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Dud

Season 50, Game 51
San Antonio 74, Memphis 89
39-12, 2nd in the West

The fact that the Spurs laid such an egg in this game isn’t all that surprising. Down Kawhi against a very good defensive team on the road, a loss was surely a possible outcome. When gaming out the Rodeo Road Trip (RRT) schedule, this was one of the two games I had earmarked as a potential loss.

And stinkers happen. Much like that game against Orlando early in the season, sometimes a team just doesn’t have it and all the breaks go against them.

But the extent to which this game was complete and utter trash is what is shocking. Let’s run it down:

• The Spurs held the Grizzlies to 89 points… and still lost by 15 points. They had a defensive rating of 98.9 (a mark that would be near-record setting over the course of a season), which improved their already league-leading rating… and still got blown out.

• Why? The offense. Their offensive rating (and I do mean offensive) was 77.1, which is “Division-III college vs. competent NBA team” bad.

• The Spurs scored 74 points, their lowest total since 2011.

• They tallied 11 assists total, to 16 turnovers. That is not a good ratio.

• They shot 36% for the game. In the 4th quarter, they shot 13%, and it only got that high because the team had a final basket in garbage time. Before that final basket? 9%. (3-for-24 in the final frame.)

• In that 4th quarter, they scored a mere 9 points.

• They scored 14 points in the 1st quarter.

• LaMarcus – who seemed determined to be ‘the man’ in the absence of Kawhi – shot 4-for-19. He did not have a good game.

• I did mention that the team managed 23 points in one half of basketball, right? (Sure, it wasn’t in a consecutive half, but I’m still counting it.)

It was a really, really, really, really bad game of basketball.

And yet, as crazy as it sounds, I really think it was just a historically cold shooting night. Yes, the Grizzlies have a good defense. But the Spurs got most any shot they wanted. And they just missed, and missed, and missed, and missed some more for good measure.

But they played hard; they played smart. The defense was actually solid. Believe it or not, they were right in it until (almost) the very end. There was a moment, middle 4th quarter, when Parker got a steal, passed it ahead to Anderson, who pushed it up to Aldridge on the fast break heading for an easy layup… and for whatever reason, Aldridge hesitated, gathered, took an unnecessary dribble, then blew the (now) contested layup at the rim. The Grizzlies went the other way and scored 2.

LMA’s basket could have cut it to 4; instead it pushed to 8. In a game that low-scoring, that lead became almost insurmountable.

While the game was putrid, I’m not freaking out about it. It’s much easier to write off a performance like that as a dud and just move on with it.

The Rodeo Road Trip continues Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

Go Spurs Go.

Photo credit: Mike Brown – Mike Brown / EFE

The Oldheads

Season 50, Game 50
San Antonio 121, Denver 97
39-11, 2nd in the West

On a night when Gregg Popovich recorded his 1,128th career regular season win – besting Jerry Sloan for most wins with one franchise – it’s fitting that he was led by his two elder statesmen, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Parker has feasted on the Nuggets this season. After shooting 10-for-11 in the previous meeting, he was a scorching 8-for-8 tonight, for 18 points in just 23 minutes. He was steady in the first half, but really came on at the beginning of the second half, effectively putting the game out of reach for the Nuggets. Parker isn’t what he used to be, but if we can still get these concentrated doses of his brilliance, the team is still in good shape.

Not to be bested, Ginobili also scored 18 points, but all in 10 (10!!) first half minutes. Shooting 4-of-5 from deep and 4-of-4 from the line will do that. Much like Parker, Ginobili is still a key cog in the system in limited minutes. Part of the secret of aging gracefully is honestly accepting your limitations and playing within them. Both Parker and Ginobili have done that brilliantly this season.

Denver, playing their fourth game in five nights, ran out of gas early in the second half. The Spurs kept putting it on them, and we got to garbage time early. I love garbage time. I love watching Murray, and Bertans, and Simmons out there showing their stuff, pushing their limits, and working on their games. Simmons, in particular, was feisty in garbage time. You can see him developing and adding to his game. He could be a critical factor in the playoffs this season, and I love seeing his confidence grow.

While Pop would shrug it off, it’s nice to see him hit this milestone at home. It speaks to the consistent excellence with which he’s guided this franchise. And he’s got a whole bunch more wins in front of him.

And now the Rodeo Road Trip commences. This year’s schedule isn’t as tough as in years past, with an East Coast swing before the All-Star break, followed by two game in Los Angeles to close it out. 6-2 is realistic, though 5-3 is also likely. Anything worse than .500 would probably be a disappointment, given the schedule and the team’s performance on the road this season.

