The Spurs rang in 2022 the same way they ended 2021: with a loss. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back and losing three more players to COVID and/or injury, the shorthanded Spurs started the game strong, but the even more shorthanded Pistons charged back in the second half to take the lead. The Spurs fought back hard to force overtime, but too many mistakes and a miracle shot by Saddiq Bey led to the 117-116 loss.
Bryn Forbes was nearly the Spurs savior on the night, hitting four threes late in the fourth quarter and overtime as part of his 27 points on the night. Derrick White also had a double-double with 18 points and career-high 14 assists. Hamidou Diallo led the Pistons with 34 points, while Bey had 21 and Luka Garza 20 points.
- In a game like this — with Lonnie Walker and Doug McDermott entering Health and Safety Protocols, Keita Bates-Diop out with a sore hamstring, and Dejounte Murray still out for reconditioning — all rotation logic goes out the window. There was a new starting lineup with Tre Jones and Devin Vassell replacing Murray and McDermott, which indicated that Gregg Popovich was interesting in keeping more of a defensive theme going with the starting unit. (Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Forbes start.)
- The defense did its part against an even more shorthanded Pistons squad in the first quarter, but the Spurs’ main advantage came at the free throw line, where they outscored the Pistons by nine to take a 29-20 lead into the second quarter. Despite coming off the bench, Forbes — who has developed a nice in-between game for when he is run off the three-point line — was the hot hand with 9 points.
- Josh Primo was also a part of the main rotation tonight, although he started slow, missing all of his relatively open looks in the first half. Joe Weiskamp also had some first-half minutes in the first half but missed his only shot. Primo ended the night 1-7 for two points, and 0-5 from three. He’ll get more chances.
- The Spurs started the second quarter strong to get about to a 17-point lead, but the final minutes were absolute chaos. The Pistons upped their aggression on the offensive end, forcing the refs to start giving them free throws too, and when the Spurs tried to match their chaotic pace, bad things usually happened. Detroit managed to cut the Spurs’ lead to four on a Diallo and-one before Devin Vassell got the Spurs up 59-52 on a three heading into halftime.
- Keldon Johnson tried to remain aggressive throughout the first half to get out of his recent offensive funk, but to not much better results. He was just 2-9 shooting for five points with three turnovers — and similar to last night, a lot were errant passes or poor ball handling, showing he has a way to go in that department — but he did hit a key three amidst the chaos of late in the second quarter, catching the ball wide open in transition, taking a dribble to square himself up, and letting it fly. When KJ is calm (which for him can be described as “controlled chaos”) and plays within himself, he’s at his best. It’s when he gets too wild and tries to do too much, that’s when he gets into trouble.
- Drew Eubanks got the backup big minutes to open the second half after another poor showing from Jock Landale, and he instantly got called for three fouls, including a flagrant foul call on Garza that I just didn’t see. Garza pump faked and Eubanks jumped, swiping him across the arm. The flagrant part came from Eubanks making contact with Garza’s head, but it was mainly a stomach brush, and he was still playing the ball. It’s just a different league today.
- A somewhat disturbing aspect of this game was the refs seemed to be dictating the momentum. When the Spurs got out ahead through the first quarter-and-a-half, they had a 15-2 edge in free throw attempts. It was when the Pistons started getting calls (and the Spurs stopped) that they went on their extended run throughout the latter part of the second and third quarters, with a 21-4 advantage in free throw attempts. And it wasn’t just because one team was more aggressive than the other. In the third quarter especially, it seemed like the Spurs couldn’t do anything on defense without getting called for a foul, while they couldn’t get the same calls on the other end. This is not to blame their 85-81 deficit after three quarters entirely on the refs — the Spurs struggled throughout hitting open shots and creating good offense — but the refs even appearing to play a role in a game is not something anyone wants to see. (The game ended with a 33-28 advantage in the Pistons favor, so it mostly evened out in the fourth quarter and OT.)
- The Pistons continued to push their lead as high as nine in the fourth quarter before the Spurs responded with a 7-0 run to get going again. It continued to be an extremely messy quarter for both teams — you’d almost think it was two clubs that were shorthanded, playing mishmash lineups — but Forbes exploded in the final minutes with three threes, finally giving the Spurs the lead again with 55 second left. The Pistons responded with a Garza putback to retake the lead. Johnson was then fouled rebounding missed free throws by Poeltl and hit one to tie things back up. White drew a charge on Bey with three seconds left, and Johnson‘s layup attempt off the in-bound lob rolled off the rim, forcing overtime.
- The Pistons scored the first four points of overtime before the Spurs responded with a 7-2 run, once again highlighted by a big time Forbes three. The Spurs initially avoided disaster multiple times after that, with Johnson hitting a three after the Spurs gave up a layup after the Pistons swiped the ball from White under their own basket. Then, Bey got free throws and missed the second, with the Pistons getting the offensive rebound and missing twice before the Poeltl finally corralled it with 11 sec left and the Spurs up one. But White just made one of two free throws, and Bey hit a miracle three off a poor pass he had to pick up off the floor while being smothered Johnson and Poeltl with 1.9 sec left. Johnson couldn’t hit the game winner, and that was it.
For the Pistons fans’ perspective, visit Detroit Bad Boys.
The Spurs get a couple of days off before continuing their road trip in Toronto against the Raptors on Tuesday, where hopefully they will have Dejounte Murray back. Tipoff will be at 6:00 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.