Raise your hand if you’ve heard this story before: the Spurs start slow, make a comeback, seem on the verge of taking control of the game (if there is such a thing with this club), but by then they’ve run out of steam and fall short. Being four main rotation players short only exacerbated the issue — not that it’s any excuse against the worst team in the East who just so happens to be dealing with even more injuries than them.
For the second game in a row, a bad first quarter basically sunk the Spurs. With the Cleveland Cavaliers forced to play super-sized due to a rash of injuries to their guards (the complete opposite problem from what the Spurs currently face but a real match-up issue that they took advantage of), Drew Eubanks was back in starting line-up to try and deal with rebounding machines Kevin Love and Andre Drummond down low. It didn’t go so well as he got into early foul trouble, and the Spurs struggled their way into a 35-18 first quarter hole while hitting just six of their first 20 shots.
However, to their credit and in a change from the Nets game, the Spurs fought back in the second quarter instead of letting the game get too out of hand. Bryn Forbes went on an 8-0 run all by himself to get the Spurs back within single digits, and they would get as close as six points before settling for a 50-60 halftime deficit.
Coming out of the locker room has been a weakness of the Spurs this season, but in a refreshing scene they came into the third quarter with a purpose, going on a 13-2 to run to get their first lead of the night. 8 of those points came from Dejounte Murray, who overall had a nice bounce-back game after a poor showing in Brooklyn and was the Spurs’ lone bright spot on defense.
With Drummond dealing with foul trouble and Tristan Thompson exiting the game with an eye injury, the playing field was evened a bit on boards, and the Spurs took advantage of briefly not being at a severe size disadvantage to get up 91-87 heading into the fouth quarter, having outscored the Cavs by 21 since the first quarter, including 41-27 in third. Seems all well and good, right? Not with this team.
A Murray steal-and-slam got Spurs up 100-94 with just under nine minutes left, but that would be the end of the Spurs’ offensive dominance. Two straight threes by the Cavs kicked off a 10-0 run for them, while Spurs offense completely abandoned them for a stretch. There was brief respite thanks to a Forbes three and DeMar Derozan scoring 5 straight to regain the lead, but the Spurs would go on to miss their next 10 shots. Fortunately the Cavs weren’t much better, and that provided just enough room for Rudy Gay to work some crunch time magic.
He hit a three to tie things back up at 111 with minute a left, setting off a wild chain of events. Matthew Dellavedova answered with a three, and Gay responded in kind before a Drummond putback dunk gave the Cavs the lead 116-114 with 22 sec left. Cleveland then over-committed on Forbes to prevent a three, giving him a wide-open lay-up instead with 16 seconds left. Murray then fouled Collin Sexton with 3.2 left, and he made both free throws. Then, overcoming a demon of their own, the Spurs successfully inbounded the ball in crunch time, and Gay hit another jumper to send the game into overtime.
Unfortunately, that was all the magic the Spurs could muster up. They never led in OT, and they could often be seen with their hands on their knees between plays and were slow on defensive rotations. A Love three with 1:50 left all but sealed the outcome at 127-122 with it being obvious there Spurs were out of gas, and they lost 132-129, giving the the Cavs the season sweep. For anyone keeping track, the Spurs were also swept by the Atlanta Hawks this season, now the worst team in the East after the Cavs’ win.
Winning those four games alone would at least have the Spurs tied in the loss column with the 8th-seeded Grizzlies, with a comfortable cushion between them and the 36-loss Pelicans and Kings. And this isn’t even mentioning all the other games they theoretically should have won against lesser teams or after giving away decent leads. Instead, they sit four games back at 26-36 in 12th place and no sign that a season-saving run is coming.
If the Spurs don’t go 4-0 on the upcoming homestand (which will be no easy feat when looking at the schedule, especially if LaMarcus Aldridge doesn’t return), it might be time to throw in the towel. It must be said that these players have heart and are still trying their hardest to not be the team that ends the Spurs’ historic playoff run — an aspect that many fans probably overlook when wondering why they haven’t given in already — but while “tanking” may not be in this team’s DNA, it may not matter after April 15.
- A halftime score of 60-50 actually seemed like a lot of points considering the two teams combined to shoot just 3-24 from three in the first half. Both teams made up for it at the charity stripe, shooting 23 free throws apiece in the first half, with the Spurs making 21 and the Cavs hitting 20. The refs probably noticed this during the break and were a little more lax with the whistles in the second half, and the sudden change in how the game was being called frustrated both teams into technicals — in this case DeRozan and Dellavedova — after complaining about no-calls.
- As previously mentioned, Murray had a nice bounce-back game after a bad night in Brooklyn. He took over on offense when the Spurs needed a boost, attempting a career high 18 field goals while making 8 of them for 17 points. He also stuffed the rest of the stat sheet with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals, making him the first Spur to record such a stat line since Manu Ginobili in 2004. He still has to work on consistency, which is not uncommon for a player coming off a major injury, but he has gotten better since his minutes restriction was lifted. Next season will be the real test for him.
- Gay has had a tough season. After a career year last season both from three and from the field as a whole, his jump shot has completely abandoned him this season. That being said, he has stepped up in these last four games while being forced to fill in at center, and his numbers have taken a boost. The Spurs are better when he plays well, and it showed tonight. He scored 8 their last 10 points in regulation to force OT (when he didn’t hesitate to shoot) but missed all three of his three-point attempts in OT, probably in part thanks to fatigue. Outside of DeRozan’s 42 minutes, he played a team-high 36 while battling his way to 9 rebounds amidst the trees.
- This loss guarantees that this will be the Spurs’ worst season record-wise since 1996-97, and seven more losses will also guarantee their first losing record since then. The previous low was in 2017-18, when the Spurs went 47-35 while dealing with he who shall not be named. (This got me to thinking, did any Spurs team — at least a non-championship one — have as much heart as that 17-18 squad? That team made the playoffs on sheer willpower, in no small part thanks to Ginobili and his refusal to lose.)
The Spurs will now return home for the make-or-break four-game homestand, beginning with a team they have yet to beat: the Dallas Mavericks. Tip-off will be at 7:00 PM CT on TNT.