Becky Hammon became the first woman to coach a regular season NBA game, in case you only take away one thing from last night’s 121-107 loss to the Lakers. Like many of her career accomplishments it is both something to be celebrated and normalized, and I imagine better writers around the internet will strike that balance on Thursday as they unpack the real news of the day.
Here we’ll focus on the less memorable matter of the Spurs’ final loss of the calendar year, one which was ostensibly within grasp for most of the night but rarely felt that way.
The Lakers are the defending champs for a reason, and they carry themselves with the requisite swagger that any group wearing the same colors as two of the five best players in the league should. So, when borrowing the Popovichian adage that a team should show “appropriate fear” against a worthy opponent, maybe it’s fitting that these Lakers, facing these Spurs, showed little to none. Not when LeBron James picked up Keldon Johnson on a first-half possession and hung near the restricted area while Johnson ran through off-ball screens and curled into an open jumper (which missed). Not when flinging full-court hit-ahead passes to teammates, guarded or not, which typically resulted in baskets or Spurs fouls. Nor when James and Marc Gasol combine for 4 behind-the-back passes in the 1st half.
Maybe the Lakers strike a more urgent tone if their three ball isn’t falling like it did (14 of 26, led by Wes Matthews’ 6 of 6 night), or if Jakob Poeltl doesn’t get in 1st half foul trouble, or if the Spurs don’t rim out a handful of decent looks. Or if San Antonio doesn’t give up a 2nd 5-point possession to an opponent in as many games (this time, it was to close the 1st half, turning a 5-point deficit into 10). But alas.
To their credit, the Spurs showed fight throughout. Playing without LaMarcus Aldridge (a gameday scratch due to knee soreness), Pop turned to a small five of Jakob Poeltl, Keldon Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker against an LA frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, and James. That group pulled ahead 17-15 early, and the team overall never let the more talented Lakers turn this game into a blowout. The Spurs totaled 8 steals, and the game hit a fun peak when Drew Eubanks stuffed a Montrezl Harrell shot at the rim on one end, and the DeMar DeRozan (23 points, 5 rebounds 6 assists on the night) posterized the Lakers big on the other. They also benefited from Murray’s big night, outscoring birthday boy James 29 to 26 and showing more of the same growth he’s exhibited through the first 4 games of the season.
A Gregg Popovich ejection can turn a Spurs game on its head, for better or worse. On Wednesday as he “got kicked out” (Murray’s post-game words), he pointed to Hammon and, in doing so, made far bigger waves. But on the court, the energy and playcalling felt largely the same—in a good way. The Spurs kept battling in a game that was always going to be an uphill battle, did at least one fun thing in the halfcourt, and showed enough positives for the young team to build upon in this still-young season.
Other bits and bobs
Becky Hammon reflecting on her achievement
“It’s just trying to get the guys in the right spots, trying to motivate them a little bit, trying to execute the game plan.. obviously a learning experience for all of us. I would’ve loved to walk out of there with a win with the guys.”
“It’s really just, I’m in the moment with the guys trying to figure out the best way to help them, put them in the best spots to be successful... the moment just was trying to come up with stuff to try and help us win the game.”
“Obviously it’s a big deal. It’s a substantial moment... I was traded here in 2007. I’ve been a part of Spurs Sports and Entertainment for 13 years. I’ve had a lot of time invested and they’ve had a lot of time invested in me and making me be better.”
Dejounte’s career night
The final numbers for the young Spurs guard: a career-high 29 points on 12 of 19 shooting, to go with 7 assists and 7 rebounds. Murray added to his hot start to the season by scoring at all levels. He had some more aggressive drives to the basket, and at least one nice setup in the pick and roll, finding Jakob Poeltl on a jump pass. Beyond the numbers, Murray continues to do and say the kind of things that make you want to root for him: in the final minute of a lost game, he committed a foul to get a group of five end-of-bench players to take the floor, giving each of them daps before taking his seat. In post-game when asked about his performance, he gave a deadpan reply expressing how little the numbers meant in a loss.
LaMarcus Aldridge day to day
Pop said in his pregame availability that Aldridge’s knee injury isn’t considered serious, and that his DNP was more a precaution than anything.