots, plus a perfect 16 of 16 from the stripe. White, who you would be forgiven if you’d never heard of before this season, played 48 minutes and put up 23 points and eight assists as a by-God go-to player down the stretch. Russell Westbrook had an insane triple-double, even for him: 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 24 assists, against just three turnovers. 24 assists is the most assists in a triple-double since 2010 (Rajon Rondo), and the most assists in a 20-point triple-double since 1985 (Isiah Thomas), and those are the only three 24-assist triple-doubles recorded since the NBA started tracking assists.

And in a game that produced a lot of startling statistics, perhaps the most ridiculous numbers of all were San Antonio’s shooting splits. The Spurs shot an impressive 56.6 percent from the floor, and an admirable 89.7 percent from the free throw line, and a totally fucking unreasonable 84.2 percent from beyond the arc. They knocked down their first 14 three-point attempts on the night, and finished the game a genuinely stupid 16-of-19 from deep. Here’s 14 consecutive threes, spread out over most of three quarters:

The Spurs, even in their pointedly retro phase, still do a lot of slick cutting and passing and screening, which is how they turn cramped and relatively unimpressive lineups into the NBA’s fifth best offense by points per possession. But against OKC’s hounding, league-best defense, San Antonio opted to go over and over again to Aldridge on the block, where he repeatedly made mincemeat out of Steven Adams, one of the best defensive centers in basketball:

Down the stretch it struck me that the Thunder—who were at one point in the second half down 16 points—couldn’t get over the hump against the Spurs despite Westbrook having one of his better offensive games of the season, and Terrance Ferguson knocking down seven three pointers, and Jerami Grant having a 25-point double-double. But before I had time to ponder that too much it occurred to me that the Spurs were having trouble pulling away from the Thunder despite getting a career night from Aldridge and shooting 84 fucking percent from beyond the arc. Several things that will never, ever happen again happened Thursday night, and it was only that they happened in the same game that kept this from being a blowout one way or the other.

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The Spurs are now a season-high seven games over .500, and are in sixth place in the Western Conference, having won seven of their last ten. The Thunder are still in third in the West, but are just 2.5 games ahead of eighth place. The NBA season has quietly slid past its midway point, and all these conference games are going to start feeling more intense as the second half moves along. This one had playoff intensity and a playoff atmosphere, which is appropriate in a conference where the third seed and the 14th seed are separated by just six games. I can only imagine what another three months of raised stakes will mean for the level of desperation in that playoff race.

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