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Kawhi Leonard could use some help

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The face of the San Antonio franchise has been solid as a rock, and twice as consistent. The rest of the team? Not so much.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With Chicago up five points and a little over two minutes left in the game, Jimmy Butler went to work above the 3-point line against Danny Green. Butler, averaging 26.0 points per game this season, had spent the majority of the game on Kawhi Island. He took five shots in the first half without scoring a point. The two-time All-Star didn’t make his first basket until about seven minutes left in the third period, but with the game in the balance, Kawhi Leonard was tucked away in the strong-side corner on Dwyane Wade after an early switch.

Butler received a ball screen from Robin Lopez and finagled his body into open space. LaMarcus Aldridge dropped back to the elbow and conceded the mid-range shot. As a half-second late Green did his best to recover, Butler launched the shot, knocked it down the shot, and drew a questionable foul. All Leonard could do was watch, because the Bulls strategically went away from him in order to keep San Antonio’s most destructive defender away from the action. This sequence was significant because it underscores a fundamental issue with this year’s Spurs team.

Kawhi can’t do it all by himself. He had a game-high 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished five assists all while guarding the opposing team’s best player on the other end of the floor. When the Spurs needed life after opening the game without energy, Kawhi provided it. When the Spurs needed a bucket, he created one. This, of course, is what franchise players do.

But the Spurs needed more in Thursday night’s 95-91 loss to Chicago, which ended the Spurs’ 13-game road winning streak. Aldridge clanked away 10 of 15 shots. Jonathon Simmons blew a wide-open dunk. Manu Ginobili missed all nine of his shots. Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Danny Green turned in middling offensive performances.

Chicago’s best player was rendered ineffective for the majority for the game, yet the Bulls’ offense still outpaced the Spurs by a comfortable margin – on the scoreboard and in efficiency. San Antonio’s field goal percentage hovered around the low 30’s in the first half while Chicago, not exactly lighting it up, operated in the low 40’s. San Antonio moseyed around the basketball court content to clank shots, while Chicago dictated the pace and flow of the contest.

Even though the closing group put in the effort to make it a game, Chicago had an answer for each Spurs mini-run. Leonard wasn’t enough to steal this one, although he nearly was. All too often, San Antonio has leaned on him to steal games with his gigantic mitts.

And it’s worked for the most part, to the tune of a 18-5 record. Last season’s 67-win Spurs team started the season 18-5, too. But the record doesn’t tell the full story of these new Spurs, because San Antonio has habitually fallen behind before clawing back into the game with a strong second half, and finishing the game in crunch time. San Antonio has faced a double-digit in six of its last eight games. The previous seven ended in wins.

Great basketball teams don’t advance deep into the playoffs that way.

Even with the league’s second-best record, San Antonio has some serious issues to iron out before we can call them a “great” basketball team again.

Game ball

Kawhi Leonard: 24 points on 10-19 shooting, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal.

He was one of the few Spurs that showed up to play. Without him, the game wouldn’t even have been close.

Quote of the night

“Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. A doctor botches operations and he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.”
— Gregg Popovich

By the numbers

  • 13: game winning streak on the road snapped. The Spurs were one win away from tying the NBA record (14-0), set by last season’s Golden State Warriors.
  • 25: bench points for the Spurs. Patty Mills accounted for 16 of those points. Ginobili and Simmons combined for two points on 1-16 shooting.
  • 27: free throws attempted by Chicago. San Antonio reached the free throw line five times.
  • 57: Kawhi has reached double-digit scoring in 57 consecutive games. It’s the longest individual streak by a Spur since 2011.
  • 78.2: winning percentage this season. That’s second in the NBA behind the Warriors.

#analysis

  • Let’s keep this section short. San Antonio turned in another uninspired effort on both ends of the floor. It’s been a recurring theme all season. This time it resulted in a loss.

Twitter highlights

Taco Bell menu item of the game

*Disclaimer: This section is not sponsored by Taco Bell. I'm just a huge fan. It's in my Twitter bio (@quixem), after all. Direct any negativity towards Taco Bell in the comments below. It's cool. I don't mind.

It’s the loaded potato griller. Because nobody likes loaded potato grillers.

And that’s a wrap. Until next time ...