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Get It Out Of The System

Season 50, Game 38
San Antonio 107, Milwaukee 109
30-8, 2nd in the West

Michael. Fucking. Beasley.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our tale of woe begins with about 2 minutes left in the first half, and the Spurs comfortably on top by 13, looking to cruise to another home win. Instead, the Spurs give up a 7-0 run (including 3 free throws on a shooting foul with 0.9 seconds left at half court, what the…?), and go into the intermission with just a 6-point lead.

Still, with Giannis barely playing because of an illness (he didn’t play at all in the second half), the Spurs were still in good position to get the win. Enter the aforementioned Michael Beasley.

He couldn’t miss. He completely bullied the Spurs’ defense. The Bucks continually ran pick and roll to get a small switched on to him, and then just threw him the ball, and he’d hit the shot or attack the rim. And he made good decisions with the ball, finding open shooters at the rim (Greg Monroe) or behind the arc (Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell).

Two nights after singing the praises of the Spurs defense, it absolutely stunk tonight. By my very rough estimates, the Spurs got 3 stops in the second half (number approximate). And it wasn’t just a lot of lucky shot making. The Bucks did whatever they wanted on offense, basically breaking the Spurs defense down every possession. It was hard to watch. The Spurs defenders looked confused, unsure of what the scheme was.

For a while, it looked like Kawhi might win this thing alone, but eventually he ran out of magic. The offense was humming most of the night, keeping a 3-6 point cushion most of the second half. But about halfway through the 4th quarter, it just completely broke down, and the Spurs could not get an open shot. Two back-to-back 3s from Davis Bertans and Danny Green seemed like it might miraculously bring us the win, but the Bucks played harder, played smarter, and deserved the win.

The Spurs had a chance for the win (or tie) on the final possession, and ran a beauty, getting a wide-open corner 3 from Manu Ginobili at the buzzer. He shot it off the side of the back board.

It was that kind of night.

The Bucks play the Spurs tough (remember the Spurs won by 1 in Milwaukee on a goaltend in the final seconds), and their length and athleticism clearly bother the team. Part of the offensive confusion was the Spurs continually passing up open shots for fear of the Bucks defenders, or passing it into traffic and into turnovers. They just look a bit shook by the Bucks.

Manu and Patty Mills, in particular, played very bad. Even ignoring that last shot, Manu was a complete liability on the floor. He couldn’t find his usual seams on offense, which slowed down the second unit. On defense, he gambled too much and didn’t play good positional defense. (He twice gambled for steals that both times led to 2 easy points for the Bucks. Those 4 points loom quite large in the final accounting.)

Mills was way off his game, as well. Matthew Dellavedova (his fellow countryman) completely owned him on both ends. I could say more, but do I really need to?

The Spurs have been playing well and were due a loss. The way I’m describing it, you’d think they’d got blown out on their own floor. They lost by 2 without their second leading scorer against a very good (if inconsistent) team while not playing their best. They had a shot (literally) to win it at the buzzer. As frustrating as the game was in the moment, it’s not a bad loss in the aggregate.

The Spurs finish their home stand Thursday night against the Lakers. I expect a bounce back.

Go Spurs Go.

The Juice Unit Rallies to Close 2016 With a Bang

Season 50, Game 33
San Antonio 110, Portland 94
27-6, 2nd in the West

As the 2016-17 Spurs are wont to do, they let a subpar team stick around for nearly three quarters before asserting their will and pulling away for a blowout win. Without superstar Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio leaned on Danny Green and Jonathon Simmons – not the white-hot LaMarcus Aldridge – to put the Portland Trailblazers in their place en route to a 110-94 win.

(Photo by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

While Kyle Anderson got the start in place of the ailing Leonard, it was Simmons who took advantage of the extended minutes, finishing the game with a team-leading 19 points and an emphatic “GET OFF MY LAWN” dunk in his 30 minutes of action.

RIP Pat Connaughton.

