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Bench Regulation: Thunder get much-needed help from Schroder, role players

OKLAHOMA CITY — Dennis Schroder was mad at himself.

After a scoreless first half against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, and looking out of sorts, showing signs of frustration, he was trying to find some personal spark, something to ignite him. He’s an emotional, temperamental player and it wasn’t just the first half against the Spurs. It was the last few games, where he wasn’t shooting well, not finishing at the rim and, in his mind, not helping his team.

“I let my team down the last couple games,” Schroder said. “I need to learn how to be angry every time.”

Schroder scored 19 points in the Thunder’s 122-112 win over the Spurs — all in the second half — and did it in the kind of flurry that takes over a game and swings it dramatically in one direction.

His first bucket came with 2:47 left in the third, a patented stutter-step floater in the paint over a leaping Spurs big. A minute later, he pulled confidently from the wing, splashing from 3. A minute after that, he knifed to the rim, took some contact and finished a tough layup. He slapped the floor in frustration, said something to the official, and got dinged with a technical. Just collateral damage to keep the motor running hot. He capped the quarter with a driving layup at the buzzer, helping tilt a nine-point halftime deficit to a six-point lead heading to the fourth.

“I think a lot of times players can lose confidence,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He doesn’t. At all. He almost gets irritated, he gets upset, he gets mad… in a good way.”

It was critical for the Thunder, on the heels of Thursday’s double-overtime classic against the Spurs that featured more than 300 combined points, to get ancillary production. Paul George and Russell Westbrook weren’t entirely on, and the threat of the Spurs catching fire loomed. The first half was choppy, and with a fourth straight loss looking more and more likely, there was a desperate need of a jolt.

Schroder has been a revelation this season coming off the bench, restoring some order to a tried-and-true Thunder method of having a dynamic second unit scorer and creator to complement Westbrook. But the last few games had been rough, with him hitting just 11-of-32 in their three-game losing streak, and 19-of-73 (26 percent) in their last six games. His 3-point percentage has been slipping, his shot selection growing more questionable and not coincidentally, scoring down. He felt like he was letting the team down.

“He wasn’t letting nobody down,” Westbrook said. “He’d missed shots, that’s normal, that’s a part of the game. Tonight he played well aggressive, made some shots and was big for us.”

Schroder often plays the part of complementing the main course, but possesses the ability to feature. He sets the table for the entire second unit, which as a collective, produced. Abdel Nader scored 15 on 6-of-6 shooting and Patrick Patterson added 13, hitting 3-of-3 from 3.

“He did not have a great first half,” Donovan said of Schroder. “He really came out in the second half and certainly played much closer to who he is as a player. I give him a lot of credit, because that’s a skill, a gift to be able to shift after halftime, and to your point, play as well as he did offensively. Even at the end of the third and to start the fourth when we had our second unit in there, he did a great job leading that group.”

Eventually, the things the Thunder do well — defend, rebound, defend — won out as the Spurs turned the ball over, didn’t make every 3-pointer they took, and couldn’t get LaMarcus Aldridge on track (17 points on 8-of-14 shooting after scoring 56 on Thursday).

“They didn’t let me play,” Aldridge said. “They doubled me in every way. They came from the baseline, from the top — they just made sure the ball wasn’t in my hands.”

As the Thunder pulled away in the fourth, Schroder jumped a pick-and-pop pass intended for Aldridge, pawing it away to start a break. He bolted down the court, drawing Spurs defenders and calmly dropped a gorgeous between-the-legs no-look pass to a trailing Westbrook for a layup. It was flash and substance, anger and joy, and more than anything, the punctuation on a needed bounce-back for the Thunder.

Schroder has an opportunity to build on his strong performance in Oklahoma City’s next game, which isn’t until Tuesday on the road against the Atlanta Hawks – the city where Schroder spent the first five seasons of his NBA career.

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