Season 51, Game 06
San Antonio 94, Indiana 97

The Spurs have chosen to zig while the rest of the NBA zags, and play a slower, post-heavy game that relies on defense and taking the air out of the ball. The team has proven this is an effective way to win games, but it does come with a  tiny margin of error in most games.

The Spurs have the talent and the corporate knowledge to often push that margin in their favor. However, on a day when the shots aren’t falling (again) and the energy seems to be lacking, the margin reverses against them quite quickly.

So it was in Indiana on Sunday afternoon. The Spurs took most of the first 44 minutes of the game to get their act together, even building a 9-point lead at one point early in the fourth. But some sloppy play late allowed the Pacers to steal the game in the waning moments.

If a team is going to slow down the pace and focus on post play (i.e., two pointers), two things are critical on defense: limiting opposing 3-pointers and fast break points. The Spurs did neither on Sunday. The final box score will show that the Pacers took less 3s than the Spurs and only made one more; but watching the game, the Spurs had numerous defensive lapses that led to wide-open (and I mean WIDE OPEN) looks for the Pacers. And while they only finished with 15 fast break points, the Spurs were never able to fully grab control of the pace of the game.

All to say, the Pacers probably should have scored more than 97 points.

On offense, the Spurs didn’t look much better. Once again, Aldridge carried the load, scoring down low and generally playing tenacious–if antiquated–offense. The rest of the team was out of sync, unable to execute basic staples of the offense. Too often they settled for 20-foot jumpers off of no action early in the shot clock. Most of those shots were short, which might speak to a different issue.

The team ended with 28 3-point attempts, but they still do not look comfortable finding the shot in the offense. Players are passing up the shot when it’s an obvious time to take it, instead dribbling into the teeth of the defense. Or, they force the shot when it’s not a good attempt, perhaps trying to get some rhythm going. Very few of the team’s 3-point attempts seem to be taken comfortably and in the flow of the defense. When so much of the offense comes from inside the 3-point line, the importance of taking good 3s is magnified.

After a few games that got us prematurely excited, Murray continues to struggle on this road trip. He is still rebounding well (a skill that will carry him well most of his career), but seems to be regressing as a PG. He looks like he is thinking too much out there, rather than reacting or playing instinctively.

Mills also continues to really struggle. His shot is not fluid, and he seems a step slower to me.

Which puts Pop in a precarious position of who to play in crunch time. Can he go without a PG? Down the stretch of the game, I thought the team would have had a better chance with both Rudy Gay and Brandon Paul on the floor, instead of Gasol and Mills. But Pop played who he trusted, and he can’t be faulted for that.

Let’s end with a few bright spots, because losing back-to-back to Orlando and Indiana is just too depressing of a weekend:

–Danny Green continues to look really strong to start the season. His offense has picked up after a few down seasons, and his defense is as strong as ever. He seems destined to go down as one of the most under appreciated Spurs role players of all time.

–Brandon Paul really showed me something this game. His defense is legit (which is why I wanted him out there in crunch time). His offense is much better than I was expecting, though. He moves well and has a good sense of when to move the ball. And his 3-point shot is smooth. It looks really good. I expect him to keep earning playing time.

It was a rough few days, and perhaps the toughest game of the road trip awaits us Monday night in Boston.

Go Spurs Go.