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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.

Spurs Dynasty Podcast – Episode 28

Go Spurs Go!

Spurs Drop Fourth Straight Home Game to Streaking Lakers

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.

 

Spurs Cough Up Win To Red Hot Pelicans

Season 51, Game 62
San Antonio 116, New Orleans 121
36-26, 5th in the West

With a healthy LaMarcus Aldridge for the entire game, the Spurs likely win this.

Even without Aldridge, the Spurs completely blew this game late, giving up a sure-fire win in the final minutes of regulation.

Both things are true. Playing without their star and best player, the Spurs were still primed to get this much-needed win at home after a very poor Rodeo Road Trip. For 46 minutes, the Spurs looked really good, zipping the ball around and playing unselfish basketball to keep the Pelicans at bay.

But those final two minutes proved to be disastrous, as the Spurs turned the ball over on 3 pivotal possessions, allowing the Pelicans to climb back and take the the lead. Then, on a pivotal box out on a missed free throw, four Spurs were unable to keep Anthony Davis off the glass as he grabbed the rebound and helped put the game out of reach.

Honestly, the Spurs would have been better off if that free throw went in. Which is kind of a microcosm for the whole season, if you think about it. (Pro tip: don’t think about it.)

That’s the rub of this season: the Spurs are good enough (even without their top level talent) this season to stay competitive in every game, but have been uncharacteristically sloppy late in games, unable to secure “should be” wins. We think of the Spurs as a machine that can out-execute you to death, particularly late in games. Well, that’s not these Spurs.

Instead, these Spurs fail to execute simple inbounds plays; these Spurs miss wide-open shots to tie or take the leads late in game; these Spurs fail to get big defensive stops. (The Pelicans scored 70 points in the second half; it’s a miracle the often offensively-challenged Spurs remained competitive.)

There are often bright spots in every game, and the players play to the best of their abilities. There just isn’t enough ability out there right now.

These last few months have put the Spurs in a precarious position: fighting for their playoff lives. It seems almost impossible to think, but the Spurs are in real danger of missing the playoffs. There is an eight team logjam in the Western Conference fighting for six playoff spots. Of those 8 teams, the Spurs are probably playing the worst right now.

They need to start winning games at home. They need to start winning games against good but not great teams.

They just need some damn wins.

There are three types of games left: games against elite teams (better); games against teams in the logjam (their equals); and games against the bottom of the league and/or the Eastern Conference (worse).

They need to win all of their games against the bottom. I have not hope of them beating teams definitively better than them. The season, then, will be won or lost in how they fare against those teams stuck in the middle with them, the logjam of the Western Conference. They have 8 game remaining against that bunch. I’d like to see them go at least 5-3 in those games. 6-2 would be better.

Truthfully, right now I’d just like to see them beat any team. I have no confidence in this happening.

I hope they defy my expectations Saturday night against the Lakers.

Go Spurs Go.

Spurs Dynasty Podcast – Episode 27

Go Spurs Go!

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