I love watching games like tonight’s. The Milwaukee Bucks have been the best team in the NBA and were at home, where they have only lost two games all season. The San Antonio Spurs have been terrible on the road for the better part of 2.5 seasons and were without Dejounte Murray. My expectations for the Spurs have been significantly reduced as the season has progressed, but I came into this game with zero expectations. This allowed me to enjoy the game without having to worry about the results. Hearing before the game that Lonnie Walker IV would be getting his first career start only made me that much more excited.
I was also curious to see how the Spurs’ new offensive strategy of taking more three pointers in lieu of midrange shots would hold up against a championship caliber team. In the first quarter things looked good. LaMarcus Aldridge continued his torrid shooting from distance, connecting on four of his first five three point attempts in the first quarter. Overall, the Spurs made six out of their 12 three point attempts in the opening frame.
The Spurs’ hot shooting from outside allowed them to build a lead early, but with Murray out of the lineup, the bench rotation was a bit of a mess. Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, and Marco Belinelli shared the court for significant minutes, and the defense was predictably horrible. Pair that with some cold shooting to close out the quarter, and the Bucks were able to cut a 12-point deficit down to just two to start the second quarter.
The second quarter was one of the fastest paced quarters I’ve ever seen during a Spurs’ game. Thanks to a strong quarter by DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs hung with the Bucks the best they could but got outscored 42-35. To the Bucks’ credit, they are relentless on the offensive side of the court. They keep coming at you with a freight train known as The Greek Freak (or simply Giannis Antetokounmpo) and an entire rotation of players capable of scoring in a variety of ways.
If this game was the Indy 500, the third quarter was the part when the cars are racing under caution. There were 27 free throws attempted by both teams in the quarter, slowing down what had been a really exciting game of basketball.
The Spurs started struggling mightily on offense, with Brook Lopez swatting away a number of shots at the rim. Lopez is one of the best shot blockers in the NBA, and his presence clearly impacted the way the Spurs approached this game. The Bucks ended up with 10 blocks to the Spurs’ zero, and he accounted for seven of those blocks on his own. After a game against the Thunder where the Spurs attempted 32 shots in the restricted area, they only attempted 17 against the Bucks. Only seven of those 17 shots found their way into the basket, including just two for ten in the second half. The Spurs did shoot 34 free throws in the game — and made 31 of them — so that probably had something to do with the low field goal attempts inside the paint.
Unfortunately, the Spurs’ struggles were not limited to shots in the paint. Though they continued their streak of attempting over 30 three-point shots in a game, they shot only 34 percent, including three for 15 in the second half. With the Spurs’ inability to consistently get to the paint, they found themselves going back to a heavy dose of midrange shots. They took 28 on the night, four more than their season average. After shooting a blistering 11 for 16 in the first half, they made only three of 12 attempts in the second half.
The Spurs were going to have to play a perfect game to come away victorious on the road against the Bucks, but it was not meant to be. After a strong first half from both players, Aldridge and DeRozan shot only 1-11 in the second half combined. The Spurs have no shot at hanging with the top teams in the NBA with that type of production out of their two star players.
They will get another shot at the Bucks on Monday, this time at the AT&T Center. Hopefully Murray will be back in the starting lineup and ready to go. If he is, and Walker continues to start, it’ll be interesting to see how Coach Pop handles the minutes of Mills, Forbes, and Belinelli off the bench.
Notes from the game
- Not more than 24 hours after I wrote an article about Forbes needing to be removed from the starting lineup, Walker got the first start of his career in replacement of Forbes. He did a good job of making his way to the paint but got his shot blocked a couple times. He finished with eight points on 3-12 shooting, but it was still nice to see a more dynamic player alongside Aldridge and DeRozan. He also did an admirable job defending Khris Middleton.
- After going four for five from distance in the first quarter, Aldridge attempted only two more shots from deep the rest of the game. There were a couple instances where the Spurs ran a pick and pop for Aldridge, and he popped into a long two instead of a three at the top of the key. I don’t know if this was just due to old habits dying hard, but if defenses are going to continue to give Aldridge space in the pick and pop, he needs to continue letting it fly from deep. Other than his outside shooting, Aldridge had trouble getting anything going on offense. He shot only five for 14 from the field and had trouble containing Robin Lopez.
- A bench unit consisting of Mills, Forbes, and Belinelli really struggled against the Bucks. Even against bench players, somebody on the wing needs to be able to play defense. Murray returning to the lineup should help, as that’ll push either White or Walker back to the bench.
- Watching some combination of Mills and Forbes try and guard Middleton in the second quarter was giving me heartburn. It went about how one would expect. DeMarre Carroll not cracking the rotation, at least at times like tonight when the Spurs are short (pun intended) handed, continues to mystify. If he’s not going to play, I hope they find a new home for him before the trade deadline. I hate seeing him rot on the end of the bench.
- I like Sean Elliott, but I’m getting a little tired of listening to him constantly talk about bigs choosing to shoot threes instead of bullying smaller players in the paint. I’m not saying he doesn’t have a point, but he needs to get over it. It’s been especially awkward to listen to him berate bigs on opposing teams at a time when Aldridge is starting to follow the same trend he’s complaining about. Elliott has even talked about how Aldridge’s ability to spread the floor has opened up the court for DeRozan. That’s the whole point of the modern NBA, isn’t it?
- There was a weird sequence in the second quarter when Gay and Brook Lopez looked like they were walking each other down the isle and there was no foul called. I don’t know if the referee thought there was an inadvertent locking of arms, but at a time when players can hardly breathe on each other, not to mention in a game when the refs were hardly letting any contact go, I couldn’t believe something wasn’t called.
- Keldon Johnson, the Spurs 29th pick in the 2019 NBA draft got a few minutes of run during garbage time. He scored two points and grabbed a couple boards during his short time on the court. Johnson has been too turnover prone in the G-League thus far, but other than that he’s been excellent. Also, you can’t teach effort
THIS KID! THIS KID! My goodness! Keldon Johnson is a machine! He is all heart! All motor! LOOK AT THIS SPURS FANS! #nba #gospursgo pic.twitter.com/CmbYhoN3Ge— JeffGSpursZone (@JeffGSpursZone) January 4, 2020