Friday night’s 121-120 loss to the Hawks wasn’t the first time the Spurs have blown a lead down the stretch this season, and Gregg Popovich didn’t shy away from highlighting that as a bugaboo for his 2019-20 squad:
“We were not solid down the stretch, and it’s what’s bitten us in the ass the whole year,” he said. “The gameplan goes to hell and people don’t execute... Too many mistakes down the stretch, and that’s what always seems to happen when we lose a basketball game.”
To Pop’s point, the Spurs have been poor closing out games, putting up a -9.4 net rating in “clutch” situations in which the contest is within 5 points with 5 minutes or less left. They’re 8-15 in such games, part of the reason they’re currently sitting outside the Western Conference playoff picture at 17-23.
Not every one of those outcomes has been a Spurs collapse, and not every collapse has shared the same beats or breakdowns or even players on the floor — each loss has been its own chilling snowflake. That said, Friday’s post-game availability, with an appreciably frustrated group of Spurs, offered enough quotes and insight for it to be worth re-living the final few minutes, through their fresh perspective.
“They just ran a small-small deal. We were supposed to “red”, we didn’t “red” it twice. They got 6 points.” — Gregg Popovich
The “small-small deal” in this case likely refers to the two-guard screen action between Trae Young, who torched the Spurs for 31 points, and Kevin Huerter, who chipped in 18 points, including the winning basket. “Red” usually means to send a double team at the ball-handler and force the ball out of his hands, which ideally either results in a turnover or at least takes the offense out of its preferred set. Here’s how those plays actually went down.
3:01 left, Spurs lead, 114-106:
2:08 left: Spurs lead, 118-111:
While the Spurs were able to come back with a bucket here or there, the offense wasn’t sharp enough to make up for the ineffective defense and some considerable Trae Young magic.
“He said my toe touched him. That’s all I’ll say about that.” — LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge was charged with a 5th foul when he contested this Young drive late in the 4th quarter. As you can see by his immediate finger twirl, he didn’t agree with the call then and neither did the Spurs, who promptly challenged it. Still, the call was upheld and the above is the justification Aldridge was given by the referee. The result was two free throws for Young, but it also set up LA picking up his 6th and final foul on the other end shortly after.
1:20 left, Spurs lead, 120-114:
“They drove, weakside defense was just standing there, doing nothing.” — Pop, again
0:53 left, Spurs lead, 120-116:
“[Trae Young] is a really talented young player. Can really shoot the ball. Obviously that changes a lot.” — Dejounte Murray
Murray was asked about the attention Young draws and how it may have contributed to Huerter’s open go-ahead three. The Spurs guard was sure to assume his own share of the blame for the team’s ineffectiveness in shutting down Young, but you can certainly see how much he dominated what the team tried to do to contain him.
0:13 left, Spurs lead, 120-118:
“The play kind of broke off. It was for me to kind of get on the post... [once it broke down], I just tried to go get it from Dejounte, just tried to get down there and get the best shot as I could at the basket. I thought I had the corner to turn and get to the basket.” — DeMar DeRozan
0:06, Hawks lead, 121-120:
The clip above doesn’t capture the entire set the Spurs tried to run coming out of the timeout, but it shows the aftermath of the chaos. Beyond the general issues in executing on both ends of the floor, the team has routinely been out of sync on out-of-bounds plays this season. They paid for it again on Friday night.