There is no easy way to explain the potential or performance of this Spurs’ team. At their best, they can play with anyone, but find themselves scuffling at or below the level of their competition on a nightly basis. Encouraging victories are sandwiched between stunning letdowns almost as a matter of course. Even within games, a quarter or two of great execution is followed by lackadaisical play that fuels their opponents’ seemingly inevitable comebacks.
Somehow, despite embodying the latter, the Silver and Black managed to dodge the former in their 120-118 roller coaster victory over the Suns on Monday night. After building a 20 point lead on the strength of a solid first half and an excellent start to the 3rd quarter, the Spurs were outscored 39-17 over a 16 minute stretch (and 15-0 in just over 3) that left the home team with a 2 point advantage and less than 3 minutes to go.
But the Spurs outplayed their hosts over the next few possessions, reestablishing a 4 point lead and, at least momentarily, taking most of the tension out of the game after Kelly Oubre Jr. was called for an offensive foul on LaMarcus Aldridge with 38 seconds left. With the ball and the ability to run the clock and potentially stretch the lead out even further, the game seemed almost in hand. The three ring circus that followed, though, more than made up for that brief respite.
First, DeMar DeRozan missed a turnaround jumper, then Devin Booker took it straight to the rack on the other end, cutting the margin to 2, but with only 12 seconds on the clock. The Spurs then proceeded to screw up their inbound play in the most spectacular way possible. LaMarcus caught the ball near half court and nearly fell over the halfcourt line. But threw it to Bryn Forbes instead, who then chucked the ball toward the baseline, in something that could be generously called the general direction of Marco Belinelli.
Ricky Rubio recovered the ball before it went out of bounds and Marco made just enough contact to get whistled for a foul with 5 seconds left in the game, putting Rubio on the line with a chance to tie.
Fortunately for the Spurs, he missed the first, leaving the Suns in a difficult tactical situation. They chose to go for the free point and foul on the inbound play and were rewarded when LaMarcus also missed one of his two free throws. Down by 2 with 5 seconds to go, the Sun got the ball to Booker, who found an open look from 30 feet, but couldn’t knock it down.
The Spurs came away victorious, pulling within a half game of the 8th-placed Grizzlies and adding a game’s worth of cushion between themselves and the 10th-placed Suns. Standings aside, though, the team has to come away from this one frustrated by their inability to put games like this away before they go down to the wire. Turning easy wins into hard-fought nail-biters might be good for entertainment value, but it doesn’t make it any easier to project how they’ll play on a night-to-night basis.
- Derrick White’s team-leading 25 points, 7 assists and outstanding defense were crucial to the Spurs ultimately prevailing in this game. He was the best player on the floor for extended stretches, and hit 4 of 5 from deep, including a pull up from the top of the key with the shot clock winding down late in the 4th that gave the Spurs a 4 point lead.
- Not to be outdone, Bryn knocked down a new career high 8 triples on the night, 7 of which came in a 1st half explosion that left him with 21 points at the break. Despite obviously being in the zone, Bryn didn’t make a single shot inside the arc, missing two jumpers and both of his free throws to finish with 24 points.
- DeMar continued his streak of near triple doubles, with a third consecutive game in the upper reaches of single digits in both rebounds and assists. That helped offset his worst shooting night in a month, as DeMar missed 10 of his 15 shots, though he did manage to put up 18 points by repeatedly getting to the line.
- Devin Booker scored 22 points in the 3rd quarter, knocking down 7 of his 10 shots, including 3 of 4 from deep, and hitting all 5 of his free throws, en route to a 37 point night. While he only put up 6 of those points in the 4th, the pressure he put on the defense opened up a lot of opportunities for the rest of the offense.
- Dejounte Murray’s 4 steals, along with LaMarcus and Jakob Poeltl each putting up 3 blocks, seems to hint at the makings of a solid defensive effort, especially considering Derrick’s great work on and off the ball. But the team’s porous defense, even in a stretch where both Dejounte and Derrick were on the floor together in the middle of the 4th quarter, was a key reason the Suns were able to charge back into the game. Turning those great individual efforts into good overall defense is still a work in progress.
Next game: @Pelicans on Wednesday
The Spurs will get an up close and personal look at the debut of Zion Williamson, who will play in his first game since tearing his meniscus in the Pelicans’ final preseason game.