The Spurs finally got a break from the schedule makers after a hectic month, which gives us a perfect opportunity to ponder some of the biggest questions about their performance so far. First off, PtR contributors take a look at San Antonio’s issues late in games. Let us know what you think in the comments.
The Spurs have struggled winning close games until recently. Why have they performed so poorly in the clutch this season? And have they fixed those issues in the last two overtime wins?
Marilyn Dubinski: Their biggest problem seems to be finding a go-to person in the clutch when they need points. The problem with that is it often ends up being DeMar DeRozan, who to his credit is not afraid of the moment but usually just dribbles his way into contested isos, to mixed results. The difference in the last two games is they actually ran designed plays and threw the defenses off balance by moving the ball instead of predictably going to DeRozan. It’s good that they now are finding ways to win in the clutch; now they need to start making it to where they don’t have to. Being the first team in the last 20 seasons to win two games in row after being down by 8 in the final two minutes is not something they should keep testing.
Mark Barrington: They seem to lose all of their creativity on the final play and end up going iso with DeRozan, who tries to draw a foul and gets frustrated when he doesn’t get the call because the refs always swallow the whistle late. That is, until the Rockets and Kings games, where the team was so far down in the last two minutes of regulation that they had to get creative. Two consecutive games where the team made up 8 or more points in the last couple of minutes is pretty impressive, but not sustainable, and shouldn’t have happened against a bad team like the short-handed Kings. But it was a thrill seeing the ball go to a wide-open Marco Belinelli in the clutch and watching him drain it. It almost made up for the horrible 5 minutes of basketball that were played afterwards by both teams.
Bruno Passos: I’ll cop out by answering a question with a question: if you could pick one go-to offensive set that the Spurs have to run to four times in a row late in a tight game, what is it and who does it include? I think a lot of teams have better answers to this than San Antonio right now.
Jesus Gomez: I think the problems this team has on offense, namely bad spacing and a lack of perimeter shot creators, is harder to hide in crunch time. If you look at the team clutch stats, they turn it over a lot and shoot a low percentage on threes, which suggest that both getting good looks and making them has been hard for the Spurs. Only DeMar DeRozan can get a shot up in isolation — and that shot won’t typically be a high percentage one. It’s been hard for LaMarcus Aldridge to be a huge factor late this season, since it’s tough to even enter the ball to the post in tight spaces and teams can just double him off a bad shooter when he gets it. So whether San Antonio is successful late comes down to whether DeRozan can get going or someone unexpected makes a shot, which is not a recipe for consistent success.
I don’t think anything has been fixed, but going small in the last couple of games late has seemingly helped. The Spurs still don’t execute well but they are more dynamic with more ball handlers on the floor. If they can find a unit that works and allow it to develop some chemistry, they should be more competent in the clutch going forward. Oh, and please make your free throws, guys!
J.R. Wilco: (So, two questions in one, then? Fine) Well, they’ve performed poorly because for most of the season their late-game playbook has been utterly lacking in imagination. There’s actually a case for this because earlier in the season the team was pretty near inept when it came to running a play that required the coordination of all five guys on the court. Under those conditions, it’s not a bad to limit the number of players needed to generate a shot. Problem was that the dug-in defenses San Antonio was trying to score against were more than a match for the DmDr isolations that inevitably ensued. And so games were lost.
As to whether the issues were fixed, I can’t say. But the team has been able to score (and score prolifically) in crunch time in their past few tries — and that’s absolute music to my soul.