Up first: the Memphis Grizzlies, probably the second most challenging team on the trip. Oddly, these two Division foes haven’t played yet this season, which means we’ll see a bunch of this squad in the next few months. I’m very interested in this game, as Memphis has been a surprise this season (they do it every season, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise anymore), continuing to play their grit-n-grind style of play while also opening up the offense a bit. It will be a good test for the Spurs.

Go Spurs Go.

What Would Happen To You With Two Days Off in New Orleans?

Season 50, Game 46
San Antonio 103, New Orleans 119
36-10, 2nd in the West

For whatever reason (yes, like you, I can think of a few pretty obvious ones), the Spurs always seem to struggle in New Orleans. Always. Yes, they win some games there; but, relative to comparative talent between the two teams, it’s always closer than it should be.

One need only look back to the end of the 2014-15 season, the last night of the regular season, when a win in New Orleans (against a team already locked into their seed) would have secured the #2 seed while a loss meant the #6 seed. A game I’m sure we can all agree mattered. And yet, much like Friday night, the Spurs just laid an egg.

Friday night the team seemed to run out of gas (which seems odd considering they had two full days off before the game). The Spurs shot a meager 39% to the Pelicans blistering 52%. The Pelicans made 15 more baskets than the Spurs. With about 6 minutes gone in the 3rd quarter, the Spurs opened up an 11 points lead, 66-55. Over the remaining 18 minutes, the Pelicans shellacked the Spurs 64-37. Hard to win games giving up 64 points in 1 1/2 quarters.

The team just looked sluggish and a bit out of sorts. Parker and Leonard, in particular, seemed to be struggling after each had a week or so off. In a game so dependent on routine and rhythm, it’s natural that a week off would throw that out of whack. Parker was moving well (a more important indicator, considering his nagging sore left foot), but seemed a bit out of sync with the rest of the team.

Leonard showed flashes of his usual brilliant self, but in general, also seemed out of sync. He was also visually more frustrated than normal, which perhaps speaks to how discombobulated he felt on the court. Remember, though, after Leonard missed two games earlier this season with the stomach flu, his first game back was also pretty mediocre. Immediately after, though, he kicked off what might be the best streak of his career. We can afford to give him a game to regain his bearings.

In general, the loss isn’t that troubling. If you’d told me the Spurs would play the Raptors and the Cavs on the same 4-game road trip, and would finish the trip with a 3-1 record, I’d be very happy. There was a loss somewhere in this road trip, it just didn’t happen on the night we thought it would. Oh well. The Pelicans played very well and got big games from several role players. The Spurs do that to opposing teams all the time.

What’s a bit more troubling is the recent defense of the Spurs. Over the last 9 games (starting with the loss to Milwaukee, the first game where the defense seemed suboptimal), the Spurs have a defensive rating of 106.4 (15th in the league in that span). For comparison, the Spurs’ rating for the entire season is 102.1, 3rd in the league. The Warriors are 1st at 101.0. Over the course of a season, that 106.4 rating would rank 21st in the league.

In other words, not good. Digging deeper, the Spurs starters over those 9 games still rank 6th in defensive efficiency, while the bench is 24th. (To be fair, the bench’s net rating is 7.0 to the starter’s 8.7, so both units are performing very well.)

The only significant change over that time is the loss of Gasol. Perhaps the starters are benefitting from losing their worst defensive player, while the bench is suffering from losing their normal rotations and comfort as a unit, with deep bench players (not comfortable with the defensive principles) being pushed into more minutes.

Whatever the cause, the offense has been covering up a lot of ills of the defense recently. For the Spurs to be real contenders, the defense will need to get better. Thankfully, we have 37 games of data that show us it can be done.

The Spurs start a 4-game homestand Sunday against Dallas. Let’s hope the team gets back on track.

Go Spurs Go.

3 in the Key: Spurs v Cavaliers

Tony Dejak/AP Photo

Trace Ronning writes:

No Pau, no Tony, no Timmy? NO PROBLEM. San Antonio traveled into enemy territory and took down the reigning NBA champs in overtime on Saturday night behind Kawhi Leonard’s career-high 41 points.

I’ll get to my 3 key takeaways in a second, but first I want to give a bonus key to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for his session with the media before the game. Whether or not you agree with President Trump’s politics/philosophy/general being, you have to recognize that when one of the most caring and thoughtful men in the NBA is concerned about something, it’s worth arming yourself with the knowledge to fight whatever fight it is you need to fight. I highly recommend taking a listen to Pop’s thoughts if you haven’t heard them already.

And for what it’s worth, I want the Spurs to win the championship this year – obviously – almost just to see if they even visit the White House. Can they just go kick it with Obama at his house instead?

Back to basketball, here’s what I took away from the Spurs’ win over Cleveland.

