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Spurs Week in Review: Slowly returning to form

A look back at Week 15 of the 2021-22 season.

Chicago Bulls v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy, and any helpful feedback or suggestions to improve the content is appreciated!

Week 14: Fourth quarter woes continue in another 1-3 week

Week 15: 2-2 (19-32 overall, 11th in West) — 134-104 W @ Houston Rockets; 118-110 L vs. Memphis Grizzlies; 131-122 W vs. Chicago Bulls; 110-115 L @ Phoenix Suns

I predicted last week that as the Spurs’ fourth quarter woes continued and losses piled up amidst a tough stretch of schedule, the Spurs were staring another 1-3 week in the face, so I’m glad to be wrong! Although 2-2 isn’t that much better record-wise, and fourth quarter execution is still an issue, overall they looked better this week and are gradually returning to the form that had them winning games before COVID struck the team right after Christmas.

They began the week by completely decimating a Rockets team that has struggled at home and looked completely asleep at the wheel throughout, especially on the defensive end. The blowout win allowed the Spurs starters to rest for the entire fourth quarter, which was a good thing since they had the Grizzlies visiting the very next night, kicking off a stretch of five straight games against the league’s top five teams. As they are wont to do against superior opponents this season, the Spurs hung close throughout but just couldn’t get over hump and overcome Ja Morant’s 41 points or Jaren Jackson Jr’s size and physicality in another close loss.

Next, it was another reunion game with DeMar DeRozan returning to town with a Bulls club that has been struggling but still sitting at 2nd in the East. DeRozan did was he does when playing his former teams and hit seemingly every shot he took no matter how well it was contested, but the Bulls had no answer for Jakob Poeltl down low, and it was one of the few times this season the Spurs won an offensive shootout against a superior team.

Finally, the Spurs headed over to Phoenix to take on the league’s top team — and yet one the Spurs had played closely in each matchup this season. It looked like this was going to be a throwaway game as Gregg Popovich decided to “rest” his top three players in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Poeltl, but the Spurs have been very successful in trolling Robert Sarver’s Suns with “rest” games over the years, and they almost did again on Sunday. The Suns appeared unprepared for most of the game as the Spurs managed to build a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, but Phoenix did what it has done all season: wake up just in time to put the Spurs away (with the key turning point being at the two-minute mark and the Spurs up one, when the refs missing a blatant Devin Booker travel/carry/double-dribble all in one before he hit back-to-back threes).

Play of the Week — Poeltl Jam

While there was still time left for the Bulls to mount a comeback, this dunk by Poeltl with under five minutes left told the world that the Spurs weren’t going to go soft and let up in this fourth quarter, and they maintained momentum the rest of the way for the big win.

In case you missed it

The terrifying ordeal of Aron Baynes

The Missing Shot From the Spurs Playbook

Former Spurs are thriving elsewhere, and letting them go was the right call

Zach Collins’ return from the G-League is being determined on a game-by-game basis

Devin Vassell on hitting his stride and breaking the mold

Power Rankings

John Schuhmann, — 23 (Last week: 25)

Pace: 100.2 (5) OffRtg: 110.5 (14) DefRtg: 110.4 (19) NetRtg: +0.1 (x)

The Spurs’ discrepancy between their actual record (19-32) and their “expected” record based on point differential (25-26) keeps getting bigger because they keep winning by larger margins than by which they lose. Over the last 12 days, they have three wins by a total of 61 points and four losses by a total of 34. The strength of the competition nor who the Spurs have available seem not to matter. Their last three narrow losses have come against the three teams – Phoenix, Memphis and Philadelphia – with the three best records in January. And without Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl in Phoenix on Sunday, the Spurs went down to the wire (they led by 12 points in the fourth quarter) with the best team in the league.

Murray has recorded double-digit assists in each of the last six games he’s played. And the Spurs’ two wins last week were two of their seven most efficient offensive games of the season. The point guard was certainly missed as the Spurs scored just six points (shooting 2-for-11) on 10 clutch possessions against the Suns. But before Sunday, Phoenix was the best clutch team in the league, while San Antonio was one of the worst, just 7-14 with Murray in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

The Spurs have three games left on a stretch where they will have played 12 of 14 at home. They’ll have a rest advantage on Tuesday when they host the Warriors, one of the teams against which they have a clutch victory this season.

ESPN Staff — 24 (Last week: 26)

While the Spurs sit toward the bottom of the league in 3-pointers made, forward Keldon Johnson’s shooting this season has been a bright spot. Johnson was 13-of-22 on treys as a rookie in limited action during the 2019-20 season, but his shooting rate dipped to 33.1% a season ago. This season, he is trending in the right direction, shooting 43.7% (86-of-197), which is fourth in the league among qualified players. — Andrew Lopez

Coming up: Tues. 2/1 vs. Golden State Warriors (37-13); Thurs. 2/3 vs. Miami Heat (32-18); Fri. 2/4 vs. Houston Rockets (14-35)

The Spurs continue their tough stretch of playing the top five teams in the league in five games (and top six in seven games if you stretch back to Philadelphia’s visit) with the Warriors — who finally have Klay Thompson back — coming to town, followed by the surging Heat in a game that was rescheduled after an injury/COVID-depleted Miami team couldn’t field enough players on December 29. (I’m sure everyone remembers that bizarre ordeal, where the league even tried to get some Austin Spurs to come play for them.) Finally, they will conclude the week at home against the Rockets before heading out on their annual Rodeo Road Trip.