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What we learned from the Spurs’ win over the Clippers

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The Spurs end a four-game skid with a nail-biter over a shorthanded opponent.

San Antonio Spurs v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs put an end to their first losing streak of the season with an unexpected victory over the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Clippers. Of course, it would be an injustice to say San Antonio won without mentioning the rollercoaster ride that was the evaporation of a 24-point first-half lead only to reclaim a double-digit cushion and nearly lose it in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

Inconsistency has been one of the hallmarks of the Silver and Black through seven games. And though they are undoubtedly one of the more entertaining Popovich-led teams in recent memory, they’re still eerily reminiscent of the squad that narrowly missed the playoffs a season ago. Most losses have been close enough to be simultaneously encouraging and disappointing, and wins haven’t come convincingly.

I would venture to guess there aren’t too many occasions in NBA history in which an organization follows up a being on the wrong end of a blowout with a record-setting performance from beyond the arc, yet that’s precisely what San Antonio did on Tuesday night. The Spurs are a wildcard, and when you don’t know what to expect, it’s best to sit back and appreciate whatever chaos unfolds.

Observations

  • Let’s start by talking about Patty Mills and the Spurs’ searing three-point barrage from Tuesday night. The Australian sharpshooter knocked down eight triples and spearheaded a 28-3 run that pushed San Antonio ahead by double-figures in the first half. The team finished the contest hitting 20 of their 40 long-distance attempts and tying the single-game franchise record in the process. Anytime you drain that many triples, you’re putting yourself in a favorable position to pick up a dub. Teams that notched 20 threes in an outing went 50-19 last season and are 9-0 this season. It’s a bit concerning they only won by three points in such a successful evening from deep, especially with Paul George and Marcus Morris sidelined, though I’m sure they’ll gladly take the victory.
  • While shooting the three-ball at a ludicrous clip against Los Angeles, the Silver and Black had trouble keeping the Clippers from doing damage from the outside. Kawhi Leonard and company nailed 15 triples on 42.9% shooting from long-distance, and unfortunately, this wasn’t a one-off experience for the Spurs. San Antonio owns one of the worst three-point defenses early on this season, giving up the tenth most triples per game (13.4) at the second-highest percentage (41.4%) in the league. This trend doesn’t bode well for their postseason aspirations, as only three of the 15 worst long-range defenses qualified for the playoffs a season ago, with two of those three getting bounced in the first round. They must clean up their act on the perimeter if they want to avoid making consecutive trips to the lottery for the first time in franchise history, (though a shot at Evan Mobley might not be the worst outcome after all).
  • This young core may not have the superstar talent to usher in the next dominant era of Spurs basketball. However, they lay claim to a handful of complementary and starting-caliber pieces who figure to play a part in the revitalization of this franchise. Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, and Keldon Johnson bring a defensive intensity and athleticism that should wreak havoc in transition for years to come, and that has been on full display this season. Factor in Jakob Poeltl’s rim-protection, Derrick White’s defensive prowess, and Devin Vassell’s ridiculous instincts and IQ, and San Antonio has a potentially potent point-stopping powerhouse on their hands. With that in mind, consistency will be the key to reaching the ceiling of this group. And as is the case with most inexperienced players, the game-to-game dependability hasn’t been there. Some nights Keldon and Dejounte score 20 plus, and fail to reach double figures the next. As frustrating as that may be, those are the developmental growing pains of operating within a roster that houses several players who need plenty of touches.
  • As much as the fanbase (and sometimes myself) loves to rag on LaMarcus Aldridge, the seven-time All-Star was monumental for the Spurs in his first game back. No, he didn’t put together a monster stat line or produce any game-clinching sequences, but his presence made a difference. San Antonio was 0-3 without LaMarcus this season, and they were out-rebounded 129-162 over his three-game absence. And while the Clippers out-rebounded them by a singular board, it makes a gigantic difference when you lose the rebound battle by one instead of 11. And with Aldridge back in the starting lineup, it gave Jakob Poeltl the liberty to come off the pine, a role in which the Austrian center has thrived. Even if LMA doesn’t factor into the Spurs’ future, it’s clear he is part of their immediate plans to sustain a respectable level of competency. DeMar DeRozan is in a similar position to his fellow mid-range running mate, yet it doesn’t feel like the Spurs are pushing him out of the picture. The star swingman has adjusted to San Antonio’s small-ball strategy better than most might have anticipated, and that could be his ticket to another payday from the Silver and Black.

Small Side-note

  • The Spurs are 2-1 when they swap their Silver and Black threads for their Fiesta colors, and they might want to consider adding their city edition kits to the regular rotation of game-day attire. The pink, orange, and teal stripes pop on their jet-black background, and the beautifully etched San Antonio across the chest is a perfect finishing touch. I never knew socks could speak to my soul, but they somehow ideally balance business. Is spending $20 on a single pair of socks a wise financial decision? Maybe not, though my emotions may get the better of my bank account.