The Spurs are really going to do this, aren’t they? Just as I’ve come to terms with the idea that they’re going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1997, they’re going to put the idea back in my head that maybe — just maybe — they could claw their way back into this thing.
With a strong team showing in Utah for a 113-104 win (their second straight) on the penultimate game of this year’s Rodeo Road Trip, the Spurs (with a little help from Memphis) have crept within 3 losses of the Grizzles in the 8th seed with 27 games to go. That’s still a lot to overcome, but back comes the old saying: they just need to go on a run (something they have admittedly failed to do all season). While two wins in a row won’t get things done on its own, it’s a start, and the Spurs came out of the All-Star break refreshed and ready to at least try to make one last push.
At the opening tip, it didn’t look like they had returned from the extended break. There were enough silly flubs in the opening minute to be its own story. The defense allowed an open layup, LaMarcus Aldridge traveled, and Trey Lyles somehow lost a defensive rebound out of bounds off his own face by jumping too high, which resulted in another open layup for the Jazz on the inbound play.
Still, the Spurs got their act together after Dejounte Murray calmed things down with an elbow jumper that has been automatic for him on this Rodeo Road Trip, and the Spurs methodically built a 27-21 lead despite Aldridge having to sit with two fouls less than six minutes in.
They continued to build the lead up to 14 points in second quarter before the Jazz went on a 14-4 led by Bogdan Bogdanovic, but then the Spurs did something they have struggled with at times this season, especially on the road: respond. Led by the continual hot shooting of Murray and Bryn Forbes, they finished the half on a 17-2 run to get up 65-46, with the Jazz’s only bucket being a buzzer beater at the horn.
Another thing the Spurs did well tonight was come out of the locker room strong — at least after a quick 5-0 run by the Jazz to open the second half. Gregg Popovich called an angry timeout, and from there the Spurs built the lead all the way up to 25 points at 93-68 with 1:28 left in the quarter. Then, the inevitable happened. With a 16-3 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, the Jazz got within 12 points while the Spurs looked completely helpless on both ends, allowing that sinking feeling to creep in that no lead is safe with this team.
Despite the 10 days off for the All-Star break, that blown 23-point lead in Denver (and so many others like it that has the Spurs in this predicament in the first place) remains fresh in the mind. In that sense, it was a pleasant surprise to see the Spurs respond and never let it get any worse than that. Both teams basically traded buckets the rest of the way, and the Spurs held on to win their second-straight game of the Rodeo Road Trip, with one more to go in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Overall, it was a nice team effort with six Spurs scoring in double digits and the role players stepping up despite “meh” games from Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. If they want any hope of making the playoffs, this is how they’re going to have to play night-in and night-out the rest of the way, with strong perimeter defense, contributions from both units, and not allowing those catastrophic runs.
I hate being fed false hope, and the Spurs will have to do a lot more than win two games against a couple of playoff-bound-but-not-quite-contending teams to convince me otherwise, but it’s a start. We all know what this team is capable when they play well, now they have to prove they can do it on a much more consistent basis,
- Murray continues to be amazing on this Rodeo Road Trip. With 23 points on 10-16 shooting, this was the first pair of back-to-back 20-point games of his career after he recorded a career-high 25 points in OKC. He also continued his stat-stuffing ways with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and only 1 turnover. His midrange shot remains money, and he has been given full freedom to do what he wants with the ball. If this is the real, healthy, improved Dejounte of the future busting through, the Spurs are set at at least one position.
- I continue to be subtly impressed with Lyles. He makes few mistakes, plays good defense, has a nose for rebounds, and his offensive game continues to expand as he improves his three-point shooting while also adding the ability to drive to the rim when defenders close out. I would like to see the Spurs get good enough at the PF position that he doesn’t have to be their starter next season, but he has definitely been a pleasant surprise and could easily have role with the team going forward.
- Jakob Poeltl blocking shots is becoming so normal I didn’t even notice he had four in the first half until it was mentioned in the third quarter. He also had 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and no fouls. He was reportedly the Spur most teams had interest in ahead of the trade deadline, but they rightfully made his asking price too high.
- Forbes had a good game with 13 points on 4-6 shooting from three, but after committing an admittedly questionable flagrant foul by impeding Jordan Clarkson’s landing space on a three-point attempt midway through the fourth quarter, giving him three technical free trows and the ball with the Spurs still trying to fend off a Jazz run, he was pulled in favor of Derrick White, and we finally got to see more of what White and Murray can do together. Both played fantastic defense all night, playing a role in keeping Donovan Mitchell at bay with just 12 points, and looked good closing out the game together.
- The Spurs reportedly made the Jazz fall to 1-7 when wearing those solid yellow jerseys. The Spurs can relate to uniforms causing losses, Jazz fans.