Kawhi ain’t playing around out here

Pardon me while I type through my extremely biased keyboard over here, but how can you argue that any single other player in the NBA is more valuable to his team than Kawhi is to the Spurs? The man scored 41 points, shot 50%, made 100% of his free throws and played 46 minutes, much of which was spent guarding Basketball Hercules (LeBron James) on the road.

Yes, he lost a ton of steam at the end of regulation when all San Antonio needed to do was make like, shit, ONE, of their shots in the last 3 minutes to avoid overtime. He was 0-5 in the final 8 minutes of regulation, but without him are they even in the game at this point? Hell no.

Oh, he also scored 6 of San Antonio’s 11 OT points, so yeah he’s pretty vital to this team’s success.

David Lee is awesome and I wish we acquired him eight years ago

Lee moved into the starting lineup because Kyle Anderson broke Pau Gasol’s finger a few nights ago. No big deal, he just came in here and dropped a casual points/rebounds double-double on the Cavaliers and hustled his undersized ass off in the process. I learned that David Lee can dunk on Saturday night. I also learned that he has the heart of a damn warrior (no pun intended) and it reminded me of something.

Remember how in 2014 all of a sudden Aron Baynes was starting in the NBA Finals and all that happened was that San Antonio tore Miami’s heart out and fed it to a gaggle of bloodthirsty demon sharks? Can’t you see David Lee being the key to a Finals run this summer? Do you have any idea how awesome it’s going to be when Lee is the secret weapon that helps the Spurs to beat the Warriors in five games this postseason? JUST YOU WATCH.

Go for the jugular for once, sheesh

With 2:46 to go, LaMarcus Aldridge (who I yelled at all night, even though he apparently finished with a double-double) dunked home an errant Danny Green 3-ball to give the Spurs a 107-101 edge. This game had NO business going into overtime, but check out the Spurs’ possession log after that Aldridge dunk:

  • Danny Green misses a 24-foot three point jumper
  • Patty Mills bad pass out-of-bounds
  • Kawhi misses a two point shot
  • Kawhi misses a two point shot
  • Kawhi misses a two point shot

Was Kawhi exhausted? Probably, man. Probably. But I hate seeing the Spurs do this to themselves.

The Spurs get another shot at a top 5 team on Tuesday in Toronto, let’s hope they bring their killer instinct with them for that contest. (Editor’s note: they did!) Let’s kick it over to Stephen for his key takeaways!

Stephen Hale writes:

Dejounte Murray

Oh sweet honey Dejounte. This is kid is a treat. He is the entire headache and aspirin pill all rolled into one. He clearly has talent. But at the end of the day, he’s a rookie and it shows.

One particular play stood out: he walked into a trap and got picked clean which led to a Tristan Thompson dunk, a Spurs timeout and a not-happy-face from the old guy with the beard. But those types of play have to happen in January of his year. Let’s not underestimate how valuable this game was, Honey.

Big minutes against Bron-Bron on prime time TV and he certainly played basketball tonight. He was aggressive, assertive and decisive. He wasn’t shy and he proved that the D-League actually has a purpose after all.

At 6’5″ and 170 pounds, he definitely can afford to eat a few Whataburgers, but man is he quick. He has, like four elbows and that floater is eerily similar to that of a rookie from France the Spurs had almost two decades ago. I’m not saying Murray is the next Tony Parker, but he definitely isn’t Jacque Vaughn. I’m on the Honey Dejounte Bandwagon.

The Spurs have developed a disgusting trend this year and it’s driving me bananas

In no particular order, the Spurs have been dishing out about 18 really good minutes of basketball, 12 minutes of average basketball, 10 minutes of really bad basketball and 8 minutes of “oh snap-we better not lose or Pop is going to be mad” basketball.

They continue to squander leads and let teams get back in the games that should turn into easy wins. I don’t know what causes them to let off the gas, but I hope they fix it and soon. Granted, this is the NBA, where any team can beat you on any given night, but more often than not, the Spurs find themselves in a Tale of Two Halves and that’s not a good trend as we near the second half of the season.

Teams will make runs, but often times the teams that win are the ones that maintain a run, rather than surrender one. The identify of this group is starting to solidify. It will do one of two things: it will either unify this concoction of misfits and has beens, or will expose the weak links in the chain. Now is the time when we see who is who. January and February is when the tweaks start to become finalized and that rotation begins to shorten, ever so slightly.

Pop and LeBron

So rumor is, LeBron wants to grace the world with his Olympic presence and play for Coach Pop. I struggle to see if this is a compliment or an insult. It’s no secret that Pop is the greatest coach in the League and quite possibly of all time, save Red Auerbauch. And LeBron will go down as at least a top 100 player all time. Ok. Fine. Top 20.

