The Spurs' three-game winning streak is over. The Wizards prevailed in a close game that went down to the wire, thanks to a last second three-pointer by Bradley Beal. The 102-99 loss is further proof that the Spurs are very much a work in progress and the mistakes they have been making will cost them against good teams. Kawhi Leonard had 23 points in the losing effort while Beal led all scorers with 25.
Every negative trend from past games continued on Wednesday. Slow start? Check. LaMarcus Aldridge not touching the ball for long stretches? You bet. Turnover issues? Sure. Bad late-game execution? The worst. The Spurs survived the past three games despite those problems because they faced flawed teams with as many question marks as them. The Wizards, despite adjusting to a new identity themselves, are simply too talented to be disposed of easily without a cohesive team effort.
As it was the case against the Knicks, there were times when it was possible to notice improvement, moments that fueled optimism about the team gelling sooner than expected.
After getting into a 17-point hole to start the game, the Spurs tightened up their transition defense, started to get good looks on offense and actually led at the end of the first quarter following a 21-3 run. They had a chance to break the game open in the second quarter, leading by as many as 12 points, but some late mistakes and bad shots cost them the separation they had worked so hard to get. Things went downhill from there.
The Spurs were still in control in a sloppy third quarter despite the Wizards' success when pushing the ball but could never take a commanding lead. Pop tried out an extreme smallball lineup with David West (and eventually LaMarcus Aldridge) at center and Rasual Butler at power forward up until the halfway mark on the fourth quarter but it didn't have a big impact. If they wanted to leave Washington with the W, the Spurs were going to have to earn it in crunch time. Just like on the season opener against the Thunder, they couldn't deliver.
The late-game execution was disastrous. The Wizards stayed small but didn't pay for it because the Spurs couldn't find a way to enter the ball to Aldridge while Dudley fronted him, proving everyone who suggested going big in this era was a mistake to be right, at least for the time being. As if the offense lacking imagination wasn't bad enough, there were also unforced errors coming at the worst possible times. The Spurs did everything they could to drop the game and the Wizards were happy to oblige.
Not everything was negative, of course. Tony Parker played a great game that included a clutch three-pointer to tie the game with seven seconds to go. Kawhi Leonard continues to make a smooth transition into featured scorer. Manu Ginobili looks as good as he has in a long while. The team as a whole struggled but we knew they would early on and the progress they have made so far is real.
The challenges ahead are real too and the Spurs will need to find a way to overcome them. The schedule remains mercifully soft for a while, which should allow for experimentation. Hopefully Gregg Popovich discovers the right combinations and everyone finds their place by the time the next good team comes along.
Play of the game
Obviously Beal's three-pointer is the play of the game but you can find that elsewhere if you missed it. Here's Tony Parker spinning past Marcin Gortat before getting a layup.
- Arguably for the first time this season Pop went deeper into his bench to find units that worked. The Spurs continued to use a two point guard lineup for stretches but also went small with Butler and West getting minutes. It was probably motivated by the Wizards' style and personnel but it was still a departure from the more conservative approach of the past four games. Let's see if it carries over to Saturday's game.
- LaMarcus Aldridge continues to struggle to find his role on offense. He's touching the ball less than he did in Portland and holding it for less time, according to SportVU stats, and that might be taking him out of rhythm. There are stretches in which he simply doesn't get the ball in his spots. He's also hesitant to pull the trigger in catch-and-shoot situation, always looking to make the extra pass. It's not surprising that it's happening and it will change with time. Hopefully there won't be many more 4-for-14, four turnover night in our future.
- Speaking of turnovers, that's what did the Spurs in on Wednesday. Their 22 errors resulted in 27 points for Washington. You can't give a team that wants to run so many opportunities. The missed three-pointers didn't help the Spurs' transition defense either. San Antonio needed to make it a half court game and couldn't.
- As mentioned, there were some encouraging performances. Tony Parker came up big when needed and is figuring out when to assert himself on offense better. Kawhi Leonard missed an open 14-footer that would have given the Spurs the lead late but had 23 points and nine rebounds. The zero assists are obviously not ideal but Kawhi played well on both ends. Then there's Manu Ginobili, who is getting to the rim and canning three-pointers with a confidence he hasn't showed in a while. Silver linings.
- Danny Green made three three-pointers, more than he had made in the past four games combined. It wasn't necessarily a good game for Danny but at least he's back to making threes. Progress!
- Tim Duncan is not looking to score. He was averaging a career-low 8.5 shots per game and took just five on Wednesday. He's focusing on defense and moving the ball and doing a fine job on both aspects, which shows how versatile he is. Hopefully in the future the offense will be able to create easy looks for Big Fun but for now he seems happy in a much smaller role.
- The Wizards are one good stretch big man from being a threat in the East. John Wall is a master at sucking the defense in but Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden are just not good enough shooters to make their defenders pay for leaving them open. They are still a fun team to watch now that they have embraced a faster pace and deserve a ton of credit for imposing their style on Wednesday.
The Spurs will return to San Antonio and have Friday off before hosting the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.
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