OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder have played 10 games this season, but have yet to win at home.
On the road, the Thunder have been nearly perfect, boasting a 5-1 record. It’s the Thunder team that plays at home that has held them back, moving to 0-4 so far this season at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
That’s not a good sign for the team, who started a four-game home stand with a loss Tuesday night, as an early lead quickly disappeared in a 112-102 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Oklahoma City.
The Spurs’ victory capped a five-game road trip with a 4-1 record, including wins over the Lakers and the Clippers.
It looked like the Thunder might get their first home victory midway through the first quarter, as a layup from Darius Bazley gave OKC a 20-13 lead with 3:19 remaining in the first quarter. However, the Thunder soon lost their lead and would never get it back.
The Spurs bench, led by veteran Patty Mills, helped even the score at 26-26 by the end of the quarter and gave the Spurs an eight-point advantage by halftime.
The Spurs forced the Thunder to mostly play in half-court offense, limiting the Thunder’s opportunities in transition. The Thunder turned the ball over 13 times compared to the Spurs’ four.
“When you play a team like that, you’ve got to be firing on all cylinders,” Thunder guard George Hill said after the game. “When you’re playing a system team like that, you’ve really got to communicate on the defensive end, and I think at times we didn’t do that tonight.”
The Thunder looked poised to make a run and take the lead through most of the second half, and a free throw from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander cut the Spurs lead to 64-62 midway through the third quarter. But in a repeat of the first quarter, the Spurs bench went on a run to end the frame with a seven-point lead.
The Thunder had a chance to cut the lead to three with 32 seconds left, but an open 3-pointer from Bazley went in and out. The Spurs grabbed the rebound, forcing the Thunder to foul, and effectively ended the game.
“We’re going to scratch, fight and claw for 48 minutes and give us a chance to win,” Hill said. “Coach has emphasized us battling until the final whistle, and sometimes you’ve just got to fight and let the chips fall where they may.”
Gilgeous-Alexander kept the team in the game with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor. But the other Thunder starters struggled offensively, combining to shoot 16 of 42 from the floor. Bazley, Hill and Dort each finished with 12 points.
Gilgeous Alexander did not attempt a 3-pointer, instead opting to attack the rim and force the Spurs to foul. He shot nine free throws, making six.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault noticed Gilgeous-Alexander’s effort to be more aggressive in the paint.
“A player of his caliber usually [shoots more], so I’m not going to overreact one night,” Daigneault said. “But I think you’ve got to look at his free throws. I’m not even sure how many he shot. But I think the most important thing for him is making the right play. I think if you zoom out of these first 10 games, he’s been really good at making the right play and balancing looking for his own shot and getting his teammates involved.”
Through the team’s first 10 games, OKC is 5-5 and currently the ninth seed in the Western Conference standings. While the team has yet to win at home, Daigneault’s happy with where his team is at.
“If you look at the 10 games we’ve played, I think we’ve established consistency with our five-man lineups,” Daigneault said. “I think we’ve done a good job of establishing good habits, playing for each other and competing on both ends of the floor.”
Next, the Thunder are in action today for a matchup with the Lakers at 7 p.m.