The San Antonio Spurs extended their losing streak to seven last night, once again drawing it out to the last seconds before finally succumbing to a Wizards team that seemingly couldn’t miss. On this occasion however it wasn’t the Spurs offense that failed them so much as their defense.
Despite Gregg Popovich doubling down on an shooting heavy starting unit with the substitution of Patty Mills for Dejounte Murray, the Silver and Black just couldn’t overcome the lack of one of their two quality perimeter defenders in Derrick White, as Bradley Beal, Isiah Thomas, and even Ish Smith took advantage of an alternately leaky and lopsided back-court.
Certainly, there were other offenders, as Pop’s refusal to give the lion’s share of Marco Belinelli’s minutes over to some combination of DeMarre Carroll, Lonnie Walker IV (and perhaps even last minute addition Keldon Johnson), continued to wreak havoc on an ailing defense that needs all the help it can get. But by the end of the second quarter (a half in which San Antonio scored an astounding sixty-nine points), it had become clear that the team had entered the game with one arm tied behind their backs, and that a potential win was hanging by the most fragile of threads.
The Spurs were going to need either a) Continue to outscore the Wizards, or b) Conjure a series much needed series of defensive stops. And after San Antonio’s recent series of fourth quarter woes, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the final score reflected the results of neither of the aforementioned possible solutions. While the Spurs have certainly been the victims of their own lackluster play, there’s an argument to be had that they’ve also frequently lacked the benefit of good fortune, particularly where the endgame has been concerned. In that respect, it was more of the same, as DeMar DeRozan bricked both of his final free throws (having made the last thirteen in a row) to finally seal San Antonio’s fate in the final seconds that they had communally fought so hard not to lose.
In some ways this felt like the worst loss of the season, with the good guys giving a high level of effort for the entirety of all four frames. Certainly, it seemed a bit crushing for the personnel on the losing end with a large number of shoulders collectively slumping as they all but fled the court, but there were actually a lot of positives to be found.
All but lost in the extension of San Antonio’s most dubious losing streak in the last twenty-years, was the offensive cohesion that took place almost immediately in the starting lineup. With the addition of a second long-range shooter in Patty Mills and a legitimate rim-running threat in Jakob Poeltl, the dubious spacing of the last fourteen games all but melted away, replaced by a veritable gyroscope of off-ball movement and backdoor cuts. The bench suffered a bit from Mills’ extraction (they were outscored sixty-three to forty-three), but with the return of White to either group (I, for one, continue to root for his assimilation into the starting lineup) the difference in scoring should be sufficiently supplemented to point of relative balance between both units.
What might ensue at the return of White (should the principal changes of last night hold) is anyone’s guess, but the outcome could be intriguingly positive. If nothing else, it was resoundingly proven that the return of a quality defender is a must for this Spurs team rather than a luxury as it might have been in the past. That balance is more fragile than ever for this group and any extended injury to San Antonio’s sparse collection of quality defenders might prove the undoing of what seemed to be a promising season prior to the recent scourge of near-criminal inconsistency.
- Various acclimation issues aside, Dejounte Murray eased into the bench mob about as effectively as could be hoped. It was clear pretty quickly that Lyles was not a good fit for this unit, and it’ll be interesting to see what his usage will end up being should Pop stick to some variation of this current strategy. There were no such concerns for Murray, as his speed and slashing repertoire seemed perfect for the free-wheeling tendencies of the second team. The return of Mills could turn that group into a metaphorical meat grinder with three shooters surrounding the not-insignificant interior threat of a hard charging Poeltl and Murray. Even Belinelli was rendered a relative threat as Washington’s defense sought to collapse around a continual barrage of lanky drives, something that carried over to the first unit as a primary ball-handling version of DeRozan found operating space aplenty to torture the Wizards with.
DeJounte Murray feeding Jakob Poeltl inside the paint for an easy two. pic.twitter.com/KzQZFnQbec— Joe Garcia (@twoshotspodcast) November 21, 2019
- The awkwardness of Lyles’s fit with the second unit led to the unleashing of Jakob Poeltl, and his highest number of minutes on court on the season. Jakob responded by playing lights out, setting an array of sneaky picks, boxing out with prejudice, contesting anything within arm’s reach, and making good on the offensive threat that his presence alluded to any time that Washington was foolish enough to ignore him. One of the rare players to whom neither box score nor raw statistics can accurately ascribe value, Poeltl not only significantly bolstered San Antonio’s ailing interior defense, but also galloped across the court with an enthusiasm that was palpable. There are plenty of players that any despairing Spurs fan might be willing to snipe at for this recent streak of losses, but Jakob Poeltl shouldn’t be one of them.
Jakob Poeltl with the nice driving layup. pic.twitter.com/0GnpnnedFV— Joe Garcia (@twoshotspodcast) November 21, 2019
Jakob Poeltl with the and one! pic.twitter.com/6I6eS15P1N— Joe Garcia (@twoshotspodcast) November 21, 2019
- Another such San Antonio player is one Patty Mills. Mills has been fulfilling his role perfectly thus far this season (to the tune of an almost 40/50/85 shooting split) and managed to outperform expectations last night as a part of the starting lineup, drawing charges, racking up savvy assists, and generally playing all out in spite of his long-standing limitations. To be sure, it’s not ideal to have him matching up with other team’s starters, but Patty’s heady play and quick trigger made up for a less than ideal situation that on paper Washington should have been able to even further exploit. There might be a fair share of individuals who curse his continued role in San Antonio’s transition from the Big Three era, but they’ll likely miss him once he’s gone, as he’s cemented his place among San Antonio’s all-time great role players.
- It should be noted that the Wizards shot an absolutely astounding 60% from three last night. That’s a tough outing to survive for any team in the current NBA, but what also bears mention is that San Antonio’s free-throw inconsistencies made an appearance last night as well, to the tune of seven missed free throws. That’s a particularly nasty number of forsaken points in a game lost by a margin of six, particularly since it was even closer before San Antonio was forced to draw a final foul. But that’s been the story of the season so far for San Antonio, as leaks seem to spring up each time others are attended to.
- Davis Bertans scorched the Spurs yet again, tallying twenty-one points on a 57/63/100 shooting split of his own. If think we can all agree that in the absence of Marcus Morris, we’d rather have had him on our side, as opposed to Trey Lyles. In any case I am so very glad that we don’t play Washington again this year, which is such a weird thing to say about a team like the Wizards, but here we are. *insert ‘this is fine’ meme*
- I really, really don’t like playing against Bradley Beal. He might be the best shooting guard in the league, full stop. He’s certainly the most complete. He quite literally does just about everything well and blends seamlessly into any lineup regardless of its oddities. There aren’t many players that I whip out the trade machine for, but Beal is one them.
- I can’t say enough about this Belinelli thing. I really can’t. I try to keep my mouth shut about it, knowing that even the AT&T Center bats can see how atrocious his defense is, and how noticeably it affects the flow of just about any game he’s inserted to, but I just (as the kids say) can’t even. I did notice however that Marco only got fourteen minutes on the court tonight, and that was in White’s absence. Meanwhile Carroll was once again given a bit of an extended look, and made the most of his ten minutes, actually facilitating a number of stops while he was on the floor. In light of the last night’s lineup change, I’m hoping that this is a sign of things to come. If not, pray for me. I don’t even care who or what to, as long I’m able to maintain some degree of sanity. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but I’d like to take this opportunity to comprehensively repent and beg for clemency. No más, por favor!