The San Antonio Spurs had a rough week, but they managed to back themselves into the play-in tournament the same weekend the cornerstone of the franchise - Tim Duncan - was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. While the Spurs needed a loss by the Kings to get a chance to play in the playoffs, they had plenty to celebrate with the enshrinement of Tim Duncan.
Week 21: The week began with the Milwaukee Bucks coming to San Antonio. The Eastern Confernce #3 seed was already playoff bound when they arrived to play the Spurs. And the Spurs routed them 146 to 125 (and tied for the 2nd-highest scoring half in Spurs history). The Silver and Black were on fire, shooting 59.6% FG and an almost identical 58.6% from 3 for the game (hitting 12 threes in the first half).
But the explosive offensive didn’t last as the Spurs continued to play 4 games in six days. The Silver and Black traveled to the Big Apple to play the Nets and Knicks in a back-to-back. Offensive droughts and some defensive mistakes in a game that saw James Harden return led to a loss after the Spurs kept most of the game close. After some poor showings lately, Patty Mills came back to his old form, scoring 15 points. Besides losing the game, Luka Šamanić broke his fourth metacarparal when Harden swiped down and hit his hand and will be out indefinitely. In the SEGABABA against the New York Knicks where a win would mean the Silver and Black would clinch their spot in the play-in, the Spurs again lost a large lead (this time 17 points) but managed to keep it close until the end. But all was not lost - at least not for the Spurs, because the Sacramento Kings’ loss to the Memphis Grizzlies allowed the Spurs to slide into the last spot.
The final two games of the season, a back-to-back series against the Phoenix Suns who are still fighting for the top spot in the West fell on the weekend of Tim Duncan’s Hall of Fame enshrinement. These two games meant nothing to the Spurs other than getting the end of bench guys some reps and keeping everyone healthy. Coach Gregg Popovich left the head coaching to one of the assistants, Mitch Johnson, who had scouted the Suns, to be at the Hall of Fame ceremony. Before he left, the decision had been made to sit DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl (officially for rest), Dejounte Murray (for “lower back soreness”), and Rudy Gay (for a “heel injury”) - wink wink. The young guys were left having to do all the work, and their lack of experience led to the rout. The next night, Pop was back at the helm and the players who rested the night before suited up (this time Patty Mills took a rest) and played much more consistently. Enough to keep the Spurs competitive in a game that didn’t matter. In the end, the strong play of DeMar DeRozan (23 points) and Jakob Poeltl’s double double (17 pts, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) weren’t enough to pull out the win.
Last Week: 1-4 (33-39, 10th in West) — 146-125 vs Bucks; 128-116 @ Nets (loss); 102-98 @ Knicks (loss); 140-103 vs Suns (loss); 123-121 vs Suns (loss)
This Week: Play-In Game #1 - 5/19 - @ Memphis Grizzlies; Play-In Game #2 - 5/21 - @ TBD
Andrew Lopez, ESPN: NA (Last week: 19)
Not Power Rankings, but:
2020-21 record: 33-39
BPI odds vs. MEM: 38%
Vegas title odds: +30000
The Spurs’ season featured hurdles at seemingly every turn. They had a battle with COVID-19 that wiped out a week and backloaded their second-half schedule. LaMarcus Aldridge was ultimately released. They’ve started 13 players and used 14 starting lineups in the shortened season. They lost 10 of 12 since Derrick White went down with an ankle injury but still managed to make the play-in game, as they look to begin a new streak of playoff appearances.
Biggest concern along their playoff path
The compacted schedule took its toll on the Spurs in the latter part of the season. It also didn’t help that White hasn’t been in the lineup since April 26 and is out for the season. But their biggest concern in the playoffs will be their 3-point shooting. San Antonio is 29th in made 3s per game and 23rd in 3-point percentage. They can have good shooting games — they hit 17 treys on May 10 against Milwaukee — but more often than not, the shots haven’t been falling.
Matchup to watch in the play-in: Battle of the benches
It’ll be a showdown between two of the better bench units in the league when Memphis and San Antonio square off. Memphis’ bench averages 39.5 points per game this season — fourth best in the league — while the Spurs’ second unit averages 38.7 points, which is tied for sixth best. And while the Spurs’ starters have averaged a league-worst 4.7 3-pointers a game, the bench averages 5.4 3s a night, which is fourth best in the league.
Their playoff ceiling is ...
First-round fodder. If the Spurs can get out of the play-in tournament, they’ll run into the West’s top seed. It’s been a rough go for San Antonio this season, and it’s hard to see a scenario where the Spurs make it out of the first round.
The Spurs are permitted to allow 17% capacity at AT&T Center.
Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports: 19 (Last week: 18)
The Spurs missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 seasons last year, and technically they started a new postseason streak by landing the final play-in spot in the West. DeMar DeRozan handled his role of primary playmaker with aplomb, but the future of the franchise lies in young guards like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker. San Antonio was once again at the bottom of the league in 3-point attempts, a trend that could change if DeRozan signs elsewhere as a free agent this summer.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: ?? (Last week: 18)
Mo Dakhil, Bleacher Report: 19 (Last Week: 19)
Despite backing into the last play-in spot in the West, the Spurs have done well this season. They had the hardest second half schedule in the NBA. Making the play-in is a small accomplishment San Antonio can hang its hat on for this season.
The Spurs are a very interesting team. They have a good amount of young talent from Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl. They will have to decide on DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay this offseason.
Making the play-in is a small accomplishment, but the Spurs will have to make a big decision on what road they want to take long-term.
Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer: NA (Previous Ranking: 18)
The play-in tournament begins this week. A one-and-done tournament will determine who will get the final spots for the playoffs. The Spurs clinched their spot. Will they advance? If they don’t advance, will you consider this season a failure or will the progress made by the young players signal it as a type of success? Tell us what you think in the comments.