Leave it to one of the best to wrap up the Tony Parker retirement and the loss to the terrible Grizzlies in one column.
Pop tried that thing where he subbed everyone out but it did not do much. LaMarcus Aldridge, one game after dropping 39 on the Thunder, scored three. The offense was not even the problem, as the Spurs allowed 39 points in the first quarter.
The defense is struggling, and the Celtics, more than any other team the Spurs have lost to, is just good at executing. The Lakers and Clippers had talent and made plays. These Celts have good players, but just did their stuff better.
Sometimes it just is not your night.
That is always a tough thing to acknowledge, and while the Spurs have been good at not getting dominated, even the best squads — the title winning ones — got blown out. Remember the 2005 team got destroyed in Detroit in back-to-back games? Yeah. It happens.
LaMarcus Aldridge is unappreciated.
This blog will freely admit to adding to the pile of criticism that came when he seemingly wilted against Golden State right when the Spurs needed him most. Eventually — and I surmise this is what happened when Pop had a talk with him and accommodated his wishes — you have to realize he is who he is.
Pop is known for grinding his players and fashioning them to the player he wants them to be. He still does that with Murray and some of the younger guys. A player that is well-established like Aldridge? Nope.
There are few big men that can defend and be the primary scorer on any team, let alone a good team. Aldridge and DeRozan have a similar reputation for wilting when the lights get bright but given that Kawhi did not want to be here, there is not much choice is there?
There are maybe three or four guys in this league that can shine bright and bring a championship: Kawhi, Bron, Giannis …?
Okay maybe two. James Harden has playoff struggles (Manu block!) and even Anthony Davis could not bring his Pelicans sustained glory. Aldridge was incredible last night and that was mostly because his shot was falling.
The difference between LeBron and Kawhi and the rest of the stars is that they can overpower the defense with sheer physicality. This game is about athleticism and skill, sure, and when one is failing a great player can rely on the other half of it.
When Aldridge’s shot is not falling everyone from Shaq to your uncle wants him to go inside and bully his way to buckets. The thing is that Aldridge has never had the frame to do that against just anyone.
When it is falling? Well, he is exactly what you need to beat up on a mid-table side like OKC.
I saw Methuselah hit a step-back fade-away three pointer over Trey Lyles. People say that it was, in fact, Vince Carter.
It was that kind of night in this one. The Hawks have a guy that changes the calculus of the floor in Trae Young and the Spurs do not have a rim protector to at least force him to be one-dimensional.
The Spurs shot three more 3PT shots and made just three fewer than the Hawks. The thing is that a couple of the Spurs’ threes were some desperation things — including Rudy Gay’s silly toss from half court because he was unaware of the actual time on the clock.
Trae Young firing 27-footers is a great shot for the Hawks.
The worst thing about this game was having the feeling that the Hawks had the better player. Trae Young looked dangerous and controlled the game at the end, toying with the Spurs, drawing the matchups he wanted and making the game his.
Our guys that are supposed to do that did not, in fact, do that.
DeRozan put up some numbers — 22 on 16 shots — and LMA struggled a bit on 14 shots. The game was lost late in the third and early fourth and that was that.
We have seen Kawhi take over the fourth. Then we saw Dame Lillard do the same. We saw Bron and AD dominate late and open things up for their role guys. The Spurs need a little more of the DeMar we saw in the first couple of games, taking over, and bending the defense to his will.
Can he do that? you ask.
I do not know, anymore.
Remember when I wrote that progress was the goal? Yes, well this was also one of those times where everyone wanted to measure this Spurs team against the latest incarnation of a LeBron SuperTeam.
The Spurs came in with a great offensive rating and the Lakers, thanks to their length — and really Danny Green and Anthony Davis — came into tonight allowing sometime around 92.3 on defense. The Spurs hit that number tonight, sort of confirming the importance of a quality defense.
There were a fair number of missed shots that usually go in — that is to say, no one was unusually bottled up beyond LMA getting bullied and bumped and probably fouled a number of times. Bryn Forbes was ungodly bad from deep and that was basically the difference.
There is an argument to be made that this was just an off night shooting the ball and that is all the difference between the 5-1 Lakers and the 4-2 Spurs.
On the other hand, it is troubling that Aldridge and DeRozan combined for only 22 on 24 shots between them. DeRozan was off from everywhere and the aggression came from your star Dejounte Murray.
This, like that Cleveland game three years ago, will be another milestone in his progression. He got easy buckets because of steals and also crossed over Caldwell-Pope before getting a sweet lefty scoop shot+1 over Bron.
His minutes are still restricted and so then are the Spurs in that regard. Nate Jones tweeted this:
That is quality analyzing . LMA, and all big men, have some trouble with length. Javale and Anthony Davis do not make it easy to get the normal buckets he does. Poeltl was even more flustered, and slow to get the roll moves on the screens.
The length bothered San Antonio all game and it would improve in a playoff series as the team got used to it. On a Sunday night in early November? Well it led to easy buckets.