It’s New Years Eve so we’ll keep this short, but other cool things besides that Simmons dunk happened last night, including…

• Green scored 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point land. Nice to see him firing and hitting those shots in addition to being a historically great defender.

• Aldridge only scored 8 points on 2-of-3 shooting (what?) and the Spurs still won handily.

• The not-so-disposable Tony Parker poured in another 18 points.

• Manu Ginobili is still Manu Ginobili. He scored 14 off the bench, including a sweet pair of 3 pointers.

• David Lee (my new favorite Spur, after much skepticism) was a perfect 4-for-4, to go along with 2 offensive rebounds, 2 defensive rebounds, and assist and a steal. Everything except for a block!

And, what the hell, here’s another Vine of the dunk that buried Connaughton last night.

Happy New Year and GO SPURS GO!

Wacky Ball

Season 50, Game 32
San Antonio 119, Phoenix 98
26-6, 2nd in the West

For a while there, it looked like the Suns were going to run the Spurs right out of the gym.

Yes, the 9-23 dead-last-in-the-West Phoenix Suns were just too much for the Spurs to handle. For a half. In the second half, the world was once again righted, and the Spurs won going away rather easily.

If this game was a litmus test of the Spurs’ defense without Kawhi Leonard, it looked like the team was headed towards a miserable showing. The Suns scored 64 points in the first half on roughly 113% shooting. They were getting whatever they wanted. The only “defense” the Spurs played was off of Suns’ turnovers, which mostly consisted of young players making mistakes. To the Spurs credit, many of the Suns shots were of the variety the defense is happy to allow, the Suns were just nailing them.

Also to the Spurs credit: their offense. The Suns defense offered little resistance, so even as they scored at will, the Spurs mostly kept up.

I’m sure Coach Pop said some very nice things at halftime and calmly pointed out their defensive lapses. Whatever he did, it worked. 64 points by the Sun in the first half, a mere 34 in the second. The Spurs were more aggressive, more connected, and locked in. While the Suns were still able to get out in transition a bit, the Spurs completely locked them up in the halfcourt and made every shot difficult.

Of course, Phoenix still threatened to keep the game tight by playing some of the loosest, silliest offense you’ll ever see from the team. Mills – enthralled with the alley-oop – attempted 2 or 3 very ill-advised oops, one to David Lee on a semi-fastbreak, another that never got more than 7 feet off the ground. Every time the team had a chance to really salt the game away, they’d blow 3 or 4 layups in a row, or turn the ball over on a fast break. I thought poor Pop might have a stroke on the sideline.

Again, he calmly reminded his PGs (and Manu Ginobili) that LaMarcus Aldridge was on the team and had a severe mismatch in the post. LA would get the ball, and he’d score. Marquese Chriss on the Suns might be a good player some day, but he looks to be about half the size of Aldridge currently, and LaMarcus would just bully his way straight to the hoop every time he had it.

(Photo: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Aldridge finished the night 10-of-12 for 27 points and 8 rebounds. Over the last two games, he is shooting 25-of-32 for 60 points. That is… good.

This happened last year right around this time, too, where Aldridge seemed to kind of ‘figure things out’. The way he’s played the last two games is probably the best he’s ever played as a Spur. He’s making shots, certainly, but it’s more where he’s getting his shots from. He’s not settling for the long jumper (though he’s finally hitting those, too); he’s bullying his way to the rim and getting good looks up close. He’s getting to the free throw line.

And he’s playing really aggressively on both ends. His activity is keeping balls alive on offense, opening up lanes for other scorers and getting second chance points. On defense, he’s getting blocks and steals and helping to protect the paint.

This LA with Kawhi? That’s a damn scary top 2, with a great supporting cast behind it. Here’s hoping we keep seeing the increased comfort from Aldridge.

A few more thoughts from Wednesday’s win:

• Manu was a man possessed tonight. He was all over the court on both ends. He had three blocks. He had a break away dunk. He had two steals. He is 39 years old.

