On Grammy's night, the Spurs delivered a dud of a performance. Like so many of their losses this season, Sunday night's loss to the Raptors in Toronto leaves a sour taste, few seeds of hope, and some real questions about just what sort of identity the team is shaping for itself.
While some viewers may have simulcast this game with America's National Talent Show, I had the television premier of The Hunger Games projecting its gloomy dystopia into my living room. While the battle between the Spurs and Raptors produced no casualties, the word "hunger" nonetheless presented itself as a suitable theme throughout.
The Spurs started off the night hungry for many things: a win to begin the 12th annual Rodeo Road Trip; to build on the momentum of a 5-1 homestand; to gain ground on the suddenly reeling Clippers, who lost Blake Griffin for 4-6 weeks with a staff infection; to take advantage of only their second game all season with a full unit; and to beat a Raptors team who've lost more games at the Air Canada
Center Centre this year than on the road. The Spurs - the players, at least - were also hungry to get everyone's favorite disgruntled Serbian his 1,000th career win.
In the end, though, San Antonio was hungriest for something else: made shots.
If you glance initially at a certain part of the box score for Sunday's game, you might notice your eyes bug out slightly. "20 offensive rebounds!" you might exclaim. Then you remember that offensive rebounds are available to a team only when that team misses a shot. Then your eyes sweep left, and they distend a bit further.
"They were good," Ginobili said of the Raptors. "I guess we helped them. We were not sharp."
"This would be a real good tiiiiime.. to take a nap."— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) February 9, 2015
AND YET. The Spurs led by 3 with about a minute remaining. They had a chance to tie with 4 seconds left before Tim Duncan sailed an inbounds pass into the Drake seats. San Antonio very well might've won, or forced overtime, if they could've gotten the 3-ball to go down. Of the Spurs misses, 1/3rd came from behind the arc, where they shot 25%. Now, an Eighties-esque three point percentage is no quite so damning if you take an Eighties-esque amount of three pointers; but SA took 28 of them, and on a night where the Spurs shot less than 30% on contested field goals, their inability to manufacture easy, high-efficiency makes spelled doom.
Even with that, the odds might still have been in their favor, if only late-game hero James Johnson hadn't grabbed an offensive rebound off of a Kyle Lowry miss. Johnson's resulting free throw gave the Raps an 85-82 advantage, and forced SA to plan for the three pointer they wouldn't end up taking.
Well, for about 6 hours today the Spurs held the 6-seed in the West. Back to their spot in 7th.— Paul Garcia PS (@PaulGarciaPS) February 9, 2015
Looking for silver linings? As we mentioned, the Spurs are finally at full health. The staggered returns of the previously infirm are providing the team with a steady onslaught of rested - if rusty - reinforcements. This may blunt somewhat the effects that three straight Junes are having on the team's legs.
Ironically, it's the oldest and highest-mileage legs (those of Duncan and Manu Ginobili) who've arguably been the healthiest this season. Manu will have a week off during the ASB, if not longer (depending on whether or not El Contusion suffered a thigh contusion on the last Spurs play Sunday night), but Duncan is going to MSG for his 15th appearance. While Pop has kept Duncan and Ginobili's minutes in check as well as could be imagined, you've got to wonder how much the physical and emotional toil is weighing on them after three months of carrying the team through Kawhi Leonard's absences and Tony Parker's hamstring injury and resulting erratic performances.
Long after Pop gets his 1,000th win and we all conclude our analysis of the team's success - or lack thereof - during this edition of the RRT, I believe the prevalent story line will be How Much Do the Spurs Have Left In The Tank? This season, we've seen the toll that multiple deep playoff runs have taken on players like LeBron, Kobe, even Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. While Parker and Leonard have become the two most important players on offense for SA, they still can't win a title without a healthy Duncan and Ginobili.
going from annie lennox to all about that bass was my 2015 low point— Rembert Browne (@rembert) February 9, 2015
Every season tells its own story. As we get deeper into February, the story of this season will emerge with increasing clarity. It's too soon to even begin to predict the ending, but nights like this one add one more element of tragedy to an already dreary volume.
Quote of the Night
"We're not trying to win for one person or another, we're trying to better our team and end strong (before the All-Star break)."
- Tim Duncan, apparently reading from a script prepared by Gregg Popovich
83 - Age of North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, who died today after leading the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours and 2 National Titles (the first was clinched by a jumper from a scrawny freshman named Michael Jordan.)
41 - Combined missed shots by the Big 4 (Leonard shot 5-17, Duncan 3-14, Parker 4-13, Ginobili 3-13). To quote internet sports sage Bill Simmons, I will now light myself on fire.
5 - Final margin of defeat. So, it could have been worse? This season is so confusing.
2 - Spurs games left before the All-Star break, including a SEGABABA against a surprisingly frisky Pacers team in Naptown, and a Wednesday night visit to The Palace of Auburn Hills to face the Detroit Pistons, who gave the Spurs their most heartbreaking loss of the season. (Well, top 5.)