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Spurs' continue to struggle closing games, lose to Wizards 101-93

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The Spurs did a fantastic job of keeping the game close despite not playing as well as they are capable of but their continued problems in the clutch prevented them from pulling off a valuable road win.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Symmetry defined the first half, at least at the team level. The Wizards made their run against the Spurs' bench, as San Antonio's subs checked in earlier than Washington's. Then in the second quarter, the Spurs made their push while the Wizards' starters rested. A hot shooting first quarter by the home team was answered by long range makes in the second period by the visitors. Everything balanced out, with a high-scoring stretch being followed by a hard time putting points on the board.

The reason why Washington was ahead at the break and in relative control of the game while the Spurs had to keep up was due to individual talent. The Wizards were bigger and more athletic, with Paul Pierce taking advantage of match ups against the Spurs shooting guards and John Wall and Bradley Beal covering ground on defense with the type of help-and-recover strategy that the Thunder have used so well over the years to muck up San Antonio's execution.

The Wizards, impressive as they are, are not comparable to the peak Thunder. Some crevices emerged from time to time and the Spurs took advantage. Patty Mills nailed open threes he doesn't usually get against other teams, as Washington's guards overhelped. Pick and pop jumpers from opposing big men -- the bane of the Spurs existence for years -- were always there for the Wizards to use to halt runs. The Spurs never took the lead in the first half after the 7:51 mark in the first quarter but the Wizards couldn't really pull away, hard as they tried.

Keeping up with the theme of the night, the third quarter mirrored the first. The Wizards made a run and the Spurs had to come from behind to erase the deficit. Tiago Splitter and Tony Parker combined for 14 to neutralized the attack from Wall and Bradley Beal. The Spurs controlled the paint but Washington had easy buckets on the break to keep San Antonio at bay. The same three-point lead that existed after the second quarter was there going into the final period.

Normally, a close game in the fourth is a good result, especially on the road. This season, however, the Spurs are a disaster in those situations. Before Tuesday, the Spurs had only won five of 18 games in which the difference was five points with five minutes to go. Their best shot of emerging victorious would have been for the Spurs to break the pattern of the game and go on a run that would have created enough separation to allow them to withstand their usual late game struggles. That didn't happen despite them taking a small lead early, so it wasn't exactly surprising when the Wizards closed the game better and beat the Spurs after 17 straight losses.

Game notes

  • The Spurs used 22 lineups to the Wizard's 13. Washington has a young team with a set rotation while the Spurs are keeping tabs on minutes and have had so many injuries that they haven't been able to establish clear roles for everyone yet. Against good teams, going so deep into the rotation and throwing units out there that haven't played together enough is costly. The only thing for fans to do is trust the process and hope that when Leonard returns that will cease to be a problem.

  • Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined to shoot 35 percent from the floor (14-for-40). Among the three, they took four free throws. That's not enough scoring from the team's backbone. Combined with the mistakes they all made, it's surprising the Spurs kept it close.

  • The reason San Antonio hung around was the play of the reserves, specially Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Jeff Ayres. Mills was hot from outside, converting four of his six three-point attempts and playing spirited if not always effective defense. Diaw didn't shine on the boards and had trouble guarding pretty much anyone but he had one of those stretches in which he simply takes over and looks like the best player on the court. Ayres battled with the Wizards' bigs and played sold defense, filling in admirably for Aron Baynes.

  • San Antonio went 9-29 from beyond the arc (31 percent) and some of the looks that didn't fall were good. Danny Green went 2-for-10, which is not something that happens all that often. Had some of those outside shots gone in, the game might have ended differently. Then again, Rasual Butler did miss consecutive corner threes and he's shooting over 45 percent from there, so no excuses. 

  • It was not a good game for Cory Joseph or Austin Daye. Joseph continues to be relentless in his drives to the basket but defensively he was not as sharp as in other games and his reluctancy to shoot from outside makes Diaw look like Antoine Walker in comparison. Daye was just not effective at all. If Belinelli and Leonard miss more games, Pop should experiment with starting Joseph in Daye's stead. The spacing will suffer but a Joseph-Green wing duo would provide better defense and shot selection than the team is getting from Daye.

  • This loss hurts because the Spurs keep looking to build momentum only to suffer deflating close defeats. At the same time, the Wizards are a fantastic team. John Wall is arguably a top ten player, they have shooting from the wing and they can play suffocating defense for long stretches. A win would have been fantastic but until Leonard returns and the Spurs get to play normal rotations, beating the bad teams, getting some wins at home against the good teams and competing on the road is all I can really ask for. Fortunately, there are 43 games left for the Spurs to find their best form.

The Spurs are now 23-16 for the season and will play the Charlotte Hornets on the road on Wednesday on the second game of a back-to-back before receiving the Blazers on Friday.

For the opponent's perspective, visit Bullets Forever.

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Update: Gregg Popovich had to leave the team bus momentarily because of chest pains but is on the plane going to Charlotte with the team.