Welcome to the Week in Review: a new Monday feature that will look back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, see what others are saying, take a look at the week ahead, plus more. Enjoy, and any helpful feedback or suggestions to improve the content is appreciated!
Week 5: The Spurs suffer their first truly “bad” stretch of the season.
Coming into the week riding a four-game losing streak and looking about as bad as they possibly could, there was cautious optimism that back in San Antonio for a four-game homestand — where the Spurs have looked better this season than on the road — they could find a way to end their skid against a couple of underachieving Eastern Conference contenders.
However, before they could do that, they had to face the hottest team in the league, the Suns (pun not intended), who are currently on a 16-game winning streak and, along with the Golden State Warriors, seem virtually unstoppable. As a result, most fans had probably resided themselves to watching another Spurs blowout loss, but after getting down by 18 early in the third quarter, the Spurs scratched and clawed their way back into the game, going on a 16-5 run in the final minutes to get within a bucket with 15 seconds left before Devin Booker was able to ice the game with a free throw. The days of moral victories are over (if they ever even existed), but it was still nice to see some fight in the team.
The possible confidence-boosting performance didn’t initially carry over to the next game, as a Hawks team that struggled early in the season but has been on the rise came in and put the Spurs away with ease after halftime following a relatively even first half. Second half struggles have been a real issue for this team for a few seasons now, with how the Spurs respond in the third quarter often being an indicator of how the rest game will go. With the Spurs coming out of the locker room sluggish, it was fitting that they lost.
After feeling like things could hardly get lower, and several players revealing to the media over the last weak that they’re having communication issues, the Spurs finally seemed to take their own advice to heart and came out and pounced on a lethargic Celtics team early to get out a 40-16 lead, but with this squad, it still didn’t feel safe. Sure enough, the Spurs let their foot off the gas, and the Celtics spent the remainder of the second, third and some of the fourth quarter coming all the way back to take what then felt like an insurmountable 88-81 lead with 3:21 left.
But then, a switch was flipped, and the Spurs then proceeded to buck all their recent negative trends to snatch victory from the jaws of bitter defeat. Out of nowhere, the defense got in sync and started getting stops, halting a red hot Jayson Tatum, and not allowing another point the rest of the way. Also, after previously going 1-8 in “clutch” games this season (or games that are within 5 points in the final five minutes) in large part due to lacking a “closer”, Dejounte Murray took the mantle, scoring eight of the team’s final 15 points so they could enjoy the sweet feeling of victory again for the first time in 16 days.
Stat of the Week: Dejounte Murray at everything
Here are the Spurs season leaders in countable stats (per game) so far this season:
Points: Dejounte Murray (18.9)
Rebounds: Dejounte Murray (8.4)
Assists: Dejounte Murray (8.1)
Steals: Dejounte Murray (2.1)
Blocks: Derrick White (1.0)
That is quite an impressive lineup for Murray, and here’s your weekly reminder that if he can keep up that 18-8-8-2 stat line, he will join extremely the rare company of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan as the only players to accomplish such a feat (at least since steals became a counted stat in the 1970’s). Is there other things he can be doing better? Of course. His actual shooting percentages of .448 FG% / .314 3P% / .674 FT% leave a lot to be desired and is something he can and must do better, but there shouldn’t be a single Spurs fan who doesn’t appreciate what he’s doing out there.
In case you missed it
What they’re saying: Power Rankings
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — (Last week: 25)
Pace: 100.9 (5) OffRtg: 105.3 (24) DefRtg: 107.8 (16) NetRtg: -2.5 (23)
The Spurs haven’t been very good in close games. In fact, through Wednesday, only the Pelicans (0-8) had a worse record than San Antonio (1-8) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. The Spurs made things interesting (after trailing by 15 with a little more than four minutes left) against Phoenix on Monday, but couldn’t control the jump ball that would have given them a chance to tie the streaking Suns (8-1 in clutch games) in the final seconds.
But the Spurs gave themselves another chance to win a close game on Friday by blowing a 24-point lead to the Celtics. They trailed by seven with three minutes left, but then closed the game on a 15-0 run, with Dejounte Murray (8) and Derrick White (6) combining for 14 of the 15 points. And appropriately, four of their five field goals in that run came on non-restricted-area 2-point shots. White put the Spurs ahead with a pull-up jumper over Al Horford and Murray’s dagger was a turnaround over Dennis Schroder from just inside the foul line. The Spurs have taken 42% of their shots, the league’s highest rate, from between the restricted area and the 3-point line.
That rate is actually a little lower (19/51, 39%) in the clutch, when Murray has taken 22 of their 51 field goal attempts. Among 119 players who’ve played at least 20 clutch minutes, only Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Ja Morant have a higher clutch usage rate.
The team with the best clutch record (10-1) is the team (Washington) that the Spurs will host on Monday. They’re 4-3 against the Eastern Conference thus far.
ESPN Staff — 26 (Last week: 26)
The free throw line has not been kind to San Antonio this season. The Spurs rank last in free throws made per game and second to last in free throws attempted per game. San Antonio is also shooting a league-low 69% from the stripe. San Antonio still ranks 18th in scoring this year despite ranking last in 3-pointers made and attempted. — Andrew Lopez
Sporting News — N/A (last week: 26)
The Spurs begin the week against a surprisingly upstart but deep Wizards team led by Bradley Beal, before heading out on a tough three-game road trip out West, beginning in Portland (where regardless of the teams’ records the Spurs have always struggled to win) and finishing against the top two teams in the league. Hopefully the Spurs can take some of the lessons they learned and momentum they generated from their thrilling lose-big-lead-then-come-from-behind win against the Celtics and apply it going forward.