Season 51, Game 63
San Antonio 112, Los Angeles Lakers 116
36-27, 6th in the West
After 20 years, we’re finally seeing the limits of “the system”.
There’s only so much talent a team can lose before they stop being good. For years, the Spurs seemed to defy all logic by riding their system and culture and mystique to win after win, even when their best players sat.
But this season is different. The team has less talent at the top (no Big 3 in sight, only role players after LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard), and the rest of the roster is perhaps the weakest it’s been in Pop’s tenure. It’s full of veterans well past their prime and young players years ahead of their primes, and no player or core of players to unify around.
The team fights, and they play to the best of their abilities. That is no longer enough.
Saturday’s game had an eerie resemblance to Wednesday’s loss to the Pelicans. A double-digit lead in the third quarter (15 on Wednesday, 17 on Saturday) slowly evaporated, until the opponent took their first lead of the game with about 2 minutes left. In late game situations, nothing just seems to go right for this team. On Wednesday, the Pelicans had Anthony Davis, far and away the best player on the floor. On Saturday, Lonzo Ball of the Lakers improbably hit 3 3-pointers in the final 2 minutes to give the Lakers the surprising win.
You can’t script these things. The Spurs are doing everything right to “earn” these wins, and yet they’re not.
There’s no one play or player to point to, just a string of unfortunate events and a series of plays executed slightly below average. Add all of that up, and it’s loss after loss.
Would the Spurs have beaten the Lakers with a healthy Aldridge? Probably. But he wasn’t and they didn’t.
The Spurs have now dropped 4 home games in a row, and have lost 8 of their last 10. In those 10 games, the Spurs rank 17th in Defensive Rating, slightly better than the Oklahoma City Thunder and slightly worse than the Orlando Magic. It was defense that carried the team early in the season, and now it’s defense letting them down late in the season.
I don’t know what else to say. Every game feels headed towards the same inevitable outcome. The Spurs needed to win these last two games, and they didn’t. Believe it or not, this Lakers game was one of the easiest remaining games on the schedule for them. They blew it.
The team is in real jeopardy of missing the playoffs. This is not a drill. Every team in the playoff hunt in the West (and some that aren’t) is playing better than the Spurs right now. The buffer they built up early in the season has evaporated. The team is fighting for their playoff lives without their best player and with a less-than-100% second best player (who has been their best player all season because their “real” best player has a mysterious ailment, but that’s another story for another day, maybe).
The team has the hardest schedule left in the NBA. Not one of the hardest; the hardest. There’s no reason to think they’ll make the playoffs, other than “they’re the Spurs and they always make the playoffs”. That doesn’t mean squat right now.
Kawhi might come back. It might not matter.
What a season.
The Spurs play perhaps their easiest remaining game of the season when Memphis comes to town Monday night. They have to win this one.
I have no confidence they will.
Go Spurs Go.