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!
March Madness. That it the only way to describe the week that just was for the San Antonio Spurs. Between trading wild game-winners and finding new ways to lose in extremely disappointing fashion, perhaps no time showed more of what a wildcard this Spurs team is than last week.
The week began with the Spurs scoring 139 points with Timberwolves visiting town. 99% of the time, that would mean a win, but not on this occasion thanks to Karl Anthony-Towns choosing the same game to go nuclear himself, dropping a career-high 60 points. That was all despite sitting a decent amount of the fourth quarter out in foul trouble before missing several attempts on his hunt for his 60th point — nearly letting the Spurs’ third-stringers rally back in the process — before finally hitting the milestone/dagger bucket.
More madness followed as they looked to rebound against a Thunder squad that was missing seven players but has oddly been a thorn in the Spurs’ side all season. That trend continued as the Spurs built a 16-point lead in the third quarter but were marred by turnovers and poor defense the rest of the game. All seemed lost when Aleksej Pokusevski leaked out on defense for a go-ahead layup to give the Thunder a 120-119 lead with 4.8 left, but Lonnie Walker hit the game-winning three on the Spurs next possession, and Josh Primo blocked Shai Gilgeous-Alexander desperation three to secure the win.
The Spurs followed that win with a showdown against a shorthanded Pelicans team — the main team they’re in competition with for the 10th seed and had already beaten twice this season — but they were a complete no-show, getting down 33-7 in the first quarter and eventually by 40 points. Gregg Popovich had seen enough and got himself ejected early in the second quarter, and as he said afterwards, burn the film and move on like that game never happened.
Move on the Spurs did, heading out to the West Coast to take on a Warriors squad that is desperately trying to hold on to its upper seed while Steph Curry is out with a strained ligament. Still, even without him Golden State is a superior team, and the game followed a similar M.O. as the Thunder game: the Spurs got out to a double-digit lead, blew it, and amidst a chaotic, error-riddled final minute, they somehow came out on top with a game-winning put-back from Keldon Johnson after all seemed lost. Madness.
Play(s) of the Week: Two game-winners?!
What clutch problems? The Spurs’ inability to close out games a lack of a go-to player in the clutch has been a glaring issue all season, but at least for one week they came through both times they had a chance to hit a game winner, and it came from two different players. Thanks to Walker’s clutch three against OKC and Johnson’s rebound and put-back in San Francisco, the Spurs avoided what would have been a very disappointing 0-4 week (although the pro-tank crowd would have been happy).
HE SCORES!!!!!— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 21, 2022
KJ put up the game-winning shot in the final seconds pic.twitter.com/9t6EkgYPkD
In case you missed it
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 23 (Last week: 23)
Pace: 100.7 (4) OffRtg: 111.2 (17) DefRtg: 112.0 (20) NetRtg: -0.8 (18)
Two post-break meetings with the Pelicans were going to give the Spurs a shot at the last Play-In spot in the West. But they got absolutely destroyed (at home) by the Pels on Friday, scoring just 10 points (on 24 possessions) in the first quarter and trailing by as many as 40. Overall, it was the Spurs’ worst loss and their second-worst offensive performance of the season. Of course, with a 33-point defeat and two wins in the final seconds last week, the Spurs’ record is a little more in line with their point differential (that of a 33-39 team) than it was seven days ago.
Even with the game-winners from Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson, the Spurs rank 29th in clutch offense, having scored just 95.2 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes. And it was a good thing that Walker took that 3 on Wednesday, because Johnson, Dejounte Murray and Devin Vassell (0-for-13) have combined to shoot 6-for-44 (14%) on clutch 3s. That’s not good, and if a few more of those went in, we’d be talking about the Lakers in the Lottery right now.
Overall, the Spurs have seen the league’s eighth-biggest jump in offensive efficiency from last season, and that has come with the biggest jumps in both ball movement (passes per 24 minutes of possession) and player movement (miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession). The Spurs rank eighth and first this season after ranking 29th and 16th last season. That’s come with a big jump in turnover rate (from 11.3 to 12.6 per 100 possessions), but the Spurs still rank in the top two for the fourth straight season.
Of course, the departure of DeMar DeRozan has resulted in the league’s second-biggest drop in free throw rate. And the Spurs still don’t shoot a lot from beyond the arc, ranking 29th in 3-point rate (34.2%), ahead of only DeRozan’s new team. Theirs is still very much a mid-range offense (only the Suns and Bulls have taken a bigger percentage of their shots from between the restricted area and the 3-point line), which makes it difficult to score efficiently without elite offensive talent.
ESPN Staff — 23 (Last week: 23)
Spurs forward Keldon Johnson has been playing the best basketball of his young career since the All-Star break. He has had his first three 30-point games since the Spurs returned to play — 32 points against the Wizards on Feb. 25, 33 points against the Hornets on March 5 and a career-high 34 points last Monday against the Timberwolves. And while he didn’t hit the 30-point plateau Sunday, he did get the game-winning putback to defeat the Warriors. — Andrew Lopez
Coming up: Wed. 3/23 at Portland Trail Blazers; Sat. 3/25 at New Orleans Pelicans
Prediction: 2-0 — Optimism hasn’t usually worked in my favor, and after it doesn’t feel very called for, but I can’t help it. The Trail Blazers are actively tanking, with Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic out (and CJ McCollum gone), and it’s just hard to see the Spurs out-tanking them into a loss. Before last week’s debacle, the Spurs won the first two meetings against the Pelicans, and the team that showed up for the loss just wasn’t this Spurs team. I’m going out on a limb and say they get revenge for the embarrassment in San Antonio, with the added motivation of knowing that without this win, their chances of getting into the play-in takes a significant nosedive.