Murray led a furious little comeback himself before Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit two ridiculous buckets to put the Lakers permanently ahead. The Spurs are still searching for someone not named Forbes to get hot from deep — which makes that Bertans deal hurt more — and even Bryn was cold tonight. He shot 1/8 from deep on looks he has been happy to get all season.
In the progress meter, we can call this one a success. The Lakers are more talented but the Spurs were right there, and should play better in better circumstances.
The Lakers however, are ridiculously talented and Bryn is happy to play Robin to AD’s Batman. The real threat? Well it was Spurs-nemisis Dwight Howard getting huge buckets all game long. He finished with 14 and 13, including 4 big offensive rebounds.
Watching Draymond Green lose is always fun. Watching him lose with Willie Cauley-Stein and Deangelo Russel is less satisfying than it otherwise could be.
The Spurs won big, played DeMarre Carroll a bit, and got a little more rhythm. After five games (just five) the Spurs are not the same offensive team they were last season. They turn the ball over more,
The offensive rating is about the same but crucially, the defensive rating has improved. We wrote about progress last game, and that is the goal. It is a difficult one to achieve with so many moving parts. DeMarre Carroll played in just his first game last night. He was brought in because of his defense. Dejounte Murray is the best perimeter defender and is limited to 25m per game and did not play vs the Warriors.
That has a knock-on effect in that DeMar DeRozan is asked to play more point guard. He only took seven shots, scored only 13 but had 11 assists.
DeRozan has been able to be more aggressive attacking the defense when he has Murray and White running the offense. In this one, the aggression came from Patty Mills, taking a team-leading 16 shots and scoring 31.
In all, it is unremarkable that the Warriors have fallen so far so fast. The have so many injuries and new faces that it is not the same team that went to 5-straight Finals. It highlights how impressive LeBron’s run was, and even more impressive how the Spurs were able to maintain a level of consistency and competitiveness for 20+ years.
Green said this week “this is something (losing) that everyone except Tim Duncan has experienced”. It is true. Tim never missed the playoffs, as these Warriors will this season.
The Spurs are missing the top-five talent that the Clippers, Lakers, and probably Milwaukee have, but if things break right, they can be something like a dark horse. They have a great coach, a good system, and good-enough players. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are good enough players to produce Playoff calibre teams. Murray and the rest of the young guns may be just enough depth to carry the team deep.
This Warrior game was missing Murray, and he would have helped limit whatever offense the Warriors produced to make it more interesting late. He would have helped limit (maybe) Dame Lillard the other night.
Against a Jamal Murray last season, maybe a Murray lock-down defensive performance could have given SA just enough advantage to move on. The devil is always in the details and those details get refined in early November on the second night of a back-to-back.
Some time in the 2000s when the Blazers were good and the Spurs were battling for the best record, the regular season matchups against them — and any team that was good — felt momentous.
They were fuel for the arguments I would have at school about the team and it’s place in the league and in history.
In the years since, it has been nice to get some confirmation that the players take some games more personally.
Last year against the Raptors when Kawhi returned to San Antonio, it felt like that again. DeMar DeRozan notched a triple double. Kawhi yelled after dunking early.
In this matchup against the Clippers, it is harder to get the same feelings. If I have to choose an LA team to hate it would obviously be the Lakers, even if the Clips — a version of them — were the last LA team to beat San Antonio in the playoffs.
Kawhi day out the first game to be prepared for the Spurs. He was criticized for sitting against Utah because those fans are missing out while the LAC crowd has 41 chances to see their guy.
That is another discussion. What is curious is that he sat the front in, and not the second night. He wanted to play SA?
DeMar was more crisp in this one partly because he is back home in Los Angeles, partly because he is in the fourth game of the season and is catching his rhythm.
In the end, the Spurs has no obvious answer for Kawhi doing Kawhi things. They stayed fighting but did not get enough clutch buckets late.
The real complaint will be about the first half, where LAC was struggling after the playing the night before and the Spurs looked like they had some jet lag.
This is where two things can be true, something I had trouble understanding when I was a kid looking for hot takes for school arguments.
The Spurs wanted to win this game but did not do everything they could to win it off the court. Playoff preparation is much more detailed. Regular season preparation is about building the team cohesion.
We saw the Spurs get better by just a little bit in this one. Young Dejounte was not nearly as dazed by Patrick Beverly as he was in that Rockets series in 2017.
In fact, Murray back-tipped Bev on a drive. The student had become at least an apprentice.
- Marco Bellinelli is still slumping. He has a shooting slump last season but he has been just poor all over the court.
- Still no Carroll eh? What is going on there?
- Lonnie was scolded in the postgame by Pop.
- Kawhi did actually say he looks forward to playing his old teammates.
- LMA was held to 5. He didn’t catch the rhythm of the game and the Spurs didn’t really help him out. Having DeRozan go off for 29 was nice and kind is the point is having two stars.
Damian Lillard missed two would-be tying threes to close the game out, after bringing his Portland Trail Blazers to the brink of a comeback against the Spurs.
DeMar DeRozan scored 27 but missed two free throws that would have made it four or five, and before that missed a fadeaway free throw line jumper that would have extended the lead.
