Author: Jeff Koch (page 2 of 32)

Spurs Clinch Playoff Berth With Victory Over Kings

Season 51, Game 81
San Antonio 98, Sacramento 85
47-34, 6th in the West

In October, if you’d told me that all the Spurs needed to do to secure a playoff berth was beat the Kings at home, I’d have shrugged my shoulders and assumed you were talking about some random home game in March.

If you’d then told me that it was actually Game 81 and the win–and the playoffs–were in jeopardy, I would’ve assumed the worst.

And the worst did happen, sports-wise. The Spurs lost their best player (for all intents and purposes) for the whole season. A roster built around the supreme talents of one player suddenly became a collection of unproven role players, past-their-prime veterans, and one star with a game built around an antiquated mode of playing.

It was a tough season by Spurs’ fans standards, and Monday’s win over the Kings kind of encapsulates all of it. The team was really unable to generate any chemistry or momentum until the fourth quarter, and had to be bailed out by their 40-year-old “star” who still probably plays with more passion than any other player on the team.

The win didn’t necessarily inspire any confidence, but it wasn’t a nail-biter. It was fine. This team is fine. This season was fine.

“Fine” is a tough sell to us spoiled Spurs’ followers.

LaMarcus Aldridge had a rare game in which he struggled. Luckily Rudy Gay, Manu Ginobili, and Bryn Forbes helped to pick up the scoring slack. The team picked up the defense in the second half, holding the Kings to an anemic 35 points in the final 24 minutes. What finally secured the win, though, was the team deciding to play some offense, exploding for 38 in the fourth quarter, after managing  60 in the preceding three.

The game secured the team’s passage to it’s unprecedented 21st straight playoffs. We shouldn’t take that for granted, but we will. The team’s consistency for decades is remarkable, and only helps to underscore how unrecognizable a good (or, as others might say, “fine”) season is to us. This is/was a good season. To listen to us talk about it, you’d believe otherwise.

Now we wait to find out the team’s final spot in the Western Conference hierarchy, with any seed from 4 to 8 possible. If the team beats New Orleans on the final day of the season, I believe they can do no worse than 6th. If they lose, I believe they can do no better than 7.

We won’t know for certain until the final buzzer sounds late Wednesday night. The last time the Spurs closed the season in New Orleans, it ended in disappointment and presaged an early playoff exit. Here’s hoping for a better result this close of season.

Go Spurs Go.

Aldridge Leaves Game With Knee Injury, Spurs Lose to Wizards

Season 51, Game 75
San Antonio 106, Washington 116
43-32, 6th in the West

The Spurs are a bad road team.

One of the things that makes this season so (un)remarkable is just how bad the Spurs are on the road. One of the consistent pillars of the teams string of 50-win seasons has been their ability to take care of business on the road. They always have a winning road record. Always. A shorthand to gauge the true greatness of a team is to compare road wins to home losses: the greater the difference, the better the team. Right now, the Spurs are +6.

For comparison, the Rockets (the best team in the league) are +24. The Warriors are +16. The rest of the bunched up West fighting for the playoffs are all similar to the Spurs, which only goes to prove how ordinary this team is.

What’s more disturbing, though, is that the Spurs are the worst road team of any current playoff team, East or West. Dead last. Only the Nuggets (still fighting, but outside of the playoff picture) are a worse road team. Not a good stat for a team certain to start the playoffs on the road against a better team.

Honestly, this road mediocrity was the first sign that this season wasn’t going as planned. Even before the big swoon that dropped the team from 3rd in the West to 10th, they did not have a good road record. The signs were there, they were just able to paper over them. But now we know: the team is just kind of meh.

As for the actual game, there’s not much to say. They were kind of meh. LaMarcus Aldridge left the game late in the first half with what is being called a knee contusion and really this season just keeps getting worse. The hope is that he won’t be out long. Even if he plays, the schedule is not easy the rest of the way, home or road. But without LaMarcus, this team is absolutely dead in the water screwed.

But hey, at least our next game is at home. Against the Thunder, a team that has given us big problems this season.

Go Spurs Go.

Spurs Drop 4th Straight Road Game in Loss To Bucks

Season 51, Game 74
San Antonio 103, Milwaukee 106
43-31, 6th in the West

The Spurs dug themselves into two big holes against the Bucks; they were only able to climb out of one.

