Another game, another singular stretch of play sinks the Spurs. Whether it’s poor play on their part, the opponent going nuclear on offense, or a little bit of both, it has been a staple in so many of San Antonio’s recent losses. This time, it was the Indiana Pacers — the only team in the league that attempts fewer threes per game than the Spurs — who exploded from beyond the arc for a stretch to waste an otherwise decent (but not great) performance by the undermanned Silver and Black.
That stretch was the second quarter, when the Pacers nearly matched their season average of made three-pointers in a game, hitting 9-14 from outside while winning the frame 40-23. This would prove to be just enough for them to hang on and hand the Spurs a 116-111 loss despite being outscored in the other three quarters by a combined 12 points.
The Spurs started the game well enough, with a 10-0 run thanks to some hot outside shooting of their own. They hit 7-8 from three in in the first quarter alone and shot 72% overall. Bryn Forbes and Trey Lyles hit three threes apiece, while Patty Mills scored 6 points in 2 seconds with a 4-point play and steal-and-layup off the inbounds pass. All seemed well and good, as they led 34-26 after the first 12 minutes, but as the old saying goes, no lead is ever safe with this squad.
The Spurs had plenty of turnover trouble in the first half, giving up ten of them for 18 Indiana points. Initially their hot three-point shooting helped mask that problem, but once the Pacers got hot from three in the second quarter, there was nowhere to hide anymore. Combine that with the Spurs shooting predictably averaging back to the mean, and it was the other team’s turn to take over.
Doug McDermott hit three straight threes, followed by two straight form T.J. Warren and another from Aaron Holiday, and before the Spurs knew it their once 11-point lead was gone. By the time the second quarter mercifully came to an end, they were down 66-57.
In second half, the Pacers went back to where their main advantage should have been all night: down low. With both LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl out and Drew Eubanks forced to start, they finally started either force-feeding Myles Turner in the post or driving to the basket to get the lead up as high as 15. The starters continued to look helpless, but the bench closed the quarter on a 15-8 run to get the Spurs back within single-digits and keep the game from getting away.
Once again, it appeared the Spurs might make another semi-miraculous comeback. The first quarter Spurs returned at the start of the fourth, opening on an 18-6 run thanks in no small part to Lonnie Walker IV exploding onto the scene after a basically going AWOL for the last 7 quarters. After a momentum-boosting dive for a loose ball that resulted in an assist during that run at the end of the third quarter, he opened the fourth with two threes and a highlight real, coast-to-coast dunk that tied things back up at 96-all.
Then, the Pacers went back to attacking the Spurs’ super-small line-up, this time forcing the ball down low to Domantas Sabonis against either Lyles or Rudy Gay, and he scored nine straight points to get them back up by 4 with 4:23 left. He continued to torch the Spurs on the boards or by forcing the defense to scramble out of double-teaming him, and although the Spurs kept within a basket for the majority of the time, they just couldn’t get back over the hump, often forcing less-than-ideal threes to try and gain everything back at once rather than seek out the best shot.
In the end, the Pacers held on, and the Spurs finished their post-Rodeo Road Trip homestand 1-2. They keep trying, but it’s becoming more clear by the game that this team just doesn’t possess the consistency — and at this point, the health — to go on an extended run that will turn this season around. There’s only 23 games left, and while there’s still a chance, time is running out both on this season and their 22-year playoff run.
- Lyles had himself another very nice game, scoring 20 points for the second straight night, hitting 4-7 from three, and snatching six rebounds and two blocks. I still have trouble seeing him as a starter moving forward, and part of me fears he will be next season’s version of Forbes (a.k.a. a player who earned the starting job out of necessity the year prior, but Gregg Popovich then has trouble benching him even if a better option comes along), but he has definitely been the most pleasant surprise of this season despite being a bit of an afterthought when he was signed.
- DeMar DeRozan only took two shots for 0 points in the first half, and finished with just 10 points on the night. In fairness, he had 7 assists, and it was perfectly understandable for him to defer in the first quarter considering the rest of his teammates were red-hot at the time, but he failed to take over once the outside shooting cooled off and the Spurs needed points. Other than a 27-point outing in their loss to the Mavericks, DeRozan hasn’t looked completely right since returning from back spasms suffered before the All-Star Break.
- Another player who hasn’t done much lately is Walker. Despite playing regular minutes now, he has only scored in double figures twice since an 18-point outing in Boston back on January 8 (until tonight), averaging just over 5 points on 39% shooting during that time span. So after laying a goose egg against the Magic on Saturday and looking pretty lost in the first half of this one, it was nice to see his little explosion in the third and fourth quarters to lead the Spurs comeback. Overall he scored 10 points on 4-4 from the field, plus 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He has the skill and knowledge; now he needs to put that together into a consistent effort.
It’s a super short turnaround, as the Spurs are now on the team plane headed to Charlotte to take on the Hornets at 6:00 PM CT on a SEGABABA.