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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.

Spurs Eke Out Win Over Hapless Grizzlies

Season 51, Game 64
San Antonio 100, Memphis 98
37-27, 5th in the West

The Spurs win, hallelujah!

It’s more a sigh of relief than an exultation of joy, though. True to recent form, the Spurs tried their hardest to give this game away in the final minute. Up 9 with 90 seconds left, the Spurs barely won. You and I both watch enough basketball to know just how difficult this feat is.

Luckily, the Grizzlies were in no mood to win this game, as winning is losing for the franchise fighting like hell to get to the bottom of the league.

In summary: the Spurs barely hung on to beat a team that is tanking so hard winning this game would have been a disappointment. Ladies and gentleman, you’re 2018 San Antonio Spurs.

Tony Parker played extremely well, with scoring bursts in the first and fourth quarters to help put this game out of reach. LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t play well in his return from injury, clearly still bothered by the tweaked ankle. Pau Gasol hurt his shoulder and Rudy Gay busted his ear drum, as if this team didn’t have enough odd injury woes.

The real issue, though, is the lack of joy. This team used to be so much fun to watch play, and it’s just a slog now. It’s not one thing; it’s everything. Kawhi’s injury; the team’s lack of cohesion and competitiveness, particularly late in games; the boring, plodding offense.

Remember the beautiful game? I wonder if the Spurs do. There offense lacks so much imagination right now, and is so slow to develop and barely creates any advantages or openings. It’s usually one player getting just a slight advantage in isolation and shooting a decent–not good, not great–shot. It doesn’t inspire; it doesn’t awe.

It’s impossible to know the hearts and motivations of people I don’t know and only see through a screen. But it sure does seem like this season has worn on the collective team. The team has always been professional, but they also always exuded a joy, a happiness. Now it just seems so blah.

Maybe this is just my projection of experiencing my first less-than-great season as a fan. Either way, I find it hard to get excited night to night, game to game, when it used to come so easily. I don’t know if Kawhi can fix that, for me or for the team.

After going 1-2 on the most recent homestand, the Spurs now embark on what might be the most difficult 3-game road trip in the league: at Golden State, at Oklahoma City, at Houston. 0-3 is a real possibility. 1-2 should be considered a success.

If the Spurs do go 0-3 over these next three games, I suspect they will find themselves outside of the playoff picture with a real shot at missing the playoffs.

The most important of these games is Saturday night at Oklahoma City, because: a) this is the easiest of the three games, and; b) this is a game against a team in the same morass as the Spurs, so a loss for the Thunder helps just as much as a win for the Spurs.

Here’s hoping there’s still some hope a week from now.

Go Spurs Go.

LaMarcus All-Star

Season 51, Game 53
San Antonio 106, Denver 104
34-19, 3rd in the West

Well, that was a fun game. The Spurs finished survived a last second heave by the Denver Nuggets and held on to win their 34th game of the season. By all accounts, this game was great TV. It had dunks, three balls, Manu Ginobili playing like Manu Ginobili, technical fouls and for a large part of the game, some pretty bad defense.

The Spurs put up 60 points in a first half where Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay sat in street clothes again. LaMarcus Aldridge was nothing short of dominant in the first 24 minutes, carrying 20 points into intermission. LaMarcus All-Star. He was matched up with Nikola Jokic for most of the night, with a few mouth-watering mismatches against Trey Lyles sprinkled in. While the 22-year-old Serbian has incredible vision and a super bright future, Jokic apparently is not very good at defending All-Stars from San Antonio.

In fairness, not many people have been this year.

LaMarcus has accepted the responsibility of being this team’s best player and last night was no exception. He was miles away the best player on the court and exploited the mismatches presented to him by a scrapping and entertaining Nuggets team. We probably don’t need to get into too many analytics of his game, but for kicks and giggles, let’s summarize it in a sentence. LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points in 38 minutes on 14 of 23 shots.

It’s no James Harden, but that’s pretty good.

If we were to nitpick his game, it would be in the area of rebounding, as he finished with only five. That would be concerning, except for the fact that DeJounte Murray had 13 rebounds. I mean, when you get that kind of rebounding effort from your 20-year-old point guard, you can accept five from your power forward.

Speaking of Sweet Honey DeJounte, was this game made for him or what? He really thrives in track meets against teams like the Denver Nuggets. Denver is in a bit of a holding pattern, having stopped their downward spiral, but not quite mature enough to begin their upward climb to being a good team. So they run…a lot. And they are athletic. I’m pretty sure Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley and Will Barton have pogo sticks for femurs. They were all over the place, but so was DeJounte. He thrives in these types of games.

And so does Kyle Anderson.

