When Davis Bertans is the best player on the floor for the Spurs, they aren’t going to win very many games. I love Davis and thought he played great, but he’s not going to be the team’s bellwether anytime soon.
The Spurs were largely bad in this game. They shot poorly, they made bad decisions, and they looked sluggish right out of the gate. They also ran into a Hassan Whiteside who happened to be having a career night. I hesitate to take too much away from a game like this because I truly don’t think there will be many nights in the Spurs future where DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge shoot a combined 9-31 from the floor. They are just too talented to suffer through many slumps like this, so until further notice, we have to treat a night like this as an aberration.
San Antonio was also without Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol tonight. They clearly miss all the little things that those two veterans bring to the table. Maybe Gay grabs a few loose balls we couldn’t otherwise get, and maybe Gasol is able to throw some crafty moves at Whiteside to get him out of his rhythm, and maybe that’s enough to swing the outcome back in our favor. The fact of the matter is that this Spurs team already operates on a pretty thin margin for error, and losing two important cogs like that, on top of their star players having bad games, is a recipe for disaster.
Tonight, we were served a disaster. It remains to be seen if this will be a blip or a troubling sign of things to come. Stay tuned.
- It’s impossible to talk about this game in a meaningful way without discussing how much Whiteside was a force of nature. DeRozan and Aldridge had off nights, sure, but they were not the result of some random cosmic whim or a bad pregame sandwich. Whiteside came out from the get go like he was put on a mission from God to block as many shots as humanly possible. It absolutely affected everything about the offense for the rest of the game. To the Spurs credit, they did keep attacking the rim for a while there, but that’s about the only thing I’ll give them credit for. They kept going to the basket, sure, but they weren’t trying anything different. It seemed like the only plan was “try and shoot the ball through Hassan’s forearm,” and when that didn’t work they ran out of ideas.
- We saw both extremes of the Patty Mills experience tonight. After Popovich did his line change maneuver in the 1st quarter, Mills came in and quickly hit 4 shots in a row which stopped the bleeding and kept the game from getting completely out of control early. He hit a couple of big threes and seemed to be the only person in a black jersey who had any energy at times. This was great. The flip side is that he also missed 8 three point attempts, and his energy, while useful, got him caught out of position a lot which resulted in a number of easy shots for the Heat. Mills is a great weapon to deploy off the bench and he’s developed into an important team leader, but his effectiveness starts to wear off the harder the team has to lean on him. It’s not his fault really, but shouldering that load is just not what he’s designed to do.
- The defense held the Heat under 100 points, but we probably shouldn’t be throwing a parade for this performance. The Heat only shot 38% from the field and that wasn’t exactly due to all the wonderful defensive pressure the Spurs were putting on them. Aldridge had a few good moments in the post, and I actually thought Bertans, in addition to his stellar offensive performance, did a great job staying in front of people at times. Overall though, there’s just still more work to be done on this end. The Heat had every opportunity to bury the Spurs tonight and mostly got in their own way.
- Part of the issue in the first half was that the Spurs could not buy a defensive board to save their lives. Possession after possession the Heat kept getting second and third and fourth chances. It was infuriating for me to watch and, I’m assuming, exhausting for them to play through. They got better about this as the game went on, but that stretch early made the hole they had to climb out of significantly more daunting.
- Derrick White! Nice to see you finally! Not a ton take away from White’s performance, but it didn’t look like he was suffering too many ill effects from the foot injury that kept him sidelined for the first few games. He showed a little rust here and there, but he also flashed a few moments of skill that have me giddy about what he might free up in the offense. This little pass that somehow missed 4 defenders to find a cutting Bertans was unreal.
- I’ve made passing comments about Bertan’s performance tonight, but I want to take another quick moment to really celebrate him. He had 19 pts and was 4-7 from deep, including a 4-pt play in the second quarter that genuinely got me out my seat to do a fist pump. My own personal fist pump tally isn’t going to show up in the advanced metrics or anything, but still. His shot was falling, and it seemed like that gave him the confidence to be more aggressive with his game across the board. If he’s able to nurture that aggression into something consistent, then he’s got a chance to be a super important piece moving forward.
- This game was mostly terrible and I mostly don’t want to think about it ever again, but I did really love this transition play from DeRozan and Dante Cunningham and would like to see a lot more of it, please and thank you.