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Spurs bounce back with close win over Heat

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After a painful loss to the Hawks, the Spurs took care of business at home against a quality opponent.

NBA: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

After a devastating loss to the Hawks, the Spurs bounced back by beating the Heat 107-102 at home. It was a hard fought game that San Antonio closed well to get a much-needed win to keep pace in the West’s playoff race.

In a matchup between two mediocre defensive teams, it was not surprising to see both offenses thrive early on, as the teams traded buckets. It was only after both second units checked in that Miami could string together stops thanks to a zone defense that confounded San Antonio for a few minutes. Fortunately a couple of timely three-pointers and some much-needed aggressiveness going to the rim allowed the Spurs to snap out of their funk before the Heat could truly pull away in the first quarter.

Three-point shooting, which had been an issue in the previous two games, was the biggest reason why the second quarter belonged to San Antonio. The six outside shots the Spurs made, some of which came on plays the Heat defended well, powered a 32-point frame. Miami, meanwhile, couldn’t get going from beyond the arc but got buckets inside thanks to their featured players. The Spurs went to the break with a small lead but also the certainty that the Heat were not going away without a fight.

If the first half was defined by entertaining offensive one-upmanship, the second was all about effort and timely plays in lieu of great execution. The Heat’s zone continued to give the Spurs’ offense a lot of trouble, but couldn’t really secure as many stops as it did earlier in the game, as Derrick White and DeMar DeRozan found seams to attack it or put their head down and drive with purpose. Miami also scored prolifically but not necessarily with ease, as San Antonio did well to play more aggressively, even if it that physicality often resulted in fouls. Going into the fourth quarter the game was close, which considering how things have gone in the clutch lately probably had Spurs fans worried.

Fortunately the Silver and Black didn’t crumble under pressure Sunday afternoon. Again, execution wasn’t either team’s strong suit in the last two quarters, but the Spurs did play with effort and caught a few breaks. Patty Mills and Derrick White led the charge with some impressive hustle plays and a couple of loose balls bounced San Antonio’s way. Even the controversial calls went in the Spurs’ favor this time around, as a foul that was originally called and and-1 for Jimmy Butler when the game was 105-100 with 1:28 to go was successfully challenged by Gregg Popovich at Becky Hammon’s insistence, forcing the Heat to inbound from the side instead.

The last few offensive plays were empty for the Spurs, which wasn’t all that surprising, but Miami couldn’t really take advantage. The Heat did get a good look at a game-tying three, but unlike what happened against the Hawks, this time the basketball gods smiled upon San Antonio. A couple of Belinelli free throws sealed the win after Duncan Robinson’s miss.

The Spurs needed this one desperately, as the collapse against Atlanta was still haunting them, and a SEGABABA with the Suns, a direct rival for the last playoff spot in the West, is next. The way they gutted it out doesn’t completely erase the valid concerns the last two losses brought back to the forefront, but at least it eases the pain of those two defeats. We’ll see what Monday’s game has in store, but for now we can’t complain.

Game notes

  • The second unit was the biggest reason why the Spurs came out on top. The bench scored 48 points and was responsible for some of the game’s biggest plays. On a night in which Bryn Forbes was awful and Dejounte Murray wasn’t at his best, the play of White (11 points and six assists), Mills (18 points and a crucial dive into the stands for a loose ball) and even the much-maligned Marco Belinelli (12 points, seven rebounds and a clutch three) was huge.
  • DeRozan and Aldridge combined for 41 points and 12 assists without pulling the offense towards themselves too much. That was enough production from the stars, since the supporting cast did its part.
  • Trey Lyles was uncharacteristically aggressive on offense in the first half, which helped the Spurs mask the absence of Rudy Gay, at least for a while. Pop decided to go small for most of the second half but after a bad game against the Hawks, it was good to see Lyles contribute in his time on the court.
  • Lonnie Walker IV played almost 20 minutes, the most he’s played since Jan. 6. There was some good and some bad, but it’s hard to be too harsh on Walker for his lackluster second half play since he basically played power forward. We’ll see what happens to his minutes once Gay is back.
  • Before tip-off Bill Land and Sean Elliott were reminiscing about the Finals matchups between the Heat and the Spurs, which made me realize that despite the importance of those series, I don’t feel any sense of rivalry between the two franchises. It probably has to do with the fact that it felt more like the Spurs Vs. LeBron than anything, but maybe I’m alone and there’s more of a rivalry than I think between the two teams. Let me know in the comments.

Next game: @Suns on Monday

The Spurs will travel to Phoenix to take on the Suns on the second game of a back-to-back. A loss would push San Antonio back to the 10th spot in the West, so let’s hope the Silver and Black can prevent that.