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Spurs get out hustled by shorthanded Raptors in close loss

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The Spurs faced a wounded opponent, but lacked the killer instinct to take advantage.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Toronto Raptors Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs missed out on a perfect opportunity to win their third straight game in their visit to Tampa to face the Raptors. Against an opponent on the second game of a back-to-back and missing basically their entire guard rotation, they looked erratic and overconfident and paid for it by losing 117-112.

No Kyle Lowry, Fred Van Vleet or Gary Trent Jr. meant Nick Nurse was going to have to compensate for a lack of perimeter scoring and playmaking. His solution was too go with a supersized starting lineup that featured OG Anunoby at shooting guard and Paskal Siakam at small forward. Naturally the bigger Raptors tried to attack the rim early on, while the Spurs relied more on outside shooting to get their points. For a while, Toronto’s lack of familiarity was exposed by San Antonio’s ball movement and shooting, but soon enough the home team also started making outside shots. Things got chaotic when the benches checked in, but a scorching hot Patty Mills kept the Silver and Black offense thriving in the first quarter.

Those first 12 minutes, which were not particularly well-played, would end up being the highlight of the game. Both teams played terrible half court offense from the second quarter onward, with the occasional three-point barrage bookending the general struggles. The Raptors actually had an excuse to try to brute force buckets instead of executing, since they were missing their shot creators, but it’s hard to explain why San Antonio looked so disheveled. DeMar DeRozan actually tried to take over at several points, like he did in the win against Dallas, but not even he had it going. The Raptors’ defense, which featured insane length, does deserve some credit, but the second-quarter scoring struggles were largely caused by the Spurs themselves.

With San Antonio not showing much sense of urgency to go with a general lack of sharpness, Toronto actually had an opportunity to run away with the game at one point. During the third period they led by seven and six points, respectively, at different spots, and with how hard it seemed for the Spurs to string together good possessions, those small leads looked significant. First Dejounte Murray and then Derrick White hit some timely shots to at least give their team a chance of stealing an ugly road game, but neither managed to actually pick up the mantle from DeRozan as offensive savior when nothing else was working. Just as they did in the first half the Spurs did enough to stick around in the third, but not much more, almost as if they were expecting Toronto to eventually fold.

It was a mistake. The Raptors, as shorthanded as they were, actually seemed to want the win more. Siakam had eight of his 20 points in the final frame while Malachi Flynn and Paul Watson hit a few threes to fuel the offense. DeRozan and White tried to lead the charge for San Antonio, but turnovers and untimely fouls prevented the comeback from happening. To their credit, the Spurs didn’t give up even after trailing by 13 with just over two minutes to go, but by then their effort proved to be too little, too late. Toronto struggled more than it should have to close it out, largely because the lack of experience in the backcourt, but ultimately held on to get what was probably an unexpected win for such a wounded team.

Game notes

  • Let’s use this fantastic Drew Eubanks dunk as a palate cleanser before going forward.

Eubanks was solid. He always tries hard.

  • The Spurs shot 40 threes, much higher than their average, and made 17. Normally that would give them a huge advantage over their opponent, but the Raptors made 14 of 30 attempts. The offenses looked terrible but the threes were falling.
  • Speaking of threes, Derrick White made six while Patty Mills made five. It’s not surprising to see Patty go crazy from beyond the arc at this point, but it is encouraging to see White not only fire away but also be able to be a volume three-point shooter. He also had five assists, so he found a balance between playing off others and making plays.
  • DeMar DeRozan had 19 points and 11 assists, which is great production. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find that extra gear on Wednesday, but it would be unfair to always ask him to go on offensive rampages. The team has to execute better.
  • Jakob Poeltl and Keldon Johnson had decent stat lines, but on a game in which the Spurs were out hustled, they needed more from two of their more physical players. As for Dejounte Murray, he’s still a little inconsistent. For stretches he was everywhere on defense and aggressive on offense and then he disappeared. None of those guys were terrible, but none of them were above the general mediocrity of the team on Wednesday.
  • Two players that were below that line? Lonnie Walker IV and Rudy Gay. The Spurs should have had a huge edge on bench play, and that wasn’t the case in part because of the struggles of Rudy and Lonnie. The threes weren’t falling for them, but they are supposed to be resourceful enough to score closer to the rim. It didn’t happen.
  • The Spurs, in the middle of a FIGASENI, had four players on the court for over 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Devin Vassell got a DNP-CD. Not ideal, especially on a loss.

Next game: Vs. the Trail Blazers on Friday

The Spurs will return to San Antonio for one game. After battling the Blazers, they’ll play their fifth game in seven nights on Saturday in Phoenix. They needed this win, because those two matchups are looking tough.