Christmas came early in Mexico City. It’s a minor miracle that the Spurs managed to escape with a 121-119 win over the Devin Booker-less Suns, which should tell you all you need to know about San Antonio’s performance.
Despite the unusual venue, the actual game was all too familiar for Spurs fans. Once again Gregg Popovich changed his starting lineup, this time to include Dejounte Murray and Trey Lyles, and once again that unit struggled throughout the game. As usual the bench had to bail out the starters, with Lonnie Walker IV and Patty Mills leading the way. Despite facing a team missing their two best scorers, San Antonio’s defense managed to be poor both in transition and in the half court. There were missed clutch free throws, some baffling late game execution and calls that could have gone either way. It was practically identical to the last three overtime games the Spurs have played. Fortunately this one ended with a win, but it really could have gone the other way.
An absurdly bad defensive possession in which Dejounte Murray played spastic defense on Ricky Rubio and LaMarcus Aldridge inexplicably left Kelly Oubre Jr. open in the corner to help on a drive with the Spurs up three allowed the Suns to send the game to overtime.
Once in the extra period both teams exchanged buckets, but the Suns found themselves leading with the ball and a two-point lead with 12 seconds to go after a Rubio three-pointer and an Aldridge miss and subsequent foul. Had they managed to inbound the ball they probably would have won. Fortunately for the Spurs, they turned it over as the ball inexplicably bounced right off Rubio’s hands, which gave DeMar DeRozan the opportunity to win it after a tough drive that resulted in an and-one.
DeRozan missed the clutch free throw, just as he’s been doing all season. Luckily for him, the ball bounced off a Suns’ player head as everyone fought for the rebound, and San Antonio got another chance. This time the play was for Patty Mills, who sank the shot to give the Spurs the win.
All these ugly games that go to overtime are starting to blur together as this point. The Spurs continue to make the same mistakes and put themselves in precarious situations against teams they should be able to put away. Had they faced an opponent with a competent bench or had the Suns’ bigs made one more of the wide open looks they got from outside, it would have been another loss. The starting lineup remains a huge issue, the defense is broken and the offense can screech to a halt at any moment and without warning.
There are some bright spots in every game, including this one — Mills’ shot-making, Lonnie Walker IV’s energetic play, and Jakob Poeltl’s defense come to mind — but even in wins, it’s hard to find enough signs of progress to be optimistic about the rest of the season. The more we break down every performance, the less inspiring they are.
Perhaps it’s better to just focus on the big picture. The Spurs have four wins over the last six games and on Saturday they recovered from an embarrassing home loss against the Cavaliers to beat a direct rival for a playoff spot. They are now just one game back from the eighth seed, so the playoffs remain a distinct possibility.
For our collective sanity, it might be better to ignore the actual games and focus on the results. Maybe that way we can pretend everything is fine — at least for a while.
- DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge had similar stat lines, finishing with 18 points each and seven boards for the big man to six from the wing. Their impact was also similar in that it was almost exclusively felt on the offensive end and came with long stretches of ineffectiveness. They both contributed in overtime despite some missed free throws, so they’ll avoid major scrutiny, but it was another forgettable lackluster performance overall.
- Speaking of clutch free throws, the Spurs and the Hawks are in a heated battle to determine who can be the worst in the league in term of percentage from the line in crunch time. Atlanta has the lead right now, but San Antonio seems determined not to be outdone.
- Dejounte Murray returned to the starting lineup and had a very good night overall, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Derrick White didn’t fare as well in his return to the bench, finishing the night with two points and three assists in 24 minutes of play. Not-so-fun fact: Murray and White have both scored in double digits in the same game just twice this season.
- Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes also had opposite games, but on a more extreme level. While Mills paced the Spurs in scoring with 26 points and was one of the main reason they got the win, Forbes went scoreless on eight shots and did very little to help the cause. Forbes has taken a big step back this season, and if he can’t be more consistent, his minutes will continue to dwindle.
- Rudy Gay continues to shoot poorly and turn the ball over way too much, but he gave the team some solid minutes this time, especially late in the game. Pop seemed to want to use a small unit to close, but Monty Williams subbed in Dario Saric, forcing the Spurs to send in Gay, and he proved to be important down the stretch. Hopefully he regains some confidence and starts playing better.
- Lonnie Walker IV had 16 points in 22 minutes. He looked a little out of control at times on both ends, but the kid just makes plays. He needs to keep getting at least 20 minutes a game going forward, and possibly more since he’s apparently healthy after exiting the game holding his knee.
We all good over here. LETS GOOOOO BALA. #Gospursgo— Lonnie Walker IV (@lonniewalker_4) December 15, 2019
- Jakob Poeltl is so much better on defense than LaMarcus Aldridge that it’s hard to believe he only got 15 minutes. It’s not Aldridge’s fault that his quickness is disappearing, but it’s an obvious reality. Poeltl, without being the most mobile center, can guard outside and recover a lot better at this point. He simply needs more minutes.
Next game: @Rockets on Monday
The Rockets will try to avenge their recent and controversial overtime loss against the Spurs. Let’s hope James Harden doesn’t go for 60.