It took until the Spurs’ fifth game of the season, a blowout loss to Orlando, for them to finally show how badly they miss Kawhi Leonard. The surging Magic out-worked and out-executed San Antonio on both sides of the ball, resulting in a game that was pretty much over by halftime. San Antonio stayed in the game through the first eight and a half minutes thanks to the continued hot-shooting of LaMarcus Aldridge, who was the only competent offensive player for the Spurs.
One baseline out-of-bounds play stood out, showcasing just how dull the team looked Friday night:
There’s a weak cut by Kyle Anderson, followed by a meandering cut from Danny Green. When the ball is finally inbounded, you get two lazy swing passes over to Anderson, who proceeds to dribble off his foot while Aldridge is softly jockeying for position against Evan Fournier. It was that kind of night for San Antonio.
For all the lackadaisical play and careless mistakes, San Antonio still managed to create some good shots. They attempted a whopping 18 “wide open” threes per NBA.com. For context, last season they averaged just 9.6 wide open attempts from behind the arc. The main difference? Last season, the Spurs connected on 41.9% of their wide open threes, the best mark in the league. Friday night they went 2-of-18 for 11.1%. I’ll save you the montage of Danny Green and Manu Ginobili combining to go 0-of-7 on wide open triples.
Off-shooting nights happen. What can’t happen is giving up 30 points off turnovers. Last year, when the Spurs ranked number one in defensive rating, they gave up just 14.7 points per game off turnovers. The problem wasn’t so much that they turned the ball over more often than normal. Their 14.4% TO rate against the Magic was pretty close to last year’s season average, and was even better than Orlando’s for the game. The problem was, every time the Spurs did turn it over, the Magic turned it into points. The Spurs’ normally strong fast break and transition defense was non-existent.
Per Inpredictable.com, Orlando scored 2 points per possession off San Antonio’s 17 turnovers; meanwhile, the Spurs managed just a meager 0.5 points per possession off Orlando’s 18 turnovers.
The Spurs’ entire defense was out of sync all night. Last season, on average, they gave up 9.6 wide open threes per game. Against the Magic, they offered up 19 such shots, and Orlando made them pay, connecting on 47.4% of those. Yes, that’s partly bad luck that the Spurs caught their opponents on such a particularly hot shooting night, but that doesn’t excuse the poor execution. Check out this sequence by Patty Mills:
Let that be the gold standard for poor closeouts.
It wasn’t just about defending the perimeter, either. The Magic went 14-of-20 on shots off drives to the basket, far and away the best figure of the 14 teams that played Friday night. Dribble penetration came easy for Orlando, and then the Spurs’ rim protection was either ineffective or non-existent, as was the case with this Jonathan Simmons rip-through:
It’s hard to feel worried about an October loss without your team’s best player. But, seeding will be important to this squad come playoff time, and beating the teams they’re supposed to beat will be key. Even when fully healthy, this group is not good enough to just show up and beat the elite teams in this league on talent alone. It will have to limit mistakes, execute on offense and defend like crazy to succeed this postseason. I know it’s early to be talking like that, but the entire regular season is going to be about young guys developing, building chemistry and cementing this team’s identity. There will inevitably be blips along the way and Friday night was one of them.