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Spurs Week in Review: COVID takes over long road trip

Another rough week as the Spurs got more shorthanded by the day.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Week in Review: a new Monday feature that will look back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, see what others are saying, take a look at the week ahead, plus more. Enjoy, and any helpful feedback or suggestions to improve the content is appreciated!

Week 11: COVID strikes as the Spurs fall flat for 0-3 week

Week 12: 1-3 (15-24 overall, 11th in West) — 104-129 L @ Toronto Raptors; 99-97 W @ Boston Celtics; 100-119 L @ Philadelphia 76ers; 119-121 OT L @ Brooklyn Nets

The Spurs were already coming off a tough 0-3 week without Dejounte Murray and later Lonnie Walker and Doug McDermott when they entered Toronto last week, kicking off an Atlantic Division FIGASENI hoping to turn things around, while also praying no one else would test positive in Canada (where they would have to remain in quarantine for 14 days — much longer than the five days in the US). They barely avoid the latter but still struggled with the former, as the defense was a no-show, letting Fred VanVleet go off in the blowout loss that the Spurs never really looked competitive in.

Next, they headed over the Boston and got good news along the way: the return of Murray after five-game absence — the final four of which were losses. He hardly looked like he’d missed a beat, and in a hard-fought defensive battle where neither team ever led by more than six points, the Spurs overcame a series of gaffes in the final minute to walk away with what would be their only win of the last two weeks.

Next was the 76ers, who were on a five-game winning streak after falling below .500 for the season. If dealing with a hot team wasn’t challenging enough, the Spurs were struck with even more bad news after Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Tre Jones, and Thaddeus Young all entered H&S Protocols. Although Walker was able to return, it wasn’t enough for a shell-shocked, depleted Spurs team to overcome a horrific first quarter that saw them fall behind by as much as 20 points. They recovered enough to play their opponent even the rest of the way, but every time they made a run against the Sixers’ bench to make things interesting, Joel Embiid would come back in and squash any hopes of a comeback.

Finally, heading into an early Sunday matinee in Brooklyn for the first part of a New York back-to-back, fans were probably expecting more of the same against the star-studded Nets, but the Spurs came out surprisingly strong and played their opponent pretty much even, making up for a poor stretch at the end of the first half with a strong one at the end of the second to force overtime on a Josh Primo three. Unfortunately, the Fiesta jerseys ran out of magic and couldn’t deliver what would be the most unexpected win of the season, but hopefully the performance motivates them going forward as they wait to get whole again.

Stat of the Week — 18 Spurs played this week

As the NBA does everything it can to keep the season from derailing or getting delayed by COVID again, they have increased how many players can be on an NBA roster. Two-way players are currently not on a limit for NBA appearances, and when a team loses enough players to Health & Safety protocols, they can sign up to three players to 10-day hardship exemption contracts, meaning an NBA roster can currently be as high as 20 players under the right circumstances.

That happened with the Spurs this week as COVID continued to spread, with them being short as many seven players (all main rotation outside of Zach Collins!) against the 76ers. As a result, they signed Jaylen Morris, Tyler Johnson and Anthony Lamb to 10-day contracts. All three played at some point, as have two-way players Devontae Cacok and Joe Wieskamp, which means 18 different players played basketball for the Spurs this week, with the lone exception being McDermott, who has been in Health & Safety Protocols since last week, and obviously Collins.

In case you missed it

The San Antonio Spurs have rescheduled their matchup with the Miami Heat

Becky Hammon’s departure from the NBA hopefully won’t be permanent

Sharing is Caring: The Spurs, Assists, and the Modern NBA

How the Spurs’ latest COVID outbreak could affect their season

Fun with Box Scores: A wild opening week to 2022

What they’re saying

John Schuhmann, — 23 (Last week: 24)

Pace: 100.6 (4) OffRtg: 109.4 (17) DefRtg: 109.4 (18) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)

LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are gone, but Dejounte Murray is continuing the mid-range tradition in San Antonio, ranking fifth in the league in mid-range attempts. His 38.7% on those shots is down from 45.4% last season and ranks just 46th among 52 players with at least 75 attempts between the paint and the 3-point line. But Murray has been an improved finisher at the rim, shooting 66.4% in the restricted area, up from 61.2% last season and 55.1% through his first three years in the league. His 49 total points in Boston and Philadelphia last week included a couple of deft finishes over Robert Williams III, a slick gather-Eurostep around Joel Embiid, and a creative baseline spin-back against Tobias Harris.

Murray has also averaged 10.9 assists over his last nine games, but offense has been a struggle (102.3 points scored per 100 possessions) as the Spurs have lost six of their last seven. They made things interesting after trailing by 12 points in the fourth quarter in Brooklyn on Sunday, but scored just nine points on 15 clutch possessions, with Murray missing a transition layup that would have put them ahead in the final minute of overtime. The Spurs rank 26th in clutch offense for the season and remain the only team that hasn’t won a game (they’re 0-21) it trailed after the third quarter.

Their seven-game road trip concludes at Madison Square Garden on Monday, and a seven-game homestand (one of two the Spurs have this season) begins Wednesday with a visit from the Rockets.

Week 13: @ NYK, vs. HOU, vs. CLE, vs. LAC

ESPN Staff — 22 (Last week: 22)

Dejounte Murray missed five games for San Antonio due to the league’s health and safety protocols and reconditioning. As soon as he was back in the starting lineup, the Spurs snapped a four-game losing streak. In three games since his return, Murray is averaging 22.7 points, 11 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game. — Andrew Lopez

Coming up: Mon. Jan. 10 @ New York Knicks; Wed. Jan. 12 vs. Houston Rockets; Fri. Jan. 14 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers; Sat. Jan. 15 vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Spurs continue their stretch of five-games-in-seven-nights/eight-games-in-twelve (what a time to be severely shorthanded) with the Knicks tonight before finally returning home for seven straight games, beginning with the Rockets, Cavaliers and Clippers this week. Hopefully players will start returning from protocols as the week goes on, and by the end they will be close to themselves again.