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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Raptors

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The Spurs find a rhythm late, steal victory on the road thanks to secret weapon Marco Belinelli

San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Sometimes it’s an early game on a Sunday in January and strange things happen. The Spurs had no business winning and yet they did. Against the #2 ranked defense in the league, the defending champs, on the road, down 13 heading into the 4th quarter, no one would have blamed you if you changed the channel and started watching the NFL playoffs.

Yet the start of the fourth is when Pop pulled out his trump card — Marco Belinelli — which turned the game around and upside down. Yes, Spurs fans, it’s been a disorienting roller coaster ride watching this team. The experience of watching the team as a whole, and each individual player, has somehow alternated between rickety, wooden fear and gleaming, metallic excitement. Sometimes the ride changes form in the middle of the trip. That’s what happened Sunday against the Raptors. After losing 3 straight quarters, the Spurs pulled off a 14-point margin in the 4th and left the building before anyone could check their receipt.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this season, it’s to expect the unexpected. No matter how hard we may kick or scream, the ride is out of our control. Who knows what we may encounter on this long, strange trip. Playoffs? Maybe. Trades? There’s a possibility. Top 10 draft pick? Could be.

Strap in and embrace the dizzy feeling.

Takeaways:

  • The Spurs won the battle in the paint, outscoring the Raptors 50-34 there. The Spurs also out-rebounded the home team 51-45. The Spurs are now 16-8 when they win or tie the other team in rebounds.
  • It was an ugly game. There was some good defense on both sides but worse offense. The zone the Spurs played did seem to bother the Raptors, but I don’t think it was an overwhelming factor in the victory. Pascal Siakam started off hot but faded in his first game back from injury. The Spurs were 4-24 from the 3 point line through 3 quarters and finished 7-32. Neither team played particularly well.
  • Belinelli led the team in +/- as a +15, but it is how he did it that I found interesting. For a large portion of the 4th quarter, Pop played his two stars DeMar DeRozan and Laarcus Aldridge, plus the three guards that offer the strongest combination of smarts and shot-making: Derrick White, Patty Mills, and Belinelli. The Spurs were +8 in 8 minutes with that group.
  • Before the LMA 3-point revolution, having Patty and Marco on the floor together still wasn’t enough to get spacing around LMA and DDR inside. Now that LA is spacing out to the 3-point line and drawing his defender (most often in this game, Serge Ibaka) outside, the lane is *wide* open for White and DeRozan to drive and score or drive and kick. Marco had (but missed) two open threes before he knocked down his clutch third one to put the Spurs ahead late. He also was making on-time and on-target passes around the perimeter that got his guys open or a step ahead of the defense. He even had a steal. It’s a really subtle thing, but Marco’s passing might have been his biggest contribution in the 4th quarter.
  • Bryn Forbes is truly a train-wreck on defense. We already knew this, but it really stood out to me how frequently guys go at him and score right over top in the paint. He has a few times a game where he tries to fly around the perimeter as the opponent swings the ball to cover open three-point shooters. Unfortunately, because he’s small and not particularly fast, he ends up out of position and forces his teammates into impossible situations one pass away. Basically, he over-helps and ends up covering nobody. Again, it’s a subtle thing, but it really ruins your team defense when one guy is out of position and forces everyone else to rotate to cover him.
  • When White is playing aggressively he is really, really good. The spread out floor in the 4th quarter really benefited him. He led the team in scoring in the period with 9 and also dished 2 assists, finishing with 13 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 (!) blocked shots. Without his play in the 4th, the Spurs probably lose.
  • DeMar continues to cook.

Here’s his shot chart:

That’s the chart of a man who is never going to change, and maybe doesn’t need to.

Spurs vs. Raptors Throwback:

This was a fun game.