The last two games perfectly encapsulate the ups and downs that have defined the Spurs season thus far. Fans watched in frustration on Saturday as the 12-point lead San Antonio built in the opening frame was surrendered to Milwaukee two quarters later, and on Monday night they witnessed San Antonio at their peak in an extraordinary 126-104 mauling of the Bucks.
Despite losing to this same team just a few days ago, there were signs that the Silver and Black could pull off a massive upset against the NBA-best Bucks. San Antonio kept the first contest competitive for nearly three quarters, made Giannis Antetokounmpo earn almost every one of his 32 points, and did so without defensive anchor Dejounte Murray.
So while the good guys may have been the underdogs heading into a home matchup against “Cream City”, with Dejounte back in the mix, they made some noise at the AT&T Center. The starting lineup was adjusted, rotations were tweaked, and the Spurs responded with a statement victory that could put their season back on the right track.
- The duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan was scrutinized from the moment it was announced in the summer of 2019, and critics have only grown louder as the Spurs have struggled to win with any consistency. Though fans and NBA experts alike have thrown the All-Star tandem into numerous trade scenarios, the pair have quietly made their case to stick around over the past few weeks. DeMar has averaged 25.6 points per game and leads all guards in field goal percentage (64.8%) since December 21st. Meanwhile, LaMarcus has averaged 22.0 points per game and leads the NBA in three-point percentage (64.5%) over this same stretch. Though neither player is likely to garner an All-Star appearance in 2020, had they performed like this from the beginning of the season, there’s no doubt San Antonio would be sending two representatives to Chicago in February. DeRozan was spectacular again on Monday, dropping 25 points on 73.3% shooting. Also, all his 7 assists resulted in a three-pointer. Aldridge chipped in 17 points, a few short of his season average, but continued to stretch the floor with 2 more made threes.
- Lonnie Walker returned to the bench after making his first career NBA start. Though we can groan and complain that Gregg Popovich is being stubborn and stunting the second-year guard’s growth, I wouldn’t be so quick to pass that judgment. It isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to the young fan favorite. It may seem like a demotion, but playing with the second unit benefits all parties involved. Lonnie can get more involved without the ball-dominant starters dominating the touches, the bench adds some much-needed firepower, and the Spurs thrived on both ends. I’m not saying he lacks the talent to start for San Antonio, but he makes some sense alongside the second-stringers.
- Honestly, I wanted to see the Spurs move on from Patty Mills this off-season, and I’ll be the first admit my assessment of the backup point guard was horrendously incorrect. Patty has been the heart and soul of the Silver and Black this season, and the good guys would be lost without his contributions on the court as well. The eleven-year pro is San Antonio’s third-leading scorer, top long-distance marksman in total three-point makes, and has come up with huge buckets with the game on the line. The undersized sharpshooter knocked down 6 triples against the Bucks and led all bench scorers with 21 points in 23 minutes. He also made an impact off the hardwood, bringing awareness to the devastating wildfires across his homeland. (Here’s a link to the foundations aiding Australia.)
- Any time you score over 120 points, you’re likely on your way to a victory. This theory holds especially true when it comes to the San Antonio Spurs. The Silver and Black dropped 126 points on Milwaukee, and they improved their record to 38-14 when eclipsing 120 points in the Gregg Popovich era. That wasn’t the only area in which the good guys dominated the Bucks. They also out-rebounded the league’s top rebounding team (51.5 RPG) 54-38. Oh, and they outshot the NBA’s fourth-best three-point shooting team (14.0 3PM) with a season-high 19 to 15, and 54.3% to 33.3%. It was a game that showcased their ability to beat anyone when they’re firing on all cylinders. Hopefully we see more of this version of the Spurs as we approach the midway point of the season.