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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Trail Blazers

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San Antonio continues their unusually poor play inside the AT&T Center

Portland Trail Blazers v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

San Antonio suffered another heartbreaking crunchtime loss, ceding a 16-point second-half lead and whiffing on their last three attempts at a go-ahead bucket as the game clock expired. The Spurs were in control for most of the contest, but both their offense and defense fizzled in the final frame, leaving them scrambling to stop a blistering Blazers comeback.

The starting unit once again carried the load for the Silver and Black, scoring 77 points while mostly holding a Damian Lillard-less Portland squad in check on the other end. Although Drew Eubanks provided a spark off the pine with Jakob Poeltl in early foul trouble, the rest of the bench was a massive disappointment, posting 14 points on 30% shooting.

The Silver and Black are now two games below .500 for the third time this season, and they could continue to sink as they lay claim to the second most difficult strength of schedule the rest of the way. And with head coach Gregg Popovich going full playoff mode and tightening to a strict nine-man rotation, a second straight trip to the lottery feels imminent.

Observations

  • I had San Antonio pegged for the play-in range before the season began, and while they overachieved at the beginning of their schedule, they have come back down to Earth over the last month or so. A myriad of injuries mixed with several positive COVID-19 test results can explain some of their struggles since the All-Star Break. But honestly, a healthy Spurs roster isn’t in the same echelon as most of the surefire playoff teams. While their defense ranks just outside the top ten in the NBA, their offense hovers right outside the bottom ten. In almost every sense, the Silver and Black are about as mediocre as anyone in the league. And when you’re a middle-of-the-road ball club, it makes sense that your wins and losses are all over the place. San Antonio has impressive triumphs over the Nuggets, Clippers, and Lakers, yet have fallen embarrassingly short to the Timberwolves, Thunder, and Rockets. Friday night’s last-second defeat after holding a 16-point lead was another example of their sporadic play, and fans shouldn’t hold their breath for a drastic turnaround anytime soon. San Antonio has 18 games remaining, and the Suns (x3), Heat (x2), Celtics, Sixers, Jazz (x2), Blazers, Bucks, and Nets account for 12 of those matchups.
  • As I mentioned in today’s preview, the three-ball has become an essential ingredient if you want to field a winning squad. Need proof? Teams that outscore their opponent from beyond the arc are 528-250 this season. That’s good for a winning percentage of 67.9% or the equivalent of a 56 win season during a typical 82-game schedule. And while San Antonio hasn’t outscored their opponent from three-point land much this season, they boast an 11-2 record when they do so. Friday was not such an occasion, and it should come as no surprise the Spurs lost to the Blazers on a night where they only mustered seven triples. The Silver and Black rank 28th in the NBA in three-point attempts per game (29.0) and 20th in long-range efficiency (35.7%), which only makes it crazier that they’re on pace to take the most triples in franchise history. Of course, some of Gregg Popovich’s hesitancy to let his guys fire away from deep has to do with personnel. And when Patty Mills is your only reliable high-volume sharpshooter, it stands to reason that you lag behind the three-ball trend.
  • Kudos to Drew Eubanks for a remarkable two-way performance against the Blazers. The third-year center went for 15 points, four boards, and two steals on a perfect 7-of-7 from the field. That said, the Blazers own the second-worst defensive rating in the league (116.1), so it shouldn’t be all that shocking that Eubanks made the most of his minutes. Although Jusuf Nurkic is a decent interior anchor, his second-unit counterpart Enes Kanter is among the worst defenders in the association regardless of position. Even Jakob Poeltl, who isn’t known to have a score-first mentality, dropped 17 points, with most of his shots coming against late or half-hearted contests. Drew has a reliable depth insurance option, but San Antonio didn’t bring Gorgui Dieng to be his backup. Dieng has more length, size, and experience than Eubanks, and the film suggests he’s a better team defender. Not only does the veteran big man have a proven track record as a floor spacer, but you don’t lose much in rim protection when swapping them in the rotation. Gorgui suffered a shoulder sprain in his Spurs debut, and he just came off the injury report a little more than 24 hours ago. Popovich has always valued the presence of steady veterans, so expect Dieng to claim a spot in the bench lineup soon.