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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Grizzlies

San Antonio falls painfully short of knocking off another divisional adversary.

Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs fell agonizingly short of the Memphis Grizzlies as their four-game winning streak came to a screeching halt on Wednesday night. Although the good guys erased an 18-point second-half deficit to close with one possession, rotten luck spoiled their comeback as the go-ahead layup caromed off the rim.

Dejounte Murray paced the Silver and Black with a career-high 33 points and 13 rebounds as Keldon Johnson added 23 points, seven boards, and four assists. Devin Vassell scored 19 points, while Jakob Poeltl chipped in nine points, seven boards, and five dimes. Josh Richardson also had nine points, five assists, and five steals off the bench.

After stealing the tenth seed from the Lakers on Tuesday night, the Silver and Black have tumbled out of the play-in tournament and sit a half-game behind Los Angeles in the Western Conference standings. Two matchups with the tanking Portland Trail Blazers await head coach Gregg Popovich and crew this weekend, so don’t count them out.

Observations

  • Dejounte Murray has blossomed into a nightly triple-double threat and an All-Star in his sixth go-round in the NBA, but there are still a few areas for him to improve if he wants to take his game to the next level. Moreso than anything else, three-point shooting is a swing skill that could catapult him from a great player into an elite offensive hub. Although the six-four point guard has struggled from beyond the arc, Dejounte exploded for a career-high six threes against the Grizzlies. One outstanding outlier performance could be a fluke. However, Murray is 20-of-46 (43.5%) from deep over his last seven games, suggesting this could be the beginning of a turnaround for the 25-year-old floor general. The sample size is still moderately small in the grand scheme of a six-month regular season, but his progress as a standstill marksman is an encouraging step in the right direction. Murray has become more comfortable with the catch-and-shoot trifecta, which bodes well for his potential fit next to a ball-dominant superstar.
  • Gregg Popovich has entrusted Tre Jones with backup point guard duties since the Spurs shipped Derrick White to Boston at the trade deadline a little over seven weeks ago. The 22-year-old floor general has been rock solid for San Antonio during that timeframe, averaging 6.2 points and 4.3 assists while committing less than one turnover per game. The Duke alum recorded eight points on 3-of-3 shooting in 17 minutes off the pine versus Memphis, but it felt like he left a lot on the table. Much like Murray, Jones has been subpar from long-range. But a reluctance to launch wide-open triples and a 12.8% three-point percentage have magnified his long-range shortcomings. Though there are reasons for skepticism that Tre will ever become a reliable deep threat, Spurs fans should hold out hope after his matchup with his older brother Tyus. Comparing siblings can come off as lazy, but Tyus Jones might be the perfect aspirational player for Tre. They are roughly the same height and weight with a pass-first playstyle and a knack for taking care of the rock. Tyus arrived in the association without a jumper yet has steadily evolved into an above-average stationary shooter with some off-the-dribble utility. Tre is the superior athlete and defender. And if he works with legendary shot doctor Chip Engelland this offseason, the Jones brothers might be the best second-string facilitators in the NBA sooner than later.
  • Depth might be the most crucial ingredient for a championship contender outside of rostering a bonafide superstar. The Grizzlies already have their foundational cornerstone in Ja Morant, but their supporting cast might be the best in the NBA. After defeating San Antonio on Wednesday evening, head coach Taylor Jenkins and company improved to 19-2 with Morant on the sidelines, outscoring opponents by a ridiculous 380 points. Memphis can thank its depth for its dominance minus Morant. Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Killian Tillie, Xavier Tillman, Ziaire Williams, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, John Konchar, De’Anthony Melton, and Kyle Anderson have filled in when injuries surface. And it’s invaluable to employ third-stringers who can seamlessly slide into the rotation at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they don’t possess that luxury. San Antonio’s frontcourt is flimsy behind Jakob Poeltl. Zach Collins, Jock Landale, and Keita Bates-Diop have displayed serviceability. But bolstering the center and forward positions should be a point of emphasis for PATFO this summer.