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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Suns

Another lackluster performance on the road leaves the Spurs looking for answers.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It was probably wrong to get too excited when the Spurs started out the season hot and it’s probably just as wrong to get too down on them after a stretch in which they’ve lost three of four. Both scenarios ignore the broader context of the season writ large and we would do well to blah blah blah...ok, this was a terrible game.

The Phoenix Suns are the worst team in the league and the Spurs shouldn’t be losing to them. End of story. There’s probably something to be said for the immense talent in this league that on any given night anyone can beat anyone, but that doesn’t soften the blow of this loss or erase some of the ugly trends. This swoon the Spurs are currently navigating has shown some worrying cracks in the foundation of the current iteration of this team. Like the idea that San Antonio can score points as well as anyone in the league, which simply hasn’t been the case during these games; and when the Spurs can’t score, they aren’t very good.

Even though the defense has been better of late, it’s not what you’d call a strength, and it’s definitely not good enough to carry the team through a cold shooting performance — which is just what happened against the Suns Wednesday night. The Spurs shot 42% from the field and only had one player score more than 20 points. 96 total points is not going to get the job done against anyone in this league anymore, even the dregs of it.

This was a disappointing performance all around. The Spurs have an extremely tough stretch of the schedule looming in front of them and maybe looking ahead to those opponents is partially to blame for what happened. I can certainly sympathize with that, but right now the Spurs aren’t good enough to take any games for granted. If they want to make the playoffs this year (and we have to assume that’s the goal, because Popovich) then they need to grab every win they can and hold on to it for dear life.

The season may be young, but the games aren’t getting any easier.


  • The Suns led this game wire to wire and put it to bed less than halfway into the 4th. Even as the Spurs clawed their way back near halftime, it was always clear who had control of the game. Phoenix's young guys, Ayton, Jackson, and Booker, all had great nights and T.J. Warren torched the Spurs for 27 points. I’d certainly like to see a lot more out of the Spurs on defense, but to a certain extent they may have just run into a team with a lot of young talent who happened to be shooting the lights out tonight. That’s going to happen every once in while, but it’s troubling that it seems to be happening with whichever team the Spurs happen to be playing. Props to the Suns though, they played great.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge had 6 points in this game and that’s not good. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I’m desperate to do so because the success of this team depends on whether he can be a consistent difference maker on offense. I think his effort on defense and rebounding has been great this year and I love that he’s been asserting himself on the glass. He does a lot of little things for the Spurs, which should be encouraged and applauded because LaMarcus has worked extremely hard to be a well rounded player and anchor for this team. The fact remains that the Spurs have only won one game this year when he’s scored less than 20 points. We can spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s wrong with the Spurs right now, but it might just be that one of their best players isn’t playing very well.
  • I’m noticing a trend with DeMar where, if he can’t seem to get his shot going, he starts to just will himself to the free throw line. It’s like he conjures shooting fouls out of thin air. It’s an extremely valuable skill and it’s proven to be a successful strategy for getting himself going. It’s not complicated, but it takes talent and experience to execute. He gets the ball and works aggressively into the defender until he either blows past them or baits them into contact, which is usually successful and it does generate points. The unfortunate side affect is that it also causes everyone else to stand around and watch DeMar. There’s no ball movement. There’s no weak side screens or flash cuts to the basket. It’s just DeMar trying to make things happen. The offense needs DeMar to score in order to be successful, but I’d love to see his ‘get to the foul line’ strategy used less often. Especially early in the game when everyone else is trying to get in a rhythm too.
  • Jakob Poeltl is still trying to find his way right now, but there was a lot to like from his performance in this game. He fights really hard on the glass and shows a decent amount of promise running the pick and roll. He seems to have an instinct for crashing towards the rim and he’s often in the right place at the right time. The problem is that it seems like he’s playing with ski mittens on his hands. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by getting to watch Pau Gasol effortlessly do this job for the last couple years, but it’s painful watching these plays open up only to have the ball ricochet off Poeltl and devolve into a scrum under the basket. He’s got plenty of potential to do good work for the Spurs, but it definitely looks like he has Jeff Ayres disease. (He is doing some cool stuff for a bunch of San Antonio area kids, which buys him a lot of leeway with me.)
  • I’m annoyed that this is turning into a recurring bit, but it’s time for another rendition of Trying to find a super cool highlight amidst the wreckage of a dispiriting Spurs loss. Certainly my favorite play of the game was this two handed throw down by DeMar DeRozan towards the end of the first half. It’s a very cool dunk but, let’s be honest, the best part of this play is LaMarcus absolutely steamrolling Isaiah Canaan while DeMar soars in to the hoop. Obviously, Canaan was looking to draw a cheap foul and LaMarcus didn’t actually hit him that hard, but it really lent the highlight some entertaining optics and for that I’m very grateful.