The San Antonio Spurs took care of business on Monday, blowing out the understaffed Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and climbing back to .500 in the process. Head coach Gregg Popovich and crew fell behind early in the first quarter, but refocused, retook the lead, and cruised to victory the rest of the way.
The starting lineup was spectacular once again, with everyone scoring in double digits, led by a 25-point outburst from Derrick White, who went 6-of-11 from beyond the arc. And although the second unit posted a positive net rating, they continued their recent cold spell, finishing the outing with 25 points on 24 shots.
With 16 games remaining and the second-toughest strength of schedule, every win or loss could determine whether the Silver and Black clinch a playoff berth or visit the lottery for a second consecutive season. And with as unpredictable as San Antonio has been all year, fans should prepare for every possible outcome.
- Despite a career night from Devin Vassell and Gorgui Dieng’s best outing as a Spur in San Antonio’s 26-point thrashing of the second-place Suns, neither player saw meaningful minutes on Monday night. With Patty Mills, DeMar DeRozan, and Jakob Poeltl returning to the lineup, there was little hope for Dieng or Vassell to see extended playing time. Still, with Patty struggling with his jumper (0-of-3), Jakob Poeltl in foul trouble (6 PF), and Drew Eubanks battling turnovers (5 TO), it’s somewhat shocking that head coach Gregg Popovich didn’t turn to his depth in search of better bench production. Pop sticking to a strict nine-man rotation after what was perhaps San Antonio’s best performance of the season suggests there’s little Vassell, Dieng, and even Luka Samanic can do to carve out a role barring injury, rest, or an early blowout. Luka has been wildly inconsistent in his sporadic appearances in the NBA, so his limited run is justifiable for a team pursuing the postseason. Dieng is a valuable veteran the Spurs snagged away from title contenders on the buyout market. Vassell is San Antonio’s first lottery pick in more than two decades. And each has proven themselves capable of providing impactful minutes, which makes their Monday night benching less understandable. The Good Guys still walked away with an easy victory, but it wasn’t overly impressive given the circumstances.
- San Antonio won by 15 points and led by as many as 23 , and they probably could have doubled both of those totals had they played better basketball against the short-handed Pacers. While it’s not that the Spurs were awful by any means, the chances of winning against a legitimate NBA opponent are low when you make eight threes on 28.6% shooting from beyond the arc. And most teams left on the schedule are better than Indiana by a country mile. Of course, the odds of coming away with a dub spike significantly when you hold the team across the court to 32.7% shooting from the field. That said, how much credit can we give San Antonio’s defense for forcing the Pacers into the fourth-worst single-game field goal percentage of the season? Indiana was coming off a game a little more than 24 hours ago, and their tired legs left a lot of shots short. They were also without Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Jeremy Lamb, who account for roughly 37.5% of their nightly offense. It’s also worth mentioning Edmond Sumner, Goga Bitadze, and Oshae Brissett, each of whom averages less than 15 minutes per game, were inserted into the starting lineup and asked to assume more prominent roles than usual. Could San Antonio continue their winnings ways? Sure, they’re an incredibly competitive albeit inconsistent ball club, so anything is possible. However, Monday night’s victory wasn’t exactly a resounding triumph.
- Derrick White has steadily continued to find his footing as the regular season winds down. The fourth-year combo guard has averaged 18.4 points per game over his last 11 appearances and posted much-improved 43/38/86 shooting splits during that timeframe. White struggled from long range after returning from toe surgery and COVID-19 protocol, but his efficiency beyond the arc is finally approaching “Bubble Derrick” territory. The Colorado alumnus drained 39.3% of his 8.0 three-point attempts per game throughout the NBA Restart. And he has knocked down 38.4% of his 7.8 perimeter attempts across the previously mentioned period. White looks comfortable launching three-balls as of late, including a 6-of-11 line from deep against the Pacers, and that’s great news for San Antonio. The Spurs could undoubtedly use another reliable marksman to keep defenses honest and improve their spacing. And his All-NBA caliber defense and newfound confidence on the other end will be indispensable if the Silver and Black hope to rejoin the playoff picture in 2021.
- We didn’t necessarily learn anything new about Patty Mills on Monday. But the undersized point guard certainly reminded us of his unquestionable toughness. While Patty is often the shortest player on the court by a few inches, he never lets his stature deter him from playing physical basketball every second he spends on the hardwood. Like Patrick Beverley and Grayson Allen, Mills is a high-energy agitator who can get under your skin. However, unlike Allen and Beverley, the Australian point guard is universally loved and respected by opponents. Patty rarely gets into skirmishes, which is why it was so strange to see JaKarr Sampson shove and headbutt Mills following a seemingly innocuous screen. The six-foot floor general stood his ground and laughed off the altercation with the much larger Sampson, but Rudy Gay wanted all the smoke. An ejection, technical fouls, and some free throws eventually settled things down, but it was refreshing to see teammates swooping in to stand up for the revered veteran.