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Spurs continue to struggle at home, fall to 5-3 on season

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NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

No one had the Spurs losing three of their first four games at home. Not after losing just one contest at home all of last season. But a slow start defensively led to another double-digit deficit that the silver and black were unable to overcome.

The Spurs’ defense is what stands out as the biggest problem for the team, and specifically their transition defense. It’s not even that they’re sloppy with the ball and giving up breakaway buckets – they turned it over just 10 times – it’s a deeper issue. The Rockets scored a quarter of their points in transition last night.

Obviously that’s less than ideal.

In the half court the Spurs had trouble defending the pick-and-roll with James Harden. They constantly switched a big onto the Rockets’ MVP candidate and paid the price. That’s been a recurring issue for San Antonio this season — they rank 23rd in defending the pick-and-roll ball-handler and 25th in defending the roll man so far. I’d bet big that that won’t last.

Coach Gregg Popovich pointed to the defense as the issue when asked how he felt about the Spurs holding the Rockets to just 38 points in the second half:

That’s the whole point of the game, we gave up 63 win the first half and 38 in the second half and that’s what we’ve been doing here at home. Playing a quarter or two of defense and a quarter or two of no defense. Our consistency in that regard hasn’t been good.

The Spurs clearly miss Tim Duncan. Big Fun was the guy who quietly cleaned everything up for San Antonio, providing superb rim protection as the last line of defense while also serving as the team’s linebacker – calling out rotations and leading the defense night after night. Filling that gap will be a process.

It’s a new team with lots of new additions and it’s going to take time to smooth it all out and build chemistry. The good news is that the team is clearly capable of playing good defense, it’s just a matter of putting it together for 48 minutes. San Antonio won’t be the defensive force they were last season but they certainly won’t be as flawed as they’ve been so far. Popovich just won’t let it happen.

But it’s not that the Spurs’ offense was anything special either – they shot under 40% overall with the starters shooting 38% with 60 of the team’s 84 shots. Houston deserves credit for that; they played hard in their own end, forcing the Spurs into tough shots all night.

Harden was fantastic for Houston with an eye-popping line of 24-12-15 – all team highs. With help from the sharpshooting Ryan Anderson (4-of-6 from downtown) and Eric Gordon off the bench the Rockets were able to hold on at the AT&T Center with a 101-99 win.

Let’s end on a positive note with a couple of highlights, per usual.

Jonathon Simmons is always good for some repeated viewing, here showing nice awareness, change of pace and a gorgeous finish through the lane.

And an incredible jam from the second-year 27-year old.

One more highlight, this one from my new favorite player, Nico Laprovittola. With Tony out it’s been fun to watch Nico in some extended minutes.

So the Spurs fall to 5-3 for the season and currently sit in the fifth spot out West 10% of the way through the season. On the plus side, we don’t have to wait long for San Antonio to get a shot at evening up the season series with Houston as they face off on Saturday.

Quick Notes:

  • I’m sure you’ve heard but Kawhi Leonard notched his fourth 30-point game this season after scoring 30 just four times in his career coming into this season. He finished with 34, and while he was great from outside (4-of-6 from deep) and continued to get to the line and knock down freebies (8-of-8) he finished just 7-for-20 from two. Overall Kawhi was fantastic, adding seven boards, a couple blocks and a steal, and continues his MVP campaign, though the Spurs will need to win some more games to help him out. Check out this super-deep triple from Whi.
  • The last time the Spurs lost three games in a row at home was in December of 2014 when the Spurs lost to the Lakers, Grizzlies and Trail Blazers in a stretch that saw an overtime and back-to-back triple-overtime games.
  • I think we can all agree that it’s great to have Danny Green back in action. The Spurs still haven’t played a game with their preferred starting five yet but that will come soon. Danny was his usual outstanding self on defense, racking up four steals and a block in his 26 minutes. His shooting was a little rusty. He hit just 2-of-8 from three and 3-of-9 overall, but led all starters with a +9 for the game.
  • The beloved Manu Ginobili has had a bit of a rough go of it to start this season. He’s shooting just 32% and his usual highlight-worthy passing has been few and far between thus far. He was 1-of-7 tonight but did go 6-of-6 from the line.

Up Next:

The Spurs stay in San Antonio and get a day off before they take on the Detroit Pistons, Boban Marjanovic and an angry and disgusted Stan van Gundy. The early season schedule remains tough as the Spurs will finish a three-games-in-four-nights stretch when they travel to Houston on Saturday.