Lillard has a reputation as a closer, a finisher, and a guy that hits big shots in big moments. That is true, and what is also very true is that he has missed some big ones as well. If those are not as prominent in your brain as the big ones he made, that is because big shots have a tendency to stick in the mind a bit more.
We remember Kawhi hitting the fadeaway jumper against Philly in the playoffs last year and almost have completely forgotten he missed some huge free throws in the 2013 Finals vs the Heat.
DeRozan has yet to have a big shot moment like that — it is certainly possible he never will have half as many as Lillard has had in his career.
What is great is that DDR is still shooting the shots. He is the closer and like Dame, he will miss some and he will make some like he did against the Wizards.
DeMar had 27, all of that through the early 4th quarter before the Spurs’ reserves started blowing the lead. He came in a little cold after that. No excuses, but that was a thing.
Missing Dejounte in the 4th quarter will be tough, as the Spurs allowed 39 in this final period, and it cannot imagine that would have been quite so easy with Murray harassing Dame a bit more.
The Spurs held a 15 point lead after Murray assisted Marco for a three and the Blazers were on the verge of pulling everyone and packing it up with about seven minutes to go. It is easy to get upset with the failure to close it out there, but this was a weird game. The Spurs were down big early, and got all the way back.
The Blazers were on the second night of a back-to-back (SEGABABA) and that means we can probably do some self-loathing — how could they allow this team to come back etc. The truth is that ugly wins are better than pretty losses and the Spurs are 3-0, with a good offense and a brilliant defender playing 20min a night and getting a little healthier with each game.
Watching (or not) the Raptors get their rings, among all the hype around Kawhi — the man who took the Raptors where DeMar did not — beat Lakers in Los Angeles, had to have some part in the play of DeMar DeRozan in the Knicks game.
If there is something else unifying about all these NBA players, it is that they are more competitive than the average citizen. It had to sting a little — even just the tiniest bit — to see a guy do all that
DeRozan did not play well against the Knicks, turning the ball over often and missing free throws. Tonight against the Wizards, he displayed a level of aggression that is worthy of his salary. We counted three dunks, two with the right and one with the left. One of them was on the other side of the rim. He looked like he was looking for his shot, like he is an all-star known for getting buckets when and where he wants them.
He closed out the game by attacking the middle of the floor and looking for his shot. He finished things off by getting a tough two in traffic. That is the kind of thing we used to see Kawhi, Ginobili, and Parker do when it mattered.
Another spurned player balled out of his mind in this one: Davis Bertans. He looked every bit the guy we did not want to see go, firing sumptuous three-point shots and mixing in a little defense here and there. He closed down DeMar on one of the final possessions, and helped his team by blocking Forbes.
The Spurs won this thing and like the opener, there is much to dislike. The Knicks and Wizards are not going to win the title and neither is a guarantee for the playoffs no matter how weak the East is.
An encouraging sign is the level of defensive quality when closing out both games. Sure, there were some glaring errors in positioning that allowed the Wiz to take the lead and even hang around early. Watching Dejounte eat up space and turn steals into dunks is invigorating, however. Derrick White and Murray shut down Bradley Beal on the final possession. That is Spurs basketball.
Oh, and in eight quarters of play, the Spurs have scored 30+ in six of them.
The squad has one more on this little home stand before heading west where they will be tested against Kawhi and the Clippers. Dame Time is coming Monday, and the level of competition will rise.
The West is wide open and these wins count just as much as any others, and are arguably more important given thee weakness of the teams concerned. The Spurs did lose to the Knicks last season after all, and that meant a lower seed in the playoffs.
LaMarcus had a quiet 27 to lead the team again. He was his default good self and even drained a couple of threes. He needs to do that Tim Duncan thing and be consistently good for the Spurs to challenge.
I am bullish on the Spurs’ chances — the West is not so great that no one is without flaws. Where the Spurs lack top flight talent, they have depth and experience. That may not go so far in the playoffs, where you need special talent to show up, but it is better than nothing.
Dejounte Murray is fast and quick and long and young and it is weird to have someone like that on the Spurs. San Antonio still feels like it has a bunch of fogies, that even the knowledge we have — SAS has a ton of young guys — still doesn’t always translate to Feel.
DJ sliced through for buckets and got steals and for a second I allowed myself to think of what he and Kawhi would have done in the same backcourt tonight.
Instead, we saw him get a nice 18 on 7/10 shooting. He was in a competition with Bryn Forbes for leading scorer until LaMarcus’ late three pushed him to the top.
The Knicks should not have been much of a problem but you have got to like that the Spurs played defense in spurts, when their likely starting rotation was in, and that they scored 37 in two different quarters.
This all without a fully functional Demar. He missed free throw tosses in warm up. For a long stretch of the game he has only a single point, and went through a stretch where the Knicks were sitting on his drive-and-kick thing, stealing a handful of passes.
He had four turnovers.
The essence of a team, however, is that it is more than one guy. The role of primary scorer is one that multiple guys filled. Five guys were in double figures and Derrick White had 9.
Demar closed the game out with some drives and created some free throw line trips. He will get his rhythm and not look so out of sorts and the Spurs should be a little more dangerous.