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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Celtics

Dejounte Murray’s return showed just how important he is to the Spurs.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Early on in the season, the San Antonio Spurs were losing close game after close game, and the sentiment was that they were learning how to win. Instead of relying on 30-year-old veterans to bring a calm to crunch time, Gregg Popovich and crew have been leaning on players who had never been the closers in those situations. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t go so hot the first 10 games the Spurs found themselves in crunch time, as they went 2-8. But the tide seems to have turned.

While they still aren’t world beaters, the Spurs have been 3-2 in close games since the beginning of December. A big reason for this improvement has been Dejounte Murray growing in his role as the go-to scorer down the stretch. He’s been shooting 55.6% in crunch time since December 1 (the Spurs are 3-1 in the games he’s played), up from the 45.5% he shot before then.

He may not be at the DeMar DeRozan level yet, but looking back at where DeMar was as a 25-year-old, Dejounte, he’s ahead of the curve. During the 2014-15 season, DeMar shot 39.7%, which is far behind the 56.8% he’s shooting this year. Granted, times have changed in the NBA over the past 7 seasons, but one thing that hasn’t is players needing to learn how to play in situations like this.

Takeaways

  • It’s not lost on anybody how important Dejounte has been for the Spurs this year. Nothing may have proven that more than what happened in his absence. Teams tend to have a calm to them when their leader is on the court — look at how Chris Paul’s teams have played throughout his career, and things just seem calmer with Dejounte out there. Well, at least until the game gets into crunch time, because then it seems like somebody cuts the brakes on an 18-wheeler going 95 MPH on the highway. Luckily, Dejounte is learning how to steer in those moments. We just won’t speak of what happened the last minute of this game.
  • Nothing shines a light on the lack of size the Spurs have on their roster than when Tre Jones and Bryn Forbes are on the court together. It goes beyond them though, as Keldon Johnson is a little undersized for a modern small forward. When you look at teams across the league, you see them littered with wings listed at 6’5” and taller. The games against the Hornets and Raptors have highlighted the matchup problems that occur for the Spurs when they play lengthy teams. Being at full strength will help some, as will the continued growth and development of Devin Vassell and Keita Bates-Diop.
  • I’m not sure what it’s been about the second quarter these past two games, but the Spurs have found themselves struggling around the same time. I’d like to chalk it up to being an aberration, but it’s something to keep an eye on. We expected scoring struggles would happen from time to time — happening at the same moment in different games, though, makes one think it may be a rotation issue.
  • In my best Christopher Walken voice, I got a fever, and the only prescription is more shots for Devin Vassell. Game after game, Vassell looks like he could be somebody who averages 20+ points a game. He’s shown that he has the ability to shoot both off the catch and on a pull-up, and with his size and form, he can get his shot off just about anytime he wants. Not to mention, he’s pretty explosive when he gets into the paint. In 32 games, Vassell has taken 10 or more attempts in 17 of them. In those 17 games, he has averaged 15.5 on 47.4% shooting. That would be the second-highest scoring average for the team and the 14th best shooting percentage for players listed at 6’6” and shorter on Basketball-Reference.com. I know the team likes to spread the wealth, but maybe it’s time to put a heavier scoring load on the second-year player.
  • Needless to say, the Spurs need to find a way to inbound the ball more efficiently. We’ll just let Landale’s face explain why this was a takeaway. At least he was able to laugh it off, which I’ve heard is the best medicine.