The Spurs’ bubble adventure came to an anticlimactic end on Thursday. By the time they took the floor to face the Jazz in what would end up being a 118-112 loss, they already knew they had no chance to make it to the postseason.
It was clear from the start that the game didn’t matter, for either team. It was a mere formality, as the Spurs were already eliminated from playoff contention and the Jazz were locked into a matchup with the Nuggets in the first round before tip-off. Gregg Popovich decided to rest Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills, which meant starting roles for Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson. Quin Snyder, like he has all throughout the bubble, also gave some of his key players time off. The absences and the lack of urgency from either team made the proceedings have the distinct feel of preseason, which never dissipated.
The first few minutes at least had a semblance of normalcy, with both teams playing very little defense but at least running their offense. As the clock ticked away in the first quarter, however, order went out the window. Both teams were launching shots with little care and trotting out strange lineups, with San Antonio often having three big men on the floor once Quinndary Weatherspoon went down with a knee strain, leaving them short on guards. There were some good moments sprinkled in, but in general the first half was a mostly chaotic mess in which the Jazz easily carved out a big lead thanks to their superior talent and kept the Spurs at arm’s length.
Not much changed in the second half, despite Utah resting Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles. After the break both teams played a little more composed, but soon descended into unorganized offense and intermittent effort on defense. The Spurs made a few pushes, but the Jazz countered them. San Antonio had a chance to make it suspenseful late, after cutting the deficit to three with 4:29 to go in the fourth quarter, but a couple of misses and an untimely turnover destroyed their chances. Utah would go on to comfortably win a game that neither team seemed all that excited to play in the first place.
The night, just like the bubble, didn’t end the way the Silver and Black would have wanted it to, but it provided plenty of hope for the future. The young guys looked good even in defeat, which is all that matters.
Now begins the time for reflection for the front office and improvement for the core of the team. The playoff streak might be over, but the Spurs should be ready and eager to begin a new chapter after an encouraging end of the season.
- Keldon Johnson, the king of garbage time buckets, had another encouraging performance, even if we take away the eight points he got in the last two minutes of the game. Johnson is a bully when he drives to the rim, a skill other young players on the roster lack, and his shot continues to look good. It’s hard to assess how good he is defensively, because the entire team was bad in Orlando, but at the very least he’s physical. It’s insane that a few weeks ago it was debatable whether he would have a role right off the bat next season but now there’s a reasonable case to make for him as a starter.
- The other rookie didn’t look bad, either. Luka Samanic made the most of his opportunity to play big minutes, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists and showing off his quickness as a perimeter defender on switches and when he was slotted at small forward. His motor will remain a concern until he proves it shouldn’t be, but hopefully the fans who were on the fence on him as a legitimately exciting prospect caught of glimpse of the skills that could make him special.
- There’s no doubt Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl are rotation caliber players, but in this one they showed why they could be so much better with some small improvements. Murray had seven assists, showing off some nice playmaking at times, but also had six turnovers and missed his two three-point attempts, proving his offense still has a long way to go. Walker did a little bit of everything, but he disappeared at times and his decision-making remains a work in progress. Poeltl is a workhorse on both ends and deserves an extension, but his woes from the free throw line (0-for-5 against the Jazz) remain worrying. Hopefully all three work on their weaknesses and return as even more well-rounded contributors next season.
- In what will likely be his last game as a Spur, Marco Belinelli had an extremely Marco Belinelli game: 16 points but nothing else on the stat sheet except for a couple personal fouls. Bubble Marco was good as a shooter, but it’s hard to advocate for a new contract for him.
- Speaking of players who might not be back, Chimezie Metu was decent in 26 minutes of action. His four assists in particular are a hugely encouraging sign of progress, since he’s always been a bit of a black hole. Unfortunately for Metu, if it comes down to either him or Drew Eubanks, the latter has a significant advantage. Eubanks didn’t shoot well against the Jazz but he was physical inside on both ends, dished out some dimes of his own and generally showed a more advanced understanding of his role.
- I do hope Quinndary Weatherspoon is back on a two-way contract. Hopefully his knee sprain is not too severe and he continues to work on his game. He might be an NBA player.
That’s it for another Spurs season. Now it’s time to assess what happened and look at free agency and the draft. We’ll have plenty of content on those topics coming in the next few days, and we hope you stick around for it. Thank you so much for reading these recaps and Go Spurs Go!