It’s no secret that he’s slower than molasses in February, but as Sean Elliot mentioned numerous times, just when you think he’s in jail and about to turn the ball over, his YMCA old man game kicks in and he leaves us all chuckling to ourselves. Kyle finished with a career high in scoring, notching 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also played 34 minutes, which is evidence that he is getting the full Kawhi shift. And he deserves it. He won’t get the award, but Kyle Anderson should be a candidate for Most Improved Player this year.

Lastly, the Spurs would not have won this game tonight without Manu Ginobili. I’ve run out of things to say about him. He defies logic. It can be an around the back pass to Davis Bertans, or a rainbow three pointer, or a block on Trey Lyles in the fourth quarter, but Manu is going to compete and he’s going to entertain in the process.

I realize that there are a lot of people who have mixed reviews about the way Pop has handle the Kawhi situation. That may be fair. But no one is talking about how Pop has managed a bench unit with two Hall of Famer’s on it. Tony Parker, reunited with his old running mate, is thriving on the bench. He and Manu look like they are having fun. They typically hover around 20 minutes of playing time, but they get a different group of talent, they get a different wave of game flow, and most of all, they are probably working with the best chemistry on the team.

I don’t know if it’s possible, but if I were managing the Spurs Spanish Play-by-Play broadcast crew, I’d throw every dollar I own at Manu Ginobili after he retires and hope he becomes the Spanish version of Sean Elliot on the sideline. Pair him with Paul Casto. I forget how much of a global icon he actually is. His value goes beyond basketball and his charisma mixed with his basketball acumen would make him a fabulous color commentator for Spurs En Espanol.
Kudos Pop. Kudos Tony. And Manu, Forever.

A quick thought on Kawhi Leonard…

There are rumors. And it’s up to you to choose what to believe. It’s one thing to believe Michael C. Wright and Adrian Wojnarowkski, but please don’t believe anything Stephen A. Smith says and tread lightly with Jalen Rose (believe me instead, I am way more credible!). The latest I’ve heard as recently as this weekend is “discord” is too strong of a word. Kawhi is not angry and doesn’t want to leave. But there has been a bit of strain on the relationship due to the injury.

Apparently, the Spurs felt Kawhi was ready to go. But Kawhi, who is young and has an entire career ahead of him, including the potential for a super max contract and maybe one more after that, is concerned about the possibility of reinjuring himself. So Kawhi, sought an additional opinion, outside of team doctors, which makes the Spurs scratch their head, and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year felt he should take a few more weeks to recover.

Honestly, this makes sense, and is completely fair for Kawhi to feel that way. Like it or not, the NBA is a very different league in 2018 than it was when David Robinson played. Players now have bigger contracts at stake, but more so they have brands to maintain. Kawhi has a brand and frankly, the brand of Kawhi is in its infant stages.

Jordan Brand took a risk and signed Kawhi Leonard to their line a few years back. That comes with a huge amount of pressure, as I am sure LaMarcus can attest (also signed with Jordan). With big name players like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler signed with Jordan, Kawhi has a standard he has to meet. He also has his personal brand he must continue to develop which carries with it endorsements and commercials and basketball camps and public appearances.

Kawhi does have a responsibility to the Spurs, but the Spurs also have a responsibility to Kawhi. The NBA is a player’s league. Significantly more so than the NFL, but not nearly as much as the MLB. But since David Stern moved out of the office, Adam Silver has shown his intention to allow this type of behavior for players and rightly so. The Spurs are just slower in realizing that than most teams.

And Kawhi really just fell in their lap. So they are learning on the fly too. As a fan, you can question his millennial-type behavior. I think it’s even understandable to question his toughness a bit. But if we are going to do those things, we can only do so with the understanding that this league is changed since 1999 and Kawhi Leonard is absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt, a super star in the best basketball league on the planet, save Lithuania’s D-League.

Kawhi deserves the chance to heal, physically and mentally. Missing 73 games out of 82 is a small price to pay for him being in the right state of mind when that super max contract is ready to be signed. This team is probably not winning a championship anyways. And God forbid the Spurs lose Kawhi Leonard in Free Agency, the odds of getting another player in the draft are few and far between. He presents you with an incredible player offensively and defensively, but he also attracts other talent. He’s bait. So give him what he wants. WHATEVER HE WANTS. If he wants to sit out the whole year, let him sit.

I still think he and Rudy Gay return after the All-Star break and the Spurs win 23 of their last 25 games or so and everything will be fine, but what do I know.

Spurs draw the short stick and get to be the first team to play James Harden after he dropped a ridiculous 60 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against the Magic. The Rockets are about four games ahead of the Spurs in the standings, so even though the standings won’t change much, Thursdays I-10 matchup should be a treat for everyone.

Go Spurs Go.

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