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Spurs overwhelmed by Lakers suffocating defense and fastbreak attacks

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And it didn’t help that LeBron James went full supernova from deep

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

For much of the Spurs 129-102 blowout loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night, their end of the floor felt at least a few sizes too small. The home team’s purple and gold jerseys were everywhere with nary a gap or seam in sight. Unable to run against an athletic and disciplined opponent, the Spurs’ offense slowly suffocated in the half court.

On the other end, the Lakers eviscerated the Spurs’ transition defense, putting up a 24-6 advantage in fast break points. Even when the good guys got back, the Lakers still spent most of their possessions underneath the basket, taking nearly half of their shots within 4 feet of the rim and converting a devastating 80% of those looks. All those easy buckets let the Lakers put up an effective field goal percentage of 65.7%, the 3rd highest number the Spurs have allowed this year.

Despite getting punished inside while struggling to score, the Spurs never tried their own twin tower alignment, even when the Lakers had two of Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard on the floor. Those lineups played almost 18 minutes, while Jakob Poeltl saw the floor for less than 14.

Somehow, though, the game remained competitive through 3 quarters, thanks almost entirely to DeMar DeRozan. With 14 points in the 3rd, including 10 over the final 3 and half minutes of the period, DeMar loosened up the Lakers’ defense enough to get rolling and almost single-handedly dragged the Spurs back into the game, cutting the deficit down to 9 at one point, before finishing the quarter in a 13 point hole.

It wasn’t even close to enough, though, because LeBron James responded with a dominant 3 and a half minutes of his own, putting the game out of reach with 5 made threes to start the 4th on his way to a 36 point 9 assist night. Along with a pair of threes from Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers stretched their 13 point lead out to 21 as LeBron’s 5th three-pointer forced a Spurs timeout.

The game was an up and down affair the rest of the way and the Lakers continued to pile up points while the Spurs generally kept pace. Coach Gregg Popovich finally waved the white flag with 4:20 to go, subbing in Lonnie Walker IV and Chimezie Metu for DeMar and a largely ineffective LaMarcus Aldridge, then bringing in Keldon Johnson less than a minute later.

The Rodeo Road Trip is off to a disappointing if not entirely unexpected start. With these two back to back losses in L.A., the Spurs now sit 3 games back of the 8th placed Grizzlies.

Game Notes

  • From the very beginning of the game, it was clear the Lakers’ size was making the Spurs hesitant to shoot. Semi-open looks turned into a dribble or two that went nowhere and a swing pass to the next person along the perimeter. Rinse and repeat until somebody had to take a contested jumper.
  • The Spurs should have ended the 1st quarter tied or in the lead, but Lonnie attacked a little too early off an offensive rebound and got tied up on his way to the rim. The Lakers recovered the tip and scored to take a 2 point lead. It wouldn’t have mattered in a game like this, but the Spurs are typically very good at clock management, so that situation will likely end up as a valuable learning point.
  • The Lakers are great at grabbing defensive rebounds and immediately hitting deep routes as everyone on the team has a license to leak out. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers turned about a quarter of their live rebounds into transition plays in this game, though it felt like a lot more. Spurs defenders were actually in decent position on a good number of those possessions, but were often so over matched that it didn’t matter. There just isn’t much that a player like Bryn Forbes can do when he’s the only line of defense against an athletic wing or a big.
  • DeMar was the Spurs only reliable source of offense, and his 28 points and 7 assists were critical to the team’s ability to remain competitive through most of the game. But he stayed down on the floor twice after taking the ball to the basket while the Lakers grabbed the rebound and ran it up the floor. Whether he was fouled or not on those plays, both led to wide open threes for the Lakers. As magnificent as he was at scoring the basketball, even against the Lakers’ imposing D, giving up 6 easy points like that in a game where your team likely has to be almost perfect to have a chance is untenable.
  • The Spurs’ young guards each had good games, though Lonnie’s night stood out the most. The near highlight reel dunk he missed probably drew the most attention, but he was also fantastic on defense, which is likely much more important to his long term prospects. He and Derrick White completely shut down several plays with tenacious and hyper-aware defense that ought to bode well for each’s playing time. Dejounte Murray wasn’t quite as impressive on defense, but continues to show off his lights out pull up jumper and the ability to knock down open threes.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge had another rough night. Since returning from his two game absence with a thumb injury, LaMarcus has put up 12 points against the Hornets, 27 against the Clippers, and now 7 against the Lakers. It could just be a couple of off nights or his thumb could still be bothering him. Either way, the Spurs will need the big Texan to get it going again if they want to get off the schneid.

Next game: @ the Trail Blazers on Thursday

The Spurs will travel to Portland for a chance to pick up an important game in the playoff race off a Trail Blazers squad that currently has a half game lead on the Silver and Black.