The Spurs looked like a team on the verge of a breakthrough after taking down a pair of Eastern Conference contenders but came back to Earth versus the Grizzlies. Memphis overwhelmed and outhustled San Antonio behind their young athletes, and by the end of the night, the good guys found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture.
Although 45 regular-season games remain unplayed, the Silver and Black must continue to build momentum or risk succumbing to one of the toughest schedules left in the NBA. The Raptors are just one of the many first-class opponents waiting for the Spurs, and they’ll have the pleasure of squaring off on Sunday afternoon.
Toronto will be without breakout point guard Fred VanVleet, but Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam could return from injury on their home court. Should that be the case, San Antonio is in for a long day scoring the rock.
The reigning champs are among the best defensive teams in the league, and regaining two of their three best shot blockers and rebounders will only bolster their lineup. The Spurs have scored at least 118 points in six of their last seven games, though there’s no guarantee they’ll reach the century mark in this matchup.
San Antonio Spurs (16-21) versus Memphis Grizzlies (25-13)
January 12, 2020 | 5:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Raptors Injuries: Fred VanVleet (Hamstring - Out), Marc Gasol, (Hamstring- Questionable), Pascal Siakam (Groin - Questionable), Dewan Hernandez (Ankle - Out)
The Spurs Need More From the Young Core
DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have played off each other beautifully since the big man started taking and making the three-ball in late December. San Antonio’s leading scorers have combined for 47.2 points per game on 59-56-90 shooting splits over their last 10 games, but the Spurs are merely 5-5 in those contests.
The good guys struggled when their All-Star duo heavily relied upon the midrange jumper for most of their buckets, yet they haven’t been an elite squad during this stretch of improved spacing and shot selection. While LMA and DD are hotter than fish grease at the moment, they lack the superstar power to carry a team on their own.
This is where to young core comes into the discussion. The Silver and Black are almost unbeatable when their budding stars get going, but incredibly vulnerable when they struggle. And that sight reared it’s ugly head when Ja Morant had his way with Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV in the most recent loss.
Ja cooked everyone the Spurs threw at him last night.— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) January 11, 2020
Bryn, Patty, Dejounte, Derrick, Lonnie, didn’t matter.pic.twitter.com/6IMvt9Mwn0
Corralling Pascal Siakam
Luka Doncic pushed the Mavericks past the Spurs in his return to the court from an ankle injury, and Pascal Siakam is just as capable of doing the same for the Raptors. Though he may not be 100% healthy, if he plays, Spicy P has the skillset to impact the game in a variety of ways.
At 25.1 points per game, Siakam is a top 15 scorer in the NBA, and his defensive versatility has made him into one of only 10 players to average a block and a steal per game this year. He’s a catalyst for Toronto on both ends, and a darkhorse MVP candidate reminiscent of a smaller Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Raptors are 18-3 when Pascal racks up at least 18 points, and 1-5 when he fails to reach that mark. Keep your fingers crossed for his primary defender, because if the Spurs can’t contain Cameroonian forward, then there’s little hope to limit the damage of his supporting cast.
Breaking Down the Defense
As mentioned earlier, the Raptors possess one of the best defenses in the association. But how good are they, what makes them so effective, and how can San Antonio overcome their suffocating pressure?
Let’s start by taking a look at the numbers. They’re 5th in blocks per game, 4th in points allowed, 3rd in opponent three-point percentage, and 2nd in opponent field goal percentage. By nearly every metric, Toronto is a nightmare on D, and they can thank their length for that.
Seven of the eleven players to log more than 400 minutes for the Raptors this season are 6-foot-6 or taller, and six of those players own a wingspan longer than seven feet. Rangy athletic teams have given the Silver and Black fits in recent years, and this bunch is about as long-limbed as they come.
Of course, every team has an Achilles heel, and Toronto is no exception. Lamentably, their weakest link, Kyle Lowry, happens to enjoy the gift of impeccable timing and defensive instincts. So if the Spurs want to unravel the Raptors’ seemingly impenetrable defense, they’ll have to do so with calculated ball movement, aggressive attacks on the rim, and confident shot attempts when provided an open look.
For the Raptors fans’ perspective, visit Raptors HQ.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.