If there is one thing that is consistent with this inconsistent Spurs squad on a nightly basis, it’s that they never make things easy for themselves. Whether they start slow and spend the entire game playing catch-up or get out to an early lead but fail to maintain it, no outcome is ever guaranteed, and no lead is ever safe. That was especially true Saturday night in a streaky game where it appeared the Spurs had secured the win by going on the final run, only to try their darnedest to give it back to the Orlando Magic in the final seconds of a 114-113 nail-biter.
Having led by as many as 18 points early, the Spurs found themselves down 111-107 with two minutes to go off a Markelle Fultz layup that capped a 10-4 Magic run. The Spurs responded with a 7-0 run themselves (5 of which came from Bryn Forbes) to get up by three with 50 seconds left, and despite allowing another layup to Fultz, it appeared the Spurs were going to hang on.
After running down the clock, Rudy Gay rebounded his own miss, and the Magic had to foul. Unfortunately, the Spurs were not yet in the bonus, and a weakness reared its ugly head once again: inbounding the ball in crunch time. They wasted their last two timeouts after Derrick White failed to find an open man before Gay took over as inbounder and got the ball to Forbes, but it was lost, and Evan Fournier was left streaking up the court with only Patty Mills standing between him and a game-winning lay-up.
The Leap Year gods must have been smiling on the Spurs, because in a change from the majority of this season, something actually went their way as Fournier missed the easy shot with 2 seconds left (although it would be remiss to say Mills didn’t defend it as well as he possibly could and at least made Fournier make an adjustment in the air). White retrieved the rebound and heaved the ball up the court as the buzzer sounded to end the game. The Spurs got the much needed win to stay in the Race for Eighth, leapfrogging the Trail Blazers in the process, but as has often been the case this season, it didn’t have to be so hard.
Despite missing LaMarcus Aldridge for the second straight game and losing Jakob Poeltl to a knee contusion four minutes in, the Spurs managed to keep building the lead all the way up to 18 late in the first half thanks in large part to the play of Trey Lyles and Gay. Lyles had a season-high 20 points to go along with 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals while scoring in all manners to show off his full offensive potential.
Gay briefly broke out of his season-long shooting slump with 19 points on 4-6 from three, and two-way Spur Drew Eubanks had the best game of his young career with 10 points on 4-4 shooting in place of Poeltl, including a three!
It’s probably not the trio anyone drew up as the one that would lead the Spurs to victory, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Four other Spurs also scored in double figures to make it a good, all-around team effort on offense, but it would not be a Spurs game this season without some drama, and there was plenty of that all packed into the 48th minute of this game.
Regardless, no matter how ugly it can get at times, one thing is for sure: you can never accuse these Spurs of quitting. Some fans may want them to mail it it and start tanking, but that’s just not how these players are wired. Win or lose, pretty or ugly, they aren’t ready to give up on this season, so we shouldn’t give up on them, tempting as it is at times. Anything is possible, but only if they keep playing. If nothing else, they’re doing just that.
- One of the more mind boggling Coaches Challenges of the season occurred in in the fourth quarter. With just over three minutes left and the Magic up 4, Steve Clifford somewhat inexplicably decided to challenge what appeared to be a routine shooting foul by Fournier on DeMar DeRozan. It appeared the call would stand as Fournier at least made some lower body contact with DeRozan as he attempted the layup (or if nothing else there was not enough to overturn the call), but somehow the refs determined there was enough evidence to change it to no foul. Even with the benefit of video review, what is and isn’t a foul vs. legal contact in this league remains as vague as ever.
- One thing that caught my eye in this game was the crazy number of travels called, mostly on drives from the perimeter. Play-by-play says there were six total, but it sure felt like more (and even that is a lot for one game). Five of those calls came against the Spurs as part of their 17 turnovers on the night. Fortunately, those are of the dead ball variety, which is a plus for the Spurs considering the Magic outscored them 25-8 on fast break points. However, the Spurs made up for that a bit by scoring 24 points off the Magic’s 19 turnovers while just allowing 14 points off turnovers themselves.
- Here’s a mind-blowing stat for you: only two players in the NBA are averaging 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in under 25 minutes per game this season: Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. Play them more, preferably together! End of rant.
- Despite the Spurs’ stockpile of big men continuing to shrink in this game, Luka Samanic did not make is NBA debut after a cryptic tweet earlier in the day had set Spurs fans aflutter. Instead, Gay filled in at center behind Eubanks, and it worked out on this occasion. That being said, don’t expect the center-less Rockets’ new brand of super-small ball to become a regular thing for the Spurs, especially once Aldridge and Poeltl return to health.
The Spurs will complete their three-game homestand on Monday against the Indiana Pacers. Can they carry some Leap Year magic into Texas Independence Day? You’ll have to tune in to Fox Sports Southwest at 7:30 PM CT to find out!