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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Blazers

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San Antonio continues to spiral early into the season

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night was all too familiar. A slow start followed by a hope-inspiring run that ultimately ended in bitter defeat. Unfortunately, frustrating outings have defined Spurs basketball through 13 games.

San Antonio fell to 5-8 on the season after a 116-121 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. This is their worst start since 1996-1997, and the first five-game losing streak since 2010-2011.

The first of the aforementioned teams went on to draft Timothy Theodore Duncan and build a dynasty that would last nearly two decades. The latter went on to win 61 games despite their late-season skid. This squad, however, seems destined for an outcome somewhere in between.

The Silver and Black aren’t the worst team in the NBA, but it’s certainly arguable they’re in the worst position in the league. The Spurs aren’t quite bad enough to secure a top pick in the upcoming draft, and if they somehow make the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine they escape a third straight first-round exit.

All it takes is one game to see what a mess this roster is right now. Poor spacing, substandard defense, and inconsistent effort have plagued the Spurs, but an awkward starting lineup and ineffective rotations are what have been most damaging.

While losing is never fun, the lessons learned in defeat can lead to a path of success. The only problem with all these losses is they currently feel more like a lazy pattern of complacency than a means to an end.

Takeaways:

  • Double-digit leads aren’t safe with San Antonio. The Spurs are 4-3 when they build a ten-point buffer this season, and they’ve held onto that double-digit cushion just once all year. There’s something about putting a comfortable distance between them and their opponent that has lulled the Silver and Black to sleep. Taking your foot off the pedal when you’re a few meters from the finish line makes absolutely no sense. The guys have to find a way to close out games and blow out lesser opponents, or this is going to be a long and uncomfortably stressful ride.
  • Derrick White is such a good basketball player, and I’m not sure he realizes that yet. The third-year pro is among the best pick and roll guards in the league today, and when he decides to be aggressive, the Spurs are a better team. Derrick had the opportunity to show out with Dejounte Murray on the sidelines, but he largely deferred to teammates in his 34 minutes on the court. White’s 10 points and 5 assists could easily have been twice that amount if he took charge. His confidence appears to fluctuate from game to game, but the sooner he asserts himself on a nightly basis, the better off San Antonio will be.
  • The Spurs climbed out of a 23-point deficit behind the efforts of LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, and Rudy Gay, but it was a lineup of Rudy, Patty Mills, Lonnie Walker IV, Marco Belinelli, and Jakob Poeltl that built a 15 point lead. Gay shouldered the load offensively, Lonnie locked down on defense, Poeltl crashed the boards, and Mills electrified the lineup with his contagious energy. Heck, even Marco managed to stay glued to Damian Lillard for one glorious defensive stand. Although it was a great run while it lasted, the starters returned to the floor and the Blazers ended our glorious comeback with a comeback of their own. I’m still searching for a good reason we strayed away from our most effective lineup of the night with the fate of the game in the balance, but I’m drawing a blank. The Spurs should’ve stuck with what was working instead of forcing the issue with a group that wasn’t getting the job done.
  • Head coach Gregg Popovich had a few choice words for the officials last night, and he got tossed with 9:37 left in the third quarter. The Spurs were down 14 with assistant coaches Becky Hammon, Tim Duncan, and Will Hardy running the show, and rather than crumble under the pressure, San Antonio thrived under their guidance. At least, they did before surrendering a sizable fourth-quarter lead to the Blazers. Loss aside, Spurs fans should rest easy knowing the organization is in good hands when Pop inevitably chooses to call it quits. I’m not saying he’ll retire tomorrow, nor am I excited for his eventual departure. The fact is, the Popovich era is on the cusp of its finale. And though a serviceable replacement is likely inches away on the bench, we’re gonna miss him when he’s gone.