The Spurs have never been a team to praise moral victories while under Gregg Popovich's direction, and tonight was no exception. Pop pulled the "soft" card for the first time this season following a 92-87 loss to the Clippers, adding his own brand of insult to injury, so to speak. If San Antonio is to regroup physically and respond to its coach's challenge, it'll have to do so without Stephen Jackson for the foreseeable future.
Pop began speaking without the aid of a question after greeting the media.
"Of all our games, this game was in the 'soft' category. We never had five guys that competed hard enough to win the basketball game," Popovich said. "I thought for a portion of that game, we were an embarrassment."
It was a strong early season remark from the four-time champion, whose team was outrebounded 52-42, outscored in the paint 56-36 and beaten in second-chance points 20-8. Not only that, but San Antonio managed to shoot just 35 percent from the floor with only 16 assists in the game. They had 33 dimes on Saturday.
And if the Spurs were soft tonight, repairs will have to be made without the services of Jackson. Manu Ginobili - who had 15 points, including 8-for-10 from the line - said the team may have suffered a letdown after learning of Jack's injury.
"It's difficult to lose any player, especially if you lost the starting small forward a couple of games before. So we're going to be short-handed for a while," Ginobili said. "We'll have to figure it out. It's going to be hard, but it's a good test for us.
"Hopefully we get enough wins and we get better."
The Spurs' least soft player caused a Clipper turnover on the sideline after a bad pass from Caron Butler with 7:46 remaining in the first, but Jack came up shaking his hand in obvious pain. San Antonio was forced to call a timeout as trainer Will Sevening attended to the team's interim starting small forward. Jackson returned to the game not once, but twice, only to be pulled for good with 41.5 seconds left in the first. The Spurs must now embark on a six-game road trip without two of their top rebounders and defenders.
"It hurts numbers-wise ... what they mean to the team. Skill-wise out on the floor, making shots and all that stuff, that hurts," said Tim Duncan, who finished with 20 points and 14 boards but only made six of 16 shots. "(The guards) have to chip in in every respect possible. Obviously, we lose a lot of size with Jack and Kawhi, so it's going to be a disadvantage for us."
For a team already facing issues on the boards, this has the potential to be very problematic. But for all that went wrong for San Antonio on this night, they actually had a chance.
Somehow, the Spurs overcame a second quarter in which they were outscored 29-14 and had an opportunity to tie the game with less than a minute remaining. But a somewhat sloppy possession led to an ill-advised shot attempt by Gary Neal, a player who missed the previous two games with a laceration on the index finger of his shooting hand. San Antonio, a team known for its execution down the stretch, could not capitalize, and in doing so wasted a valiant fourth-quarter effort from Matt Bonner.
This season's little-used sharpshooter scored 10 points in the final frame, connecting on two 3-pointers and dropping a couple of runners with each hand. San Antonio entered the fourth down eight, but with the help of Bonner, got back to within one possession with 3:30 left in the game. But the Spurs were unable to completely close the gap after Neal's runner failed to draw iron with 46 seconds remaining.
"In the second half it was just a battle, but they made the shots they needed and got the stops they needed at the end," said Tony Parker, who had another tough scoring night. "We tried to make a comeback and Matt Bonner made some big shots for us, but it was just not enough."
San Antonio must now hit the road much smaller than they thought they'd be just a few days ago. As Ginobili said, it's going to be a test.
"We cannot expect Tim and DeJuan Blair to pick up the rebounding," Parker added. "So everyone is going to have to make an effort when it comes to rebounding."
After being called 'soft' by their head coach, the Spurs must rebound in more ways than one.