Season 51, Game 41
San Antonio 110, Portland 111
27-14, 3rd in the West
The Spurs fell in splendid fashion to the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday night after CJ McCollum tossed in some junk in the final seconds of a back and forth game. The 1-point loss to the Spurs was a perfect ending to a fairly entertaining game in which the Spurs could have probably used one more possession.
The Spurs led in pretty much every category. They had more rebounds, both offensive and defensive, had more assists, shot better from the line, shot better from the arc, and committed less fouls. Unfortunately, they also had more turnovers. Late game heroics by Manu Ginobili, who has been nothing short of inspiring, as well as the continued dominance of LaMarcus Aldridge, was once again overshadowed by a chaotic whirlwind in the backcourt. Kawhi Leonard aside, this team is vastly different, sans Tony Parker.
This team fights hard and plays tough, but they do not have the fire power to sustain long periods of “grind-it-out” basketball. Often, a team can survive with limited fire power if they have the proper aim necessary to strike. Tony Parker brings that type of aim to this team. While Manu and LaMarcus have played ridiculously well, and while Leonard’s absence and new shoulder injury will be lamented, it was Parker’s absence that lost this game.
Parker embodies a true point guard, more so now than perhaps in his younger years. He remains an absolute scoring threat at all times on the court. But more so, he also has a decade and a half of experience in that back court. He gets the guys into the offense, controls tempo and directs traffic – something DeJounte Murray will have to figure out. And while I love Patty Mills, let’s face it: that’s not the type of player he is.
Parker is nearing the end of his rehab management plan and I’d suspect we see more of him trickling into February and March. The more his minutes open up, the more comfortable this team will be toward the end of close games. Until then, it’s reasonable to expect some chaotic endings to these types of games.
I’ve noticed an interesting trend and while the stats warrant a deeper dive than I am willing to give, the eye test tells me this trend isn’t great for the Spurs. At times, the Spurs can be good offensively. But the scorers on this team are streaky and no one is picking up Kawhi’s slack every night. It seems to alternate from night to night, which is fine and certainly plays into the Spurs “next man up” mentality.
The same is true of the Spurs defensively. They can be great at times as well with guys having good moments and the team making solid rotations. The “trend” I saw surface in the Knicks game, a bit in the Suns game, and more so against the Blazers, is the Spurs struggling to play well offensively and defensively simultaneously (that’s a lot of “ly’s”). They seem to get into these shut down modes defensively, but can’t score the ball and end up resorting to bad shots. On the other hand, if the offense is humming, the defense begins to slip.
Getting the offense and defense to work together isn’t happening, as least not as much as it should. According to basketball-reference.com, the Spurs rank 2nd in Defensive Rating, holding teams to 104 points per 100 possessions. The counter to that is the Spurs also rank 28th in the league in possessions per game, but somehow finish 7th in scoring. They rank 27th in the league in 3 Point Attempt Rate with only 29 percent of their total shots being 3-balls. The numbers show what we already know: the Spurs are all over the place right now.
A few other quick thoughts:
Hi-Lo Game: This is quickly becoming one of my favorite plays for the Spurs to run when they need a basket. Having a 7-foot center be able to give a post entry pass to your 6-11 power forward is a luxury few teams in this league have. But the Pau to LaMarcus combo has been deadly. Very Tim and David if you ask me…
Manu Ginobili: Manu has entered the Tim Duncan category. There’s nothing else to say about him except the following – Manu, Forever.
DeJounte Murray: Boy, he looked like a rookie again, didn’t he? One rebound, four turnovers, 1-for-6 with three points. Yeesh. He is… not Tony Parker.
Davis Bertans: Super quick trigger that we’ve all come to love, and also at times, hate.
Popovich: Look, I’m not concerned long term here with any of the players. But Pop is starting to worry me. I get that the players shoot and the ball either goes in or it doesn’t. I get that sometimes the basketball gods smile on you or they don’t. But Pop has seemed a little cavalier in recent days with his assessment of this team. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do but let the ball bounce. However, I’m worried he’s going too far down that path. This team is not as bad as everyone thinks, but they still aren’t as good as they should be, even with their health issues.
I’m mildly disappointed in Pop. I’d like to see him go for it on 4th and short rather than punting it. We may not get the best of Kawhi Leonard this year. He’s probably starting to flirt with a downward trend more than an upward Spike. So as a fan, I’d prefer to see Pop play the cards he has instead of folding constantly. I know that’s almost blasphemy, but it’s true.
Trade Deadline: As of the writing of this piece, we are one month away from the NBA trade deadline. This is your yearly warning to pause the panic. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Spurs allegedly shopped Danny Green and LaMarcus Aldridge very hard this past off-season in their pursuit of Kyrie Irving. While I still maintain they were never that close to pulling the trigger, the fact is something was brewing.
That said, they quickly extended Aldridge, and Danny Green, who has the best value contract in the NBA, is now nursing a groin injury. Point being, neither of those guys are getting dealt. Kawhi, Manu, Parker, Rudy Gay and Gasol are pretty much locks to stay put considering their health, loyalty and contract extensions. That moves us to the younger bench guys. The most intriguing assets are Murray, Forbes and Anderson. Patty could garner interest from playoff teams needing point guard depth as well, but none of these guys are huge impact players that warrant another team to give away a good player.
Point being? This is your team, Spurs fans.
The Spurs get Sacramento on a SEGABABA. Should be interesting.
Go Spurs Go.