The volcano has been building up for a while and tonight, Mt. Popovich went off, following a dispiriting 112-110 overtime loss to the cursed Lakers before a neutral-at-best crowd at the AT&T Center. The Spurs coach delivered a 44-second postgame screed in which he expressed his numerous frustrations with his team while sprinkling in some praise for the Lakers in between. After the brief airing of grievances, he quickly turned on his heel and left, without taking any questions.
Here is the full statement: "I thought the Lakers did a great job. They had an edge, they were aggressive on both ends of the floor, they executed well and the definitely wanted the game more than we did. It seemed to be more important to them than to us. I thought our performance was pitiful. Out of the regular game, 48 (minutes), I thought we played six or seven, eight minutes of competitive, execution-type basketball. The rest of it was just pitiful. We should be embarrassed by the way we played. A lot of it had to do with the Lakers being great, but that is beside the point. We didn't have enough people that had the focus to take the game seriously and go after it. It was a disappointing night."
Recapping the game is also beside the point. Take what you saw in the recent losses at Brooklyn and Utah, add more three-pointers for both teams and there you go.
The longer version though, for the record... Spurs got up quickly 10-0 behind a pair of threes by Danny Green, and then took their collective feet off the gas pedal, so intent on preventing Kobe Bryant from scoring the 31 points he needed to pass Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list that they seemed as confused by the notion of Bryant passing as the rest of us were. Bryant finished with 22 on 7-of-22 shooting and helped out the home team with several unsuccessful "hero ball" attempts late in the game, but no matter.
A hail of threes from Nick "Swaggy P" Young and Jeremy Lin early and then Wesley Johnson and Young some more in the second half put the Spurs in a 86-75 hole going into the fourth quarter. Rotations were late if they were there at all and various perimeter defenders, from Green to Kyle Anderson --starting his second consecutive game for the injured Kawhi Leonard-- to Marco Belinelli to Manu Ginobili erred in allowing said threes. Tim Duncan rebounded like a demon, finishing with a season-high 18 caroms off the glass, but no other Spur had more than four and in all they allowed the Lakers to nab 14 offensive boards and 17 second-chance points.
Meanwhile, offensively it was the same old story. Turnovers, shoddy finishing around the basket and a disturbing lack of energy and enthusiasm from Ginobili and Tony Parker specifically. The former had just four points and three turnovers through three quarters while the latter was a ghost in 17:32 of playing time, making just 2-of-5 shots and showing zero interest defensively. Parker had missed the past three games with a hamstring strain and was maybe looking to ease back into the swing of things, but he didn't play after the third quarter.
The Spurs turned up the defense at last in the fourth and some of the percentages caught up with the Lakers. They shot 7-of-21 in the final quarter but even worse than that, they turned it over seven times. Even though Ginobili lukewarm, it looked like the Lakers had things well in hand when Bryant hit a deeeeeeeeeeep three with Green all over him to make it 101-92 with 1:59 to go.
What followed after that was out of some Buffalo Wild Wings commercial. Two free throws by Ginobili, Joseph stealing the ball from Bryant and coming up with a jump ball scramble, a Ginobili three on his second try after Duncan rebounded the first miss, a Joseph steal of a foolish breakout pass from Bryant that led to a three by Green, a Kobe brick and one of two free throws from Ginobili to send it into overtime.
A few baskets back and forth in the extra period and the Spurs regained the lead for the first time since 4:41 was left in the second quarter when Ginobili found Duncan on consecutive pick-and-rolls. Duncan finished with 19 points to move past Jerry West into 18th on the all-time scoring list and collected his 809th double-double, putting him five behind Karl Malone for fifth all-time in that stat. The Spurs led 110-109 and had the ball with 40 seconds to go following a stop, but Ginobili turned it over when he pressed his luck, hoping to hit Duncan a third time. Young made him pay on the other end, with a 30-footer with seven seconds to go, his sixth from downtown to give him a season-high 29 points. Ginobili was practically inside his jersey defending the play, but it didn't matter. ("I actually thought he was going more for the foul than to make the shot," Ginobili said afterward.) Manu missed a contested three on the other end and the Spurs had lost their third game to a team well below .500 in 10 days.
"Lack of focus, lack of respect, lack of energy, lack of intensity, lack of a lot of things," Green replied afterward when asked if focusing against an inferior opponent was an issue for the Spurs. "We came out flat and made some silly mistakes. We let them get hot in the first half and it was hard to get them out of rhythm."
Joseph, who continues to play better and better the more minutes he gets said he's noticed a different intensity from the dregs of the league than last year, adding that for some squads unlikely to make the playoffs, games against the Spurs are like their Finals. "The target is on our back," he explained. "We're trying to defend a championship right now and everybody knows that, but that's last year and we've got to put that behind us and come out ready to play. They took it to us today."
It's hard to take any silver linings out of the game. We don't even know if Parker or Splitter managed to come out of it without re-aggravating their respective injuries because Popovich didn't take any questions. The only bright side, if there is one at all, is that the Spurs showed that they're still capable of furious rallies when sufficiently inspired. The problem is that it shouldn't have to come to that.
"It is frustrating, it's disappointing," Ginobili lamented, while explaining basically why every statistician with half a brain judges a team's quality by scoring differential rather than their record in close games. Lucky teams win close games. Good teams win blowouts.
"It looks like we have to be challenged badly to get the best out of our game," Ginobili said. "And sometimes you are going to bounce back and get the win, which could have easily happened today. We were in a great situation to win the game. But the thing is that you get to that situation and basically we're flipping a coin. We can't allow that to happen and we should've taken care of business before."
The Spurs business will now take them northwest, first to Denver and then, on a SEGABABA, to Portland, to start a stretch of 11 straight games against playoff teams or teams within the top ten in the merciless West. At least the Spurs won't have to worry about taking those teams lightly.
Your Three Stars:
3) Danny Green (20)
2) Cory Joseph (19)
1) Tim Duncan (39)