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The Spurs’ third quarter comeback runs out of steam against Trail Blazers

San Antonio fought all night, but DeRozan’s big night couldn’t carry them over Portland.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Rudy. Rudy. Rudy.

Led by strong efforts from Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs put together an epic third quarter, briefly tying the game after trailing by as much as 21 points earlier in the quarter. Unfortunately, playing from behind takes its toll. The Spurs were unable to conjure up the energy required to complete the comeback, ultimately burying themselves in a pile of their own mistakes. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were lethal for the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 54 points on 40 shots.

The Spurs ended up losing to the Blazers 118-127 and are now 0-3 on the rodeo road trip. While this was clearly the most difficult stretch of the trip, stealing one of these first three games would have been nice. As it stands, the Spurs drop to 32-25 on the season and are now 7th in the Western Conference standings. Next stop on the rodeo road trip is Utah. The last time the Spurs played in Utah they lost by 34 points. Sadly enough, if the Spurs lost to the Jazz by 34 again on Saturday, it wouldn’t be their worst loss on this road trip.

Game Flow

After sitting out last night against the Golden State Warriors, LaMarcus Aldridge returned tonight to the tune of 13 first quarter points. Gay was equally impressive, scoring nine points on five shots. For better or worse, DeRozan took over as the primary offensive weapon in the second quarter. His shot is starting to look better than it has over the past six weeks, but his high usage rate in the second quarter took away shots from both Gay and Aldridge. In addition to taking the ball out of the hands of both Aldridge and Gay, DeRozan was caught leaving his feet on several occasions with nowhere to go. This led to three live ball turnovers, and more importantly, more of those dreaded transition points for the opposition.

As CharlieOCharles mentioned back in November, the Spurs have a turnover problem. It’s not that they turn the ball over often - they still lead the NBA in fewest turnovers per game - it’s that they commit the highest percentage of live ball turnovers in the NBA. To make matters worse, the Spurs are the worst team in the NBA at transition defense. That’s a losing combination and is the main reason the Spurs are still losing the turnover battle even with their low turnover rate.

While turnovers and transition defense are certainly a problem, it’s not the Spurs’ only problem. Their half court defense also leaves much to be desired. The Spurs’ perimeter players are unable to stay in front of their defender, allowing opponents to constantly break down the defense. This leads to kick outs to wide open shooters, and those shooters are making the Spurs pay.

Derrick White does an admirable job at fighting through screens and has sneaky lateral quickness that allows him to stay in front of his defender. His return will certainly help in this regard, but even when he was in the lineup, the Spurs were having trouble stringing together multiple stops in a row.

The Spurs ended up scoring 57 points in the first half but still found themselves down by 13 points. More turnovers early on in the third resulted in a 21 point lead for the Blazers. With this game being the second game of a back-to-back and on the road against one of the better home teams in the NBA, this one was over. At this point I was just waiting around to see Lonnie Walker IV get some burn.

Rudy Gay must have missed the memo.

Showing us that his first quarter production was merely an appetizer to the main course, Gay exploded onto the scene (court?). He scored 16 points on 6-7 shooting, including four three pointers over a very short period of time. His effort willed the Spurs on a massive third quarter run where the Spurs were able to completely erase their 21 point deficit. The only thing that stopped Gay was that he picked up his fourth foul with three minutes to go in the third, forcing him to the bench. To be fair, he was probably going to be subbed out regardless, as he had played the first nine minutes of the quarter. Gay ended his incredible third quarter with a highly effective step-back jumper.

DeRozan also had a very impressive third quarter. His ability to break down the defense resulted in several wide open looks for his teammates. He also pitched in 14 points of his own, including this beauty:

Unfortunately, Damian Lillard refused to let the Spurs take the lead, and he went on his own run to end the quarter. After a wildly entertaining, and quite honestly, surprising third quarter, the Spurs found themselves down 90-96 heading to the fourth quarter.

The magic the Spurs showed in the third quarter was nowhere to be found in the final frame. I can’t blame them for running out of steam, but what I can blame them for is their carelessness with the ball. The majority of the turnovers being committed by the Spurs are not from long-winged defenders clogging up the passing lanes. They are the types of turnovers you expect from a team that hasn’t quite figured each other out on the court. It’s understandable given all the new pieces this season, but it’s concerning nonetheless. It’s tough enough to win on the road under normal circumstances. Throwing the ball all over the gym and allowing opponents to dominate in transition makes winning next to impossible.

Game notes

  • Perhaps Pop was playing Pau Gasol in an attempt to somehow increase his trade value. Whatever the reason, Gasol was a healthy scratch in this one. For what it’s worth, Jakob Poeltl played 12 very effective minutes tonight.
  • Speaking of Poeltl, 12 minutes isn’t enough for him, but it’s probably what we should expect as we inch closer to the playoffs. Aldridge by himself is effective. Poeltl by himself is effective. Together? Not so much. Aldridge will likely play 36-38 minutes a game during the playoffs, which will lead to Poeltl’s minutes coming in around the 10-12 minute mark.
  • Davis Bertans, the master of plus/minus, was at it again. He finished the night with two points in 24 minutes, but still managed to have a plus/minus of zero. Gay, Aldridge, and DeRozan all finished with a double-digit negative plus/minus. It probably doesn’t mean much, but it’s something I’ve noticed throughout the year. No matter how effective his numbers look during a game, the team seems to be better when he’s on the court.
  • After scoring 13 points in the first quarter, Aldridge scored only four points the rest of the game. Even more surprising was that it took him 19 shots to reach 17 points. A rare off night for Aldridge isn’t a huge deal, but it sure would be nice to see our mid(range) three of Aldridge, DeRozan, and Gay string together good games on the same night. In his postgame interview, Aldridge blamed himself for the loss. Said he wasn’t able to get in a rhythm after the first quarter. That’s exactly what the leader of the team should do, but this loss had far more to do with turnovers and non-existent transition defense.