It was another case of promising but unconsummated execution down the stretch for the Spurs: Patty Mills at the top of the floor with the ball, waiting as DeMar DeRozan and Bryn Forbes criss-crossed at the baseline, Forbes losing his man around a stout LaMarcus Aldridge pin-down screen and darting to the right side, receiving Mills’ pass and turning into an open look — from the same spot that he hit his first and only three-pointer of the game, no less — to try and tie the game at 98. Watching on as Forbes’ shot rimmed out, all Derrick White could do was clap demonstratively and get back into a defensive stance.
The Spurs know Friday’s 103-99 loss to Phoenix could’ve gone their way, and their responses to the bad breaks say a lot about the state of the team right now. Had an open shot or two capped their late comeback (and the Spurs had their fair share in the final minutes), we could quite easily be writing about them extending their winning streak to a season-best 4 games right now; had they not let a hobbled Phoenix team flip the game on them in the 2nd period, no such comeback would’ve been required. It’s all part of the balance a group in their position tries to strike as they build on the good, learn from the bad, and move forward.
“That 2nd quarter was a killer,” acknowledged Pop afterward. “I thought their physicality — they got up into us in the 2nd quarter. We had 7 turnovers and that really kicked us. We fought back hard, guys did a great job, just kept playing and down the stretch, like lots of NBA games, it comes down to making shots. We had 3 or 4 wide-ass-open threes that didn’t go down. Had we played better in the 2nd quarter maybe we wouldn’t have been in that position, but we didn’t make those shots and they got the game.”
And it was indeed an ugly 2nd quarter for San Antonio, headlined by a four-and-a-half-minute stretch in which the Silver and Black went scoreless, finding little daylight against an improved Phoenix half-court defense. Over that same span, Phoenix reeled off 18 straight points, taking what was an 8-point Spurs advantage and turning it into a double-digit Suns lead. The Spurs would battle back a few times in that quarter, as well as the 3rd and 4th, but never retook the lead, getting as close as within 1 point on multiple occasions.
Going 5 for 25 from three-point range didn’t help, either, tying the team’s second-lowest total number of triples on the season. Ironically it was Forbes’ hot shooting that played a major role in the Spurs’ win over Phoenix earlier this week. The guard had 8 threes in total, including 7 in the first half, to help decide the win on Monday, something Suns coach Monty Williams made note of both before and after Friday’s game:
After the Spurs hit 56.8% (17 of 31) in Monday's win in Phoenix, they finished Friday's loss shooting 20% (5 of 25). "We were just battling over screens, contesting more shots," Monty Williams said. "The other day, they were lights out, so I wanted to check our contest rate."— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) January 25, 2020
As should be the case in a narrow loss, there were bright spots for San Antonio. Derrick White posted an impressive defensive line of 4 blocks and 3 steals to go with 13 points and 4 boards, showcasing the kind of playmaking most NBA guards don’t offer on that end of the floor. Lonnie Walker had a little moment, scoring 7 consecutive points early in the 4th quarter. DeMar DeRozan, in a team-high 30 points on 10 of 15 shooting, continues to be a sneakily efficient offensive player, and it’s a shame his shortcomings on the other end are amplified by this roster’s deficiencies.
The positives didn’t add up to a win in the nightly aggregate, but it’s currency nonetheless for a team that’s still very much in the playoff picture.
“I think we’re learning stuff every game,” said Patty Mills. “No matter if we win or lose, there’s stuff that we’re finding out about ourselves together as a group. We always talk about putting it in the bank and at some point it’ll pay off in the long run. But this is what this whole season is about, is about learning about each other, and how we can move forward together. It’ll come, it’ll pay off, and when it does it will be good. But we’re all hanging in there.”
A few more notes and quotes...
Devin Booker with the game-high
On a night when the Spurs missed some wide open looks, all Devin Booker needed was a sliver of daylight to hit some of the game’s biggest shots with a hand in his face. He tallied 35 points and 10 assists before fouling out in the final minutes.
Patty, on the Spurs’ more liberal use of zone defense
Making up for their own struggles beating the zone, the Spurs dropped into one as well and had similar success in mucking up the Suns’ sets. It wasn’t always pretty, but Patty Mills liked what he saw in the way is improving its execution in those schemes.
“It has been working, you know, we get teams to get out of what they want to do. And out of their comfort zone a bit... but the communication in the zone is what we’re improving. It’s a positive sign. We just need to string these great patches of work together.”
Pop on Derrick and Dejounte sharing the floor down the stretch of games
One of the most anticipated combinations going into this season has started to share the floor in the past month or so. And while we didn’t see any meaningful time of Derrick White and Dejounte Murray in Friday’s loss, I get the following from Pop earlier in the evening about what he’s seen from them together:
“They complement each other pretty good, it’s two guys that are willing to pass, make pretty good decisions. They play good defense. So, we have a pretty good tandem there in that sense. A couple of ball-handlers, a couple of defenders, can work to our advantage I hope.”
Monty Williams’ full pregame quote on LaMarcus
Williams not only worked with Aldridge as a member of the Spurs staff, he also coached him in Portland before moving on to a head coaching role in New Orleans. Here’s what he had to say about the Spurs big before Friday’s game:
“Most underrated player in the league, in my opinion. I coached him [in Portland]. I remember when he came in and not really knowing where he was going to fit with Brandon and Greg Oden and here we are. He can knock down threes, he can play in the post, he can pass, he can block shots, he can do that every night. Saw him rip New Orleans apart. In my opinion, he’s just so undervalued, underrated, and a good dude — except when I have to face him.”
With 11 points and 3 rebounds in the 1st quarter, Aldridge looked like he was in for a big night that would affirm Williams’ praise. The Suns did a great job of limiting him after that, and he ended the night with just 16 points.
Another DNP-Inactive for DeMarre
Carroll was in (pretty sharp-looking) street clothes once again on Friday, with Austin staples Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks both suiting up for San Antonio instead. Jeje has already gone in detail about this weird situation, and one has to wonder if the Spurs will resolve it with some kind of trade before the upcoming deadline.