• The Spurs waived Nico Laprovittola on Tuesday. Watching DeJounte Murray in garbage time on Wednesday, it’s clear to see why. This kid has all the physical ability in the world with the work ethic to match. He is long and quick. He can break down any defense he wants, and stifle his match-up on the other end. It’ll take him a while to figure out the game mentally, but damn, this kid could be really good. Over the last few games, it’s clear that he’s ready to be the 3rd PG, which his why the team felt ready to move on from Nico.

I love watching Murray in garbage time, but I’m more excited to see what he starts doing in ‘real’ game action.

• Tony Parker had it going tonight. Some vintage moves (with a little extra flourish, which is needed for him to actually get open these days), wrecking the Phoenix big men, plus he had the jumper working. All told, he was 10-of-16 from the floor. If this is the top end of what we might get from Parker, he is still really valuable.

• Kyle Anderson got the start in place of Kawhi, and had a not-so-great night. I really like Kyle and want him to do well, but it’s clear his lack of speed will be an issue. So far, his intelligence and craftiness isn’t making up the difference. He seems to be struggling this season when he does get action, perhaps because he’s pressing, worried that he has to impress too much with such little time.

Jonathon Simmons has rightfully taken his rotation spot, but Anderson still has unique skills that could be helpful. He just can’t seem to get out of his own most of the time. I still hope he can figure it out.

The Spurs face the Blazers at home Friday night, a rematch from a week ago. Damian Lillard hasn’t played since last Friday with a sprained ankle, so we’ll see if he returns against the Spurs.

Go Spurs Go.

Which Mediocre Team Will the Spurs Struggle Against Next?

It’s over! I’m calling it now – the New Orleans Pelicans are no longer the thorn in the Spurs’ side that they’ve been in the past. After costing the Spurs the #2 seed in the 2015 playoffs and robbing Manu Ginobili of a testicle this February, San Antonio has finally exorcised their demons from the Big Easy.

Truth be told, I probably could have made this proclamation after the Spurs went 3-1 against New Orleans last season, but that team was so busted up the Austin Spurs probably could’ve given them a run for their money. Making the announcement after the Pelicans were trounced on Tim Duncan night just feels better.

But what’s a good San Antonio team without a penchant for losing to a loser? We’ve seen them struggle against the Grizzlies in the early 10’s. Portland always seems to be a problem. Hell, even Houston beat the Spurs in all four regular season games during the 2013-14 championship season.

So which other mediocre team seems to rise to the occasion every time they draw a matchup against the Spurs? Which team, guaranteed to lose their first round playoff series – probably in a sweep – is going to give San Antonio fits for the foreseeable future?

Which team is going to cause you to gulp and heavily sigh when you notice the Spurs play them on the second night of a back-to-back?

Off the top of my head, I came up with five options.

  1. Houston
  2. Chicago
  3. Utah
  4. Portland
  5. Washington

Unfortunately, this list can only contain bad teams, which automatically eliminates Houston and Utah.

Then I looked up the Spurs head-to-head record vs. Washington and learned that the Wizards have only beaten San Antonio twice in the last 11 seasons so… that’s got to be a no.

How about Portland, then?

The Spurs hold an 80-79 advantage in all-time head-to-head regular season match-ups against the Blazers, and a 6-5 advantage since the start of the 2013 season. Obviously, the Blazers haven’t been bad that entire stretch. They won 51 games in 2014-15 and 54 games in 2013-14.

But now? Portland isn’t so great, and although they haven’t played San Antonio yet this year, it’s hard to see them beating the Spurs playing their brand of matador defense.

That leaves us with Chicago.

The Spurs have split the season series with Chicago the last three seasons, despite San Antonio being the superior team on paper each time.

Chicago also finds itself in the enviable position of playing the Spurs on Christmas Day this year, a game that San Antonio historically loses.

Chicago has also seemingly figured out how to render Kawhi Leonard useless on defense – a big problem, considering that Danny Green is the only starter who plays lockdown defense. So Green will draw Wade and that’s fine, it shouldn’t be a problem for him. I’m not even that worried about Tony Parker on Rajon Rondo.

But Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez against LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and Dewayne Dedmon? That’s what keeps me up at night. The Spurs’ bigs have played some inspired (or better than average) defense lately, they’ve only had to go against one truly special big man – Anthony Davis – during their 4-game winning streak.

This holiday season, feel free to join me in what’s sure to be a wonderful new Christmas tradition – screaming profanities at the likes of Doug McDermott while the Spurs throw away a totally winable home game on national TV. Hey, at least we don’t play the Bulls four times a year!

3 in the Key: Spurs v Rockets

In the fourth installment of 3 in the Key™, Andrew Flores and Trace Ronning discuss the 28th game of the season, the Spurs 102-100 win on the road against the Houston Rockets.

Let’s start with Andrew’s three key takeaways…

When the Spurs trail by 13 points with only 4:39 left in a game against one of the highest scoring teams in the league, you can easy slip into thinking that there will be another notch in the L-column. What the Spurs did against Houston late in contest three of four this season is the subject of my three takeaways:

1. The Spurs are prepared to beat a team from behind the three point line

What made the outcome of this game even sweeter was that it was against a team which can obnoxiously beat you with shooting from beyond the arc. Manu has been fantastically reliable and Patty could be our new Captain Clutch this season, but it is the team’s increase in consistency LATE IN THE GAME, Green hitting his “Tar-Heed Triple,” which makes the three point attack effective when a sprint to the finish line is needed.

2. The Spurs have a lot of work to do

This game was almost a dud as the “yips” – the team’s high turnover numbers this season – started to creep up during the comeback. This isn’t the only game in which turnovers have made a late game more interesting than Spurs fan would typically want. Fortunately, the maturity of our leadership kept the panic meter low. Still, turnovers are a weakness that needs to be addressed if the Spurs want to beat the league’s top tier teams.

3. If facing the Rockets in the playoffs is inevitable…

… it could be a nail-biter of a series. Every match this season has been close, with victory margins of 2, 6 and 2. Fortunately, the Spurs have shown grit in winning away from home, which syncs with the team’s philosophy of how to win championships. I hope that the days of losing in San Antonio are just an awkward period, a new team figuring out its chemistry. Hopefully the #21 jersey now hanging from the rafters will give this team confidence, as if that jersey were still running the floor.

Now let’s kick it to Trace. What were your three key takeaways from the game?

It’s always a good night when the Rockets lose and the Spurs win.

And it’s an even better night when the Spurs beat the Rockets. It’s three times as good when the Spurs beat the Rockets by erasing a double digit lead in the waning minutes of the game.

What I’m saying is that December 20th was a good night, even though San Antonio allowed an opposing player to score 30 points for the first time in 25 games and Manu Ginobili missed a pair of game-clinching free throws with less than three seconds on the clock.

Here are my three key takeaways from the Spurs’ win:

1. Patty Mills is for real

I don’t think he’s supplanting Tony Parker as the starter anytime soon, but Mills and Parker both played 24 minutes against the Rockets. Patty seems more and more comfortable leading the team, each time he goes out on the court, and he’s a much more positive asset on defense than the elder Parker. The fact that Patty drilled a fearless, game-winning three has to improve his stock with Pop, too.

2. San Antonio has to do better in the paint

It’s hard to stop James Harden from scoring in the paint and getting to the free throw line, but getting outscored 50-30 in the paint is a problem. So is giving up 20 offensive rebounds to guys like Nene, who I honestly didn’t know was still playing basketball. That’s just far too many opportunities for second chance shots, especially against a team that usually moves the ball and shoots the three well.

3. Kawhi needs to keep getting to the foul line

Kawhi Leonard shot 13 free throws against Houston. That’s three more than Harden! Which is really saying something. If Leonard can keep this up, it’s going to help out the team tremendously down the stretch. Kawhi didn’t have a great shooting night (5-15 FGs, 0-3 from deep) but if he can keep finding a way to score 20+ points by getting to the line, the Spurs are going to be competitive in every contest this season.

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