But Bron-Bron has to be wondering “what if,” right? I mean, look at the all the other greats. Jordan, Kobe and Shaq all had Phil. Magic had Riley. Russell and Cousy had Red. Dream has Rudy T. Timmy had Pop. LeBron has had Coach Spo and an assistant who stabbed the head coach in the back and was also stepped over by Allen Iverson.

LeBron has won by his own efforts. He never had a coach make it easy on him. He never had a system to flourish in. He never had a coach that was even smarter than him. Pop represents the white rabbit. He might be the only person who has LeBron’s ear. He’s the only coach who has the recipe to stop him: look into the future and trade your favorite young point guard for a guy who is really long, really smart, a quiet defender, and teach him how to shoot. That’s how you beat LeBron.

Popovich is notorious for eating LeBrons lunch and “popping” the bag. He’s pretty much the only person who can bully him. And when this big mammoth of a small forward finds himself in an odd, horrifyingly vulnerable state of being with this opposing coach, what does he get from him? Respect. Respect that his own coaches haven’t or don’t give him. I can see why he loves Pop.

Do people say that about Phil Jackson, or Pat Riley, or Rudy T? No. They don’t. Pop isn’t great because his players love him and want to play for him. Pop is great because his opponents do. We will never see LeBron in a Spurs uniform. We will never have the city he wants to play for. And we won’t ever have the salary space to sign him.

But we will always have the coach he wants.

And having something he wants that he can’t have, well, that’s enough for me.

DNP-Nets

Season 50, Game 44
San Antonio 112, Brooklyn 86
35-9, 2nd in the West

With about three minutes remaining in the first half, the Spurs were winning 39-38, and it looked like all the hallmarks of a letdown game after the big win Saturday night. With Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, and Manu Ginobili all out, the margin of error was even narrower than normal. The last thing we wanted was a close game against (arguably) the worst team in the league.

All the hand-wringing was for naught: over the next 27 minutes, the Spurs outscored the Nets 73-48, cruising to another easy road win.

A few quick thoughts from Monday night’s win:

• It was nice to see playing time for everybody on the roster. This game was a perfect opportunity to get good minutes for players that don’t normally get them. Bryn Forbes, Kyle Anderson, and Davis Bertans, in particular, got a lot of playing time.

Forbes looked lost on both ends of the floor, which is to be expected from the last man on the bench. There should be no expectations from him or for him this season. He is a project, and will spend plenty of time in Austin. If he ever finds confidence in his stroke at this level, he could be a nice bench player.

Anderson, on the other hand, looked great yet again. He got time at the 3, the 4, and even the 1 for a small stretch. He is such a heady player with hands as quick as his feet are slow. His lack of speed will likely always limit him in the NBA, but on a well-orchestrated, intelligent team like the Spurs, he can definitely be a solid player. I particularly like him looking more confident in his offensive game.

• Games like this are also good opportunities for players to test out “skills” they are still working on. This is how we get to see Dewayne Dedmon run a fast-break (fail), take midrange jump shots (success), and even make a slick back-door pass to a rim-running Bertans (whoa!).

We take for granted that players continue to develop skills, even at the highest of levels. If you see a player develop a new skill in a game, you can be certain he has been working on it for hundreds of hours in practice and on his own.

• Another developing skill that I am surprised and happy about: Danny Green actually being able to dribble and make plays off the dribble. His vision used to be effectively zero, so to see it start to grow is exciting. Like Dedmon, he also made a slick back-door pass to a cutting Bertans. (Other lesson: Bertans is a really good cutter.)

• LaMarcus Aldridge was once again impressive in his all-around game. With Leonard, Gasol, and Parker out, it’d be easy for him to take on the scoring burden and focus less on other duties. To the contrary, he only scored 16 points, but chipped in 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. His overall activity and energy have been great this month, and he is a deadly player when he is more mentally and emotionally engaged.

• Dejounte Murray struggled a bit in the game. This is normal. He is a (barely) 20-year old rookie. For every stand out game, he’ll have at least one or two duds. After a rough start, he didn’t let it affect him mentally, and he ended up playing better in the second half. That’s encouraging. With Parker down for an indeterminate amount of time, there will be plenty of time for Murray to play through success and failures alike.

• The Spurs signed Joel Anthony to a 10-day contract. He was the last cut out of training camp, so the staff clearly likes him. He provides a nice veteran stopgap in the extended absence of Pau Gasol, and another big man to have on the roster. He likely won’t get much playing time, and who knows if he’ll stick once Pau comes back. As far as emergency big men go, though, he is a great fit.

The Spurs play in Toronto on a back-to-back Tuesday night. Going from Cleveland to Brooklyn to Toronto is an… interesting… change in talent of opponent. Toronto will be without DeMar DeRozan. I expect Kawhi will be back, but Manu will still likely be out. It should be a competitive game. The Raptors always give us trouble in Toronto.

Go Spurs Go.

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