All losses count the same in the standings, but some are clearly worse than others. The Spurs’ 108-100 defeat at the hands of the Hawks on Tuesday is definitely a particularly bad one, mostly because it felt so avoidable.
Going into Atlanta to face a team that was missing its second highest scorer and had its star point guard on a minutes restriction, the Spurs were not only expected to win but win handily. The Hawks are feisty and brimming with young talent, but the loss of John Collins left them with unproven depth inside. San Antonio had a gigantic edge on experience and star power and, theoretically, the kind of length at the point of attack to bother Trae Young, who was nursing a sore ankle. It wasn’t arrogant to pencil in a W. Instead the Spurs decided to offer their worst performance of the season and are now on a two-game losing streak.
San Antonio was lethargic to start the night, which was somewhat understandable. It felt like the type of game a veteran team takes lightly at first only to flip the switch for one quarter to create enough separation to cruise to victory late. The defense was a little too obsessed with getting the ball out of Young’s hands, which caused several breakdowns elsewhere, but did enough to prevent Atlanta from scoring at a high rate. The offense only looked good when someone —typically Patty Mills — pushed the pace, but put enough points on the board to hang around with the Hawks. The effort and the focus were far from great, but it seemed like the Spurs were just biding their time before taking over for a few minutes to secure the win.
They almost did, too. A good offensive stretch by LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan and some defensive playmaking by Derrick White allowed San Antonio to carve out a nine-point lead in the third quarter. Unfortunately some incredibly sloppy few minutes followed. The Spurs turned the ball over three times in a short span and instead of putting the final nail in the Hawks’ coffin actually energized their young opponent. Atlanta survived the onslaught while Young was resting and as soon as he checked back in to start the fourth quarter, he singlehandedly erased the deficit with two three-pointers and an assist for a third. The Spurs made a couple of pushes after that, but Atlanta always countered and closed strong en route to a deserved win.
A loss is just a loss, but some also serve as warning signs. It’s clear now that his team is simply not good enough at this point to take the night off against anyone and expect to win. Hopefully the Spurs will remember that lesson and won’t make the same mistakes going forward.
- The Spurs lack of focus in two plays:
First, Rudy Gay heaving the ball from half court with eight seconds left on the clock.
Second, Dejounte Murray and Trey Lyles failing to switch on a simple hand-off, which led to a three-point play.
The Spurs keep making so many little, unforced mistakes on defense that end up costing them. This is a perfect example. They typically switch DHO action like this. Murray doesn't here, for some reason. Belinelli tries to help but only makes things worse. So frustrating. pic.twitter.com/EbbIO4hkjV— Jeje Gomez (@JejeGomezNBA) November 6, 2019
- For the Spurs starting lineup to score enough, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan have to thoroughly dominate their matchups. So far this season, they have rarely done so. Aldridge in particular has been maddeningly inconsistent, completely disappearing for stretches. That needs to change or the Spurs will once again be too reliant on their second unit to carry them to wins.
- Dejounte Murray had his worst game of the season. He struggled staying in front of Young and couldn’t make up for his lack of sharpness on offense with sheer effort. Derrick White wasn’t much better, but at least he made some timely plays on defense. A forgettable night for the young point guards, all in all.
- Gregg Popovich will surely call out his players for their lack of “appropriate fear,” but he made his share of unforced errors. Subbing in Lonnie Walker IV for the first time just as the Spurs were finally creating separation was a mistake. Walker turned the ball over twice and missed a shot before subbing out for good. Using a small unit with DeRozan at power forward again, after it failed against the Lakers, was also at the very least a curious decision.
- Trey Lyles hit a wide open three-pointer, his first off the season. If he can continue to do that, he’ll be exactly the type of power forward the starters need. The rebounding continues to be great, but the shot needs to fall for him to be a long term solution.
- Patty Mills was fantastic off the bench, finishing with 16 points in just six shots and really changing the game by pushing the pace and defending with physicality. Unfortunately he was the only bench player who had it going offensively, as the rest of the subs couldn’t hit shots. The second unit couldn’t save the day this time.
- No DeMarre Carroll again. If Pop doesn’t trust him enough to at least send him in to man the power forward spot when going small or to replace an ice-cold Belinelli for a stretch, why is he on the roster? The season is long so Carroll might eventually be helpful, but that signing looks bad right now.
- Trae Young is a bad man. His passing is already elite. If he improves his finishing and shot selection, he’ll be a superstar.
Next game: Vs. Thunder on Thursday
The Thunder are frisky, but the Spurs should beat them at home, as long as they don’t make as many mistakes as they did against the Hawks.