Another Rodeo Road Trip is in the books for the San Antonio Spurs, as they ended their annual trip going 4-4 after losing to the Memphis Grizzlies Monday night, 118-105. As can be said about most of their losses this season, the Spurs just couldn’t find enough offense to pull it out. And like the saying goes, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” To boil down this game, you could point to the end of the second and third quarters to why the Spurs were on the losing side.
There have been countless times this season where the Spurs are playing well (either holding a lead or coming back from a deficit) only for it all to unravel the last minute or two of the quarter. It happened again in the last three minutes of both middle sessions in Memphis. With 2:53 left in the second, Jakob Poeltl scored on a hook shot to bring the Spurs within three, 57-54. By intermission it was 68-58. That’s an 11-4 run in less than three minutes.
The third was even worse. With 3:02 left, Zach Collins made two free throws to make it a one point game, 86-85. When the fourth began, the Spurs trailed 96-85, that’s a 10-0 run there. All in all, the Spurs were outscored 21-4 in just six minutes.
I’ve noted before how the Spurs go a lull once or twice a game. It’s something that’s been a pattern, but it’s not something that’s really surprising. These types of things happen to young teams that are figuring things out. For anybody pointing to Memphis as a young team that’s figured it out, it takes longer than a few months to do this, and they’ve had a clear, defined route for a couple seasons now.
All the Spurs can do is to continue to learn from these losses. After all “you learn more from a loss than you do a win.” If the Spurs can use these games as teaching moments they benefit from when they play teams like the Portland Trail Blazers (3 games remaining) and the New Orleans Pelicans (2 games), they still have more than a fighting shot at earning a Play-In spot.
- This team does not quit. That’s been the beauty of this season for me, and probably what has been my biggest takeaway all year. It doesn’t matter if they’re not hitting threes, if an opponent has a player going nuts, or they get out rebounded by 17. This Spurs unit just keeps pushing, sticking to their game, or as some might say, they keeping Pounding the Rock. While Ja Morant was walking around like a man on fire, ending with a Grizzlies franchise record 52 points, the Spurs were within one with just over two minutes to go in the third quarter and within five with six minutes left in the game. In the end, the offense just wasn’t enough to overcome miscues and Morant, but the fight is always there and should be commended.
- Jakob Poeltl continues to be awesome, but this Grizzlies team shines a light on both his and the Spurs roster’s flaws. While he had another double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, he took the brunt of the Ja Morant explosion. According to the matchup data on NBA.com, Ja was 12 for 18 from the field when Poeltl was the closest defender – and we all know about the dunk heard around the league. Half of Ja’s points came against Poeltl, and I can’t even blame Poeltl. Guarding Ja has been a tough task for everybody this season. It’s getting to the point where teams need to almost treat him with the Giannis Antetokounmpo defensive scheme and build a wall around the paint. The problem for the Spurs, though, is that they don’t have great size to create that wall. I’d be interested to see Poeltl pair up with Zach Collins on the court against the Grizzlies in the future. It might be something to throw at the wall to see if it sticks.
- Who else is glad that with a clear role was defined for Lonnie Walker, he’s looking like the player we want him to be? In the last six games, he’s averaging 20.3 points on 51.6% shooting from the field. That includes being 38.2% from three, which is significant, as he was 29.3% on the season. He’s showing aggression throughout the game – taking anyone and everyone off the dribble. Although he was only two for seven last night on his three-point attempts, he still ended with 22 points and helped keep the Spurs close in the first quarter. If he’s able to keep this up, he’ll be looking at a decent contract this offseason, even if it’s not with the Spurs.