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Spurs drop fourth straight, this time to short-handed Clippers

The Spurs offense failed them in the 2nd half against a Clippers team missing half its rotation.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

After getting blown out at home some 24 hours earlier, it turns out that the Spurs can mix it up with the Clippers when they’re without Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka and Lou Williams Rajon Rondo. There’s just no guarantee of a better result against the likes of Patrick Patterson, Terrence Mann and (checks notes) Amir Coffey.

The Spurs offense put up a season-worst effort against a short-handed LA on Thursday, losing 98-85 and extending their losing streak to four games. DeMar DeRozan led the way for San Antonio with 23 points, while Dejounte Murray chipped in 18, 7 and 6, but the team was done in by collectively mustering just 30 in the final 24 minutes.

On nights where the Spurs aren’t particularly feeling it, you see their identity tested in real time: they’re essentially a drive-and-kick team that’s not especially loaded with talented drivers or threats to score off the kick-out. That formula asks everyone to flex a bit more aggressively than they should — Murray needs to do more off the dribble to give DeRozan some breathers on ball, and statistically non-elite shooters like Derrick White and Keldon Johnson need to keep defenses honest by letting it fly immediately off the catch — but good intentions can only shore up so much. The ball-handlers aren’t dangerous enough to break down defenses and every shooter except Patty Mills right now is only a threat with their feet set.

Even missing half their rotation, the Clippers countered the Spurs’ profile perfectly. They let their big, typically Ivica Zubac, roam away from Jakob Poeltl or Drew Eubanks to show against ball-handlers and take away the protected area, while perimeter defenders did their best to take away kick-out looks. As the Spurs officially began the post-LaMarcus Aldridge era, you could still see the ways his game is missed, whether it was extending the defense or simply getting a bucket in ways Poeltl (who put up a sound Poeltl-esque 11 and 8 with 3 blocks) can’t. Take away the paint against this team (the Spurs shot just 20 of 46 there), and things can get ugly.

On the other end, Paul George (24 points and 13 rebounds) and Reggie Jackson (28 points) didn’t have to be great—just good enough. Each brought the requisite aggressiveness and shotmaking to overcome a disciplined Spurs defense, especially in the 4th quarter as the Spurs continued to come up empty. It also didn’t help that the Clippers were rarely taking the ball out of their own basket to initiate the attack.

Losses like this feel a little more grim following an uneventful trade deadline, but the beat on this team mostly remains the same. They’re still in the thick of the Western Conference play-in crowd and, unless the scouting report on them has drastically altered how they can be defended, should have enough fight to stay there. Furthermore in a competitive but developmental year, good and bad results alike should help this team understand its strengths and gaps as it tries to get back where it wants to be.

Other notes:

  • Seemingly always at the wrong end of on-floor collisions, Derrick White took an inadvertent elbow from teammate Jakob Poeltl in the 3rd quarter, chipping a tooth in the process. He remained in the game and the broadcast showed team staff successfully retrieving the broken piece during intermission.
  • Gregg Popovich on the team’s struggles scoring through the four-game losing streak: “We’re not shooting the ball well, obviously... We’re not getting threes—in this league you gotta get em. Overall, too many mental errors here and there. Could be a defensive error, an execution error on offense.”
  • San Antonio generally does a good job of controlling the defensive glass, but found itself often overwhelmed by Zubac. The Croatian big man pulled down 7 of LA’s 14 offensive rebounds, feasting off defensive collapses on his teammates’ dribble penetration.
  • The Spurs consistently lost the starters’ minutes, falling behind in the 1st quarter and then again in the 3rd. Sometimes the bench has enough juice to right the ship, but Mills and Rudy Gay combined for just 10 points and Pop opted for just 3 minutes of Luka Samanic, despite the different dynamic he brings to the frontcourt.

Up next: The Spurs’ longest homestand in franchise history continues versus Nikola Vucevic and the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.