This one stings a little. After fighting all game on the road in the second game of a back-to-back, the Spurs couldn’t finish strong and lost to the Bucks 135-129. Halfway through their road four-game road trip, they are now 9-10 for the season and clearly still trying to figure things out.
A close finish didn’t seem in the cards early on. While both teams were on a SEGABABA, the older Spurs looked lethargic and careless with the ball while the springier Bucks feasted in transition after causing turnovers. Milwaukee got to a quick 26-11 lead and a blowout seemed to be in the cards. Fortunately Pop reacted swiftly and, seeing that his starters weren’t ready to compete, went to his bench. Five subs checked in and changed the game. Davis Bertans had arguably his best quarter in the NBA, raining fire from outside on his way to a quick 11 points. Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli also hit their jumpers while Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl did work on the pick and roll. That offensive explosion combined with some improved defense got San Antonio back in the game.
After one of the most hectic quarters of the season for the Spurs, seems got less volatile. The pace slowed down a bit, as both teams hunted matchups they liked. The change clearly benefited San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan started cooking in the half court. At times it seemed like he was pulling the offense to himself a bit too much, but with the rest of the starters struggling, the team needed him to be aggressive to keep up with a Bucks’ offense that didn’t lack for weapons. Khris Middleton provided some outside shooting to complement Giannis Antetokounmpo’s aggressive drives while Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon attacked the smaller, less physically imposing San Antonio guards.
There were no big runs for a while, as neither team could impose its will for a stretch like they did at times earlier in the game. The defenses couldn’t string enough stops together to give the explosive offenses a chance to create separation. The Spurs broke the deadlock for a while thanks — once again — to the work of their bench, combined with a dominant stretch from Rudy Gay to start the final period. Even with double digit lead in the fourth quarter, however, the win never seemed secure. A Bucks counter appeared to be inevitable, and it was. The Spurs’ offense went cold at the wrong time, as Antetokounmpo decided to bully his way to the free throw line. Milwaukee came back to tie the game and then closed strong to shut the door on a possible upset.
The eternal question when it comes to losing these road SEGABABAs is whether it’s better to just get blown out or go down fighting until the end. Had the Spurs gotten routed, the stars would have gotten some much needed rest and the fanbase could have moved on easily after chalking up the loss to a grueling schedule. In theory, it might have been better to get destroyed instead of going through the heartbreak of a close loss.
For a team trying to come together like these Spurs, however, even painful defeats can be mined for valuable insight. The bench, with Bertans leading the way, proved that it has enough firepower to change games, if unleashed. The defense was exposed in specific ways that should be addressed. Aldridge’s struggles on offense are clearly still real. Some of these things we found out on Saturday, some we knew but were confirmed.
A loss is a loss, no matter the final score. Close ones tend to lead to more introspection than blowouts, though. Hopefully that will be the case this time and the Spurs will get better for having suffered through it.
- The guards all scored in double digits, except for Derrick White, who only played five minutes. They also all gave plenty of points back on the other end. The Spurs’ lack of athleticism and length in the perimeter was obvious against an opponent that has them to spare. It was tough to watch at times.
- Davis! Without Bertans turning into Klay Thompson for a while in the first quarter, the game wouldn’t have been close. Hopefully his performance will get him steadier playing time. He won’t have a half this good again this season, but he does have the ability to change a game with his shooting. We saw that on Saturday.
- With Aldridge and Gay struggling for most of the game, DeRozan carried the offense. He finished with 34 points and seven assists to zero turnovers. He also threw down a nasty dunk on the Greek Freak.
- Poor Dante Cunningham. He has become the Spurs’ de facto defensive stopper, which means he was tasked with guarding Giannis, sometimes one-on-one. It was a bloodbath. To be fair to Dante, no other Spurs had a chance against Antetokounmpo either. He got whatever he wanted or was fouled. Cunningham just got the worse of it.
- My dream of watching some Derrick White - Jakob Poeltl pick and roll action was fulfilled in the first quarter. It looked good! Then White fouled Giannis with under a second to go on a halfcourt heave and he never saw the court again. I really can’t blame Pop for benching him this time. That was dumb.
- It was hilarious to hear the combination of dejection and anger in Bill Land’s voice every time he mentioned that Sterling Brown had only scored one three-pointer in 14 attempts before the game against the Spurs. Brown had three three-pointers on Saturday and every single one of them seemed to almost offend Land. I’m not a huge fan of broadcasters acting like fans of the team but it’s sometimes endearing when they react to things the same way the rest of us do.
Up next: @Bulls on Monday
After a couple of tough games, the Spurs get an easy one. The Bulls are bad. Granted, so were the Suns and we know how that turned out, but I’d like to think Pop will make sure a loss like that one doesn’t happen again.