Had the game gone about 45 more seconds, they might have come all the way back for a second time and secured the win. But the team didn’t play the full 48, and paid the price for it.

The team fought hard in both the 2nd and 4th quarters, showing a lot of fight in character in coming back from double-digit deficits in each half to make the game competitive. When the shots weren’t falling, they kept pounding that rock. But the odd numbered quarters count, too; and if you get outscored 68-43 in a 2 quarter sample (the 1st and 3rd), you’re probably going to lose the game.

Our big men came to play. LaMarcus Aldridge continued his run of superlative games, scoring 34 points on 21 shots and generally anchoring the offense. This is everything we always hoped from him. It’s tough to enjoy this season for a variety of reasons, but hopefully we can find a bit of joy in watching Aldridge blossom into being a true Spur.

Pau Gasol also had a wonderful game, with 22 points and 13 rebounds in just 24 minutes of action. The two bigs activity and determination in the 4th quarter is what allowed the Spurs to actually make it a game again, with a chance to tie in the final possession.

Alas, there wasn’t much to be found elsewhere. DeJounte Murray continued his up and down play, struggling to run the offense under defensive pressure from the Bucks. He can be a passing guard, and he can score well, but he has trouble blending the aspects of his game, and knowing when to do what. This season is learning by experience with nary a safety net to be found, so it’s hard to fault him. He plays hard and he is determined to be a great player and great in the team’s system; it’s going to take time.

To that end, I don’t fault Murray in the least for the final play. Pop often doesn’t like to call a timeout so as to prevent the defense from setting. I agree with that decision. It’s usually Parker or Ginobili with the ball in that case, but it still serves as good experience for Murray. However, the rest of the team didn’t really race up the court with him, so when he was on the wing with the ball, the rest of the team was still setting up, and nobody had a really good idea of what to do.

At that point, Pop should have called timeout. With about 6 or 7 seconds left, they could have gotten a good look. But nobody called timeout, and Murray took a relatively contested 3. I didn’t see any better option for him, as no better shooter seemed to be in a position to get the ball with a good look.

It was a smart idea, poorly executed by inexperienced staff. But the best way to learn is to go through it in an actual game, to live it in your bones.

The game was lost long before that missed 3; it was a miracle the team even got back in it. If the loss helps Murray grow, then it might be worth it. It doesn’t make it feel any better.

The Spurs finish up their East Coast swing Tuesday night in Washington D.C. against he Wizards.

Go Spurs Go.

Spurs Finish Off Perfect Home Stand With OT Win Over Jazz

Season 51, Game 73
San Antonio 124, Utah 120 (OT)
43-30, 6th in the West

This is exactly the battle we all expected between two of the best defensive teams in the NBA.

Wait, what?

Sometimes all preconceptions and prologue get thrown out the window, and a single game becomes a unique entry in the ledger, unexpected and perfect. This was one of those games. What a battle. What performances. The Jazz didn’t lose this game; the Spurs went out and won it.

LaMarcus Aldridge continued his late-season push to win over the hearts of every Spurs fan who scorned him last year. Dropping in 45 points on 28 shots, he went at possibly the best defensive backcourt in the league and made them look silly. Like most every game this home stand, LaMarcus was a beast in the paint, diversifying his usual array of midrangers with strong low post play. It’s no coincidence that he helped to seal the game in OT with a huge offensive rebound between the Jazz big men.

This is easily his best season as a Spur, but this might be Aldridge’s best season as a professional NBA player. He might have better seasons as a scorer or as a shooter, but when taken as a whole (and considering defense), this might be it. He is doing exactly what you expect a star player to do on a roster full of good supporting players: carry them to the playoffs.

As was mentioned on the latest Spurs Dynasty Podcast, we might finally have reached the best version of this team. Despite all the drama and the unusual levels of losing, this team appears to be peaking at just the right time. We’re still no match against Golden State and Houston without our missing superstar, but we can compete with anybody else in the West. Yes, this recent 6-game winning streak was all at home. But look at the opponents: with the exception of the Orlando Magic, every team we played was a playoff team fighting for something. It took solid play to win these games. 4-2 would have been a good stretch. 5-1 would have been amazing. 6-0 is perfect…and probably saved our playoff lives.

