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Go Spurs Go!
Season 51, Game 76
San Antonio 103, Oklahoma City 99
44-32, 4th in the West
In February, I would have guessed another four to six game losing streak was coming. Hell, I would have guessed that earlier in March too. But the San Antonio Spurs, fresh off two embarrassing road losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards, found a way to take down Oklahoma City at home. And whew, it was nice to see San Antonio prevent their previous two losses from snowballing into something worse, I’ll tell you what.
Led by – who else – LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs got just enough from their players to not only win the game, but improve to fourth in the Western Conference. With just six games left, San Antonio sits 2.5 games behind Portland, and only 2.5 games ahead of the L.A. Clippers in 9th place. This is to say that every game really matters at this point in the season, and we should all be extremely thankful Aldridge is along for the ride.
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.
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.
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.
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.