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Spurs hang with Lakers, but fall in the end

A cold fourth quarter and a hot LeBron James put an end to San Antonio’s dreams of starting a winning streak.

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Well, it was fun while it lasted

To be honest, I’m not sure if I am referring to the competitive nature of this game or the San Antonio Spurs’ run as a perennial contender in the NBA. Both I guess.

Coach Pop officially went back to the starting lineup of last season, and that lineup performed as expected. Inserting Jakob Poeltl and Derrick White into the starting lineup helps shore up some of the defensive deficiencies we’ve seen early in the season but it also makes space hard to come by on the offensive side of the court.

With both offenses struggling early on, the Spurs found themselves with a slight lead as the bench entered the game. Normally that’s a great sign for the Spurs, but not tonight. The bench unit for the Spurs struggled mightily in this one. Some of that can certainly be attributed to the shakeup in the lineup. In addition to Dejounte Murray and Trey Lyles moving to the bench, DeMarre Carroll soaked up the majority of Marco Belinelli’s minutes (more on that later) with Lyles taking the rest. Beyond that, the Los Angeles Lakers paid close attention to Patty Mills, holding him to six points on two of six shooting. Rudy Gay also struggled, mustering five points on only five shots. Gay needs to shoot a lot more than that in a game of this magnitude.

Dejounte Murray doesn’t seem to be helping

I’m trying not to overreact, but the starters have looked horrible when Murray is in the starting lineup and the bench looked horrible against the Lakers with Murray coming off the bench. He’s a great rebounder of the basketball for sure, but at this stage of his career he cannot be trusted with the ball in his hands. During the game my wife said that when Murray is handling the ball, he reminds her of those wacky waiving inflatable arm flailing tube men outside car dealerships. I mean, she’s not wrong. It’s a bit of a roller coaster each time he makes a move to the basket. It almost feels as though his body and mind are not in sync. His body can’t quite keep up with what his mind is trying to accomplish. Or maybe it’s the other way around. He’s gotta tighten up those handles or simplify his motions. Right now it’s not working.

Driving vs. shooting

At halftime Sean Elliott made it a point to mention that the Spurs were far too reliant on jumpers in the first half and that he would like to see them attack the paint more in the second half. The Spurs didn’t listen, though they continued to get away with it early in the third quarter, as both LaMarcus Aldridge and Bryn Forbes connected on a few jump shots to keep the Spurs afloat. Unfortunately, the Spurs went cold from outside the final 15 minutes of the game, connecting on only one of their final nine attempts. DeMar DeRozan started attacking the paint midway through the fourth quarter, but by then the game was out of reach. Overall, the Spurs were outscored by 20 points in the paint and 12 points from beyond the arc.

Different team than we’re used to

I don’t have any answers to the Spurs’ problems. It’s just too simplistic to say that they just need to play better. It would be one thing if the Spurs were playing as well as I feel they can and were still losing, but that’s not what I’m seeing on the court. I’m seeing a lot of mental mistakes that are out of character for the Spurs. I’ve also noticed that the Spurs are continually a beat or two slow in terms of making decisions with the ball. Even in possessions where everybody is touching the ball, it doesn’t seem smooth. I see a player receive the ball and I can almost feel that person processing the next step, as opposed to it coming naturally. Maybe that’s BBIQ or maybe the Spurs just don’t have enough playmakers. Either way, those split second decisions can result in a wide open shot or a broken play. Too often it has led to broken plays.

Their next game is at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.

Game notes

  • Aldridge had himself a fantastic night on offense. Going up against Anthony Davis always seems to bring the best out of him and tonight was no exception. He scored 30 points on 22 shots and had only one turnover. I’m still not sure if a heavy dose of Aldridge in the post is best for the Spurs, but when he’s playing with a purpose like he did against the Lakers it can be fun watching him take over stretches of a game.
  • All season Pop has continued to trot out Marco Belinelli game after game despite his complete lack of production. That’s why it makes perfect sense that after Belinelli finally connected on a couple three pointers in the first half of the New York Knicks game Pop would only play Belinelli six minutes in the second half of that game and zero minutes against the Lakers. Pop opted for a more defensively focused unit, but Carroll did not impress in an extended role. Defensively, he gave up a few easy baskets to LeBron James (though doesn’t everybody) but looked completely inept on offense. He shot an airball in Saturday’s game against the Knicks and clanked another brick off the side of the rim against the Lakers. I’m rooting for him to continue to see consistent minutes but tonight was not a good audition.
  • With eight minutes to go in the game and the Spurs down 11, DeRozan received the ball on the wing with no defender anywhere near his proximity. Instead of taking the wide open jumper, he dribbled it into traffic and kicked it out to Murray for a three pointer, who missed it by a wide margin. I can’t begin to express how big of a problem this is and why so many of the pieces on this roster don’t seem to fit properly. At least Murray took the shot without hesitation, but your number one option on offense must have the confidence to take wide open jumpers. Otherwise, the paint will continue to be clogged and the Spurs will have no choice but to rely upon those dreaded mid range jumpers. DeRozan did step into a three pointer late in the game, and though he made it, his toe was on the line. It would have been his first made three pointer of the season.
  • Derrick White had a solid if unspectacular game. He finished with 11 points on only six shots and had four assists to zero turnovers. His methodical approach to the game certainly seems like a natural fit for this iteration of the starting lineup. After Murray’s extension, the Spurs are committed to him as part of the future, but I don’t think the Spurs should completely ignore the guard position in the upcoming draft if they end up drafting high enough to grab one of the few explosive guards who are projected to go inside the top ten. A multi-dimensional guard with an outside shot would be a welcome addition to the lineup, as none of the Spurs’ guards have this combination of skills.
  • LeBron James is very good at basketball. I swear he could score anytime he wanted to, but he prefers to spend the first three quarters of a game getting his entire team involved. It’s a smart tactic for a number of reasons. One, if everybody is engaged, there’s a much better chance of them coming through at the ends of games when called upon. Second, it keeps James fresh for when it really matters. Tonight he picked his spots early then exploded early in the fourth quarter to blow the game wide open. At some point father time always wins, but I don’t see James slowing down anytime soon.