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Spurs Week in Review: Fourth quarter woes continue in another 1-3 week

A look at Week 14 of the 2021-22 season.

Denver Nuggets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

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 13: Searching for energy while waiting to be whole again

Week 14: 1-3 (17-30 overall, 13th in West) — 107-121 L vs. Phoenix Suns; 118-98 W vs. Oklahoma City Thunder; 102-117 L vs. Brooklyn Nets; 109-115 L vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Another week, and more of the same from the Spurs. They won their one game against an inferior opponent but lost to three playoff-bound teams with superior talent the same way they have been for most of the season: by keeping up for three quarters or so before the offense goes cold in the fourth quarter while the opponents’ star talent takes over.

Against the league-leading Suns, the Spurs held their own for much of the night, even taking a slight lead into the fourth quarter, but just when it felt like they might be able to withstand a 48-point night from Devin Booker, Chris Paul did what he does and took control of the game. No one on the Spurs could match his intensity back, and what was a chance to steal another game from a contender and get back on track turned into another fourth-quarter loss for the Silver and Black — albeit against the best fourth quarter team in the league.

There was a brief reprieve against one of the few teams with a worse record in the Thunder, and the Spurs took advantage for a rare blowout win this season before returning to the same narrative for the next two games. Against the Nets, the Spurs held tight against the team missing Kevin Durant entering the fourth quarter, but as their offense went cold for a stretch, James Harden and Kyrie Irving took over, combining for 29 points in the quarter to outscore the Spurs (28 points) by themselves to turn a tight game into a comfortable win.

Finally, against 76ers, the Spurs spent all night keeping things close against a Philly squad that was depleted from a depth standpoint but still had Joel Embiid to throw to ball to in crunch time to make things happen. To the Spurs’ credit in this one, Jakob Poeltl punished him almost equally as much on the other end with 25 points, and they did not go cold in the fourth quarter of this game, but they just couldn’t get enough stops or avoid blunders to get over the hump, leaving them with their second 1-3 week in a row.

Stat of the Week — Free Throw Attempts

The Spurs are 29th in the league in free throw attempts, averaging just 18.7 in the league, but that actually isn’t the determinant one would think. They also average the second fewest personal fouls in the league at 17.7, and their opponents average just 0.7 more free throws per game than them. So that made it all the more surprising when they got twice as many free throws attempts as the Nets — 24 vs. 12 — in their matchup, and they shot them a decent clip, hitting 20. Because of that, it was too bad they couldn’t take advantage of that rare advantage and execute in other areas.

In case you missed it

Examining the Spurs’ mediocre defense

Spurs mid-season awards: Part I , Part II , Part III

Why the Spurs’ pick-and-roll defense is a problem

The Spurs traded Bryn Forbes for Juancho Hernangomez, 2028 2nd round pick

Why trading Bryn Forbes was the right move for the Spurs

Power Rankings

John Schuhmann, — (Last week: 25)

Pace: 100.1 (5) OffRtg: 109.6 (19) DefRtg: 110.1 (20) NetRtg: -0.6 (18)

Averaging at least 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists probably seems more common than it’s actually been, because prior to this season, there were 11 instances of it – from Luka Doncic (twice), James Harden, LeBron James (three times), Nikola Jokic and Russell Westbrook (four times) – over the previous five years (2016-17 through ’20-21). But prior to that, the last instance of a (qualified) player averaging 18, eight and eight was Michael Jordan in 1988-89. So Dejounte Murray (19.3, 8.5 and 9.0 through Sunday) is in some pretty special company. None of these guys in the last five years (nor Doncic and Harden this season) have also averaged at least two steals, so Murray has the chance to be the first since Jordan to average 18, eight, eight and two.

It’s somewhat arbitrary and Murray benefits a little from the Spurs playing at a relatively fast pace. But his assist/turnover ratio (3.74) would be the highest for an 18-eight-and-eight guy since Fat Lever in 1986-87 (3.92) and he continues to make an impact as he racks up triple-doubles (nine this season). Over the 11 games since Murray returned from a five-game absence, the Spurs have scored 17.2 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (112.3) than they have with him off the floor (95.1).

Though they lost a couple of games by double-digits last week, the Spurs still have the biggest differential between their “expected” wins (they have the point differential of a team that’s 22-25) and their actual wins, with their loss in Philly on Sunday dropping them to 6-14 (third-worst in the league) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

If they had those five extra wins, Gregg Popovich would be just three from tying Don Nelson for first on the all-time list. Given the difficulty of the Spurs’ schedule over the next four weeks and their record (4-17) against teams that are currently over .500, it will be tough to get him that close before the All-Star break.

ESPN Staff — 26 (Last week: 25)

Dejounte Murray had back-to-back triple-doubles against Oklahoma City and Brooklyn, becoming just the second player in franchise history with consecutive triple-doubles. Murray joined David Robinson, who last did it in January 1991, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Murray is up to 13 career triple-doubles and now trails Robinson by one for the most in Spurs history. — Lopez

Coming up: Tues. 1/25 @ Houston Rockets; Wed. 1/26 vs. Memphis Grizzlies; Fri. 1/28 vs. Chicago Bulls; Sun. 1/30 @ Phoenix Suns

The Spurs begin the week with a Southwest division back-to-back, where they have a chance to get revenge for a recent home loss against the cellar-dwelling Rockets, followed by a shorthanded Grizzlies team that still has Ja Morant. (FYI: that game was originally set to be on ESPN but has been replaced, so no nationally televised games for the Spurs this season.) After that it’s another reunion game at the AT&T Center, this time for DeMar DeRozan and the East-leading Bulls, followed by another visit to the league-leading Suns. A third straight 1-3 week seems like a safe bet.