More than just winning, the team finally looks like a team. The offense looks smooth. The defense is locked in. There is palpable chemistry. We mentioned Aldridge, but other players also seem to be peaking. Manu Ginobili continues his improbable season at age 40, continuing to contribute to winning basketball in every facet of the game. Rudy Gay looks all the way back from his mid-season injuries, and looks very comfortable on both ends of the court. He is perfectly cast as a scoring 6th man, playing alongside other seasoned vets in Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Pau Gasol.

Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, and Patty Mills are playing their roles perfectly in the starting lineup, giving just enough shooting, playmaking, and defense to make that lineup potent.

And Coach Pop seems to have accepted going small, locking into the starting lineup that features Aldridge as the center. He rarely plays Gasol and Aldridge together anymore, rather opting for some version of a stretch-4 (Gay, Anderson, or Davis Bertans) alongside either Aldridge or Gasol. Most importantly, he’s getting lots of reps for lots of different looks for whatever the team might face in the playoffs.

It’s been a disappointing season for so many reasons. But as we head towards the playoffs, it’s nice to see the team finally coming together and playing to the best of their ability, even if that isn’t the lofty reaches we were hoping for in October. It’s fun to watch and cheer for this team again, and that’s something.

The Spurs head out on a two-game road trip, facing the Bucks and Wizards. Both are playoff teams, but both are beatable. 2-0 is possible, but 1-1 seems more realistic.

The fist game is Sunday in Milwaukee.

Go Spurs Go.

Aldridge Too Much For Wolves As Spurs Notch Another Key Win

Season 51, Game 70
San Antonio 117, Minnesota 101
40-30, 7th in the West

I could get used to this winning thing.

It’s a small hurdle for the usually lofty standards of the Spurs, but Saturday’s win against Minnesota marked the first 3-game winning streak the Spurs have had since the end of December. Almost 3 months without winning more than 3 games in a row (and often losing a bunch of games in a row). On that face, this was another huge win for the team.

But it’s not just that the team is winning; it’s how the team is winning. They are fighting; they are competing; they are playing with an edge. In other words, they look exactly like the Spurs you would expect to see playing without their best player: they might not have the talent to compete with you, but they’ll be damned if you’ll get anything easy or they’ll beat themselves.

And yes, every win has been at home, where the Spurs have been solid all year. But two of the three wins were against West teams competing for the same playoff spot, and getting those wins was crucial to playoff hopes. Basically, every game from here on out is a “Not-quite-a-playoff-game-but-more-than-a-regular-season-game” game, and the Spurs are (finally) showing up for these games.

The story of Saturday’s win against the Wolves must necessarily begin with the play of LaMarcus Aldridge. Granted we’re all subject to recency bias, but this may be the finest game he has played as a member of the team. After a slow start to the game, he was absolutely electric in the second quarter, willing the team to an 11-point halftime lead. He was getting his offense in every way possible: his patented midrange jumpers, bullying in the post, from the flow of the Spurs offense, and fighting his ass off under the rim to get offensive putbacks.

When the game was still in doubt in the 4th, he once again had a little personal scoring flurry, helping to put the game out of reach for good with about 4 minutes to go.

When LaMarcus wasn’t beasting, the rest of the team was playing more in line with “the beautiful game” of seasons past, rather than whatever it is we’ve been subjected to this season. The key to the Spurs’ offense is to play fast but not be in a hurry. Make quick decisions, keep the ball and yourself moving, but don’t settle for anything. Again, over these last three games, something seems to have clicked back into place for the squad, and the offense is just playing at a much higher level.

Rudy Gay also had a really nice game. It feels like he is finally getting comfortable coming back from his injury and fitting into the Spurs’ offense. For a player like Gay, there is a delicate balance of getting your own and flowing in the system. Or, between being too selfish and too selfless. He is a gifted scorer, and that role is much needed coming off the bench. Playing alongside Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker (our new Hall of Fame bench crew) is allowing Gay to fit in perfectly.

Gay has also been better than advertised on defense. In the 4th quarter, he and Aldridge were fierce rim protectors, notching several blocks and generally stopping the Wolves in the paint. If he can play the 4, the Spurs have a potent closing lineup available to them.

A very banged-up Warriors team comes to town Monday night. This isn’t “must win”, but with the state Golden State is in (Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Play Thompson are all out, and Draymond Green is not 100% health), the Spurs should be favored to win the game.

Go Spurs Go.

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