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!
Week 19: Several players had career nights despite short week
Coming into the week having won four of their last seven games, the Spurs appeared ready to make a final push towards the play-in tournament with the remaining schedule being a middling level of difficulty compared to the rest of the league. Instead, they continued to dig themselves into a deeper hole thanks to their inability to close games — and to overcome a deficit of any size after three quarters, for that matter.
It all started with the final game of the Rodeo Road Trip in Memphis. This game felt like a schedule loss to begin with since it’s just not a good matchup for the Spurs. They managed to hang tough for two-and-a-half quarters and got close several times after a poor first quarter, but despite holding everyone else in check, Ja Morant was too much on the evening, hitting impossible shot after impossible shot on his way to his first — and likely not last — 50-point game.
No sweat, the Spurs’ next two games looked pretty winnable on paper. First, they finally returned home — albeit for just one game, which as Gregg Popovich said, made it still feel like a road game — to take on one of the few teams behind them in the standings. Having sold all their depth — including Spurs killer Buddy Hield — for Domontas Sabonis, this felt like a good game for the Spurs to end their two-game skid. Unfortunately, they got caught up in the “game after the RRT” trap and came out slow, getting behind by 19 points in the third quarter. They would rally back and briefly take the lead in the fourth, but that used up all of their energy, and that inability to close games reared its head again in yet another loss.
Finally, the Spurs headed back out on the road to take on the Hornets, who had lost seven of their last ten. It was a tight game throughout, with an NBA season-high 34 lead changes, but again, the Spurs just couldn’t hit shots or get stops when it mattered the most, wasting Keldon Johnson’s second career-high game in a week and losing their fourth in a row.
Stat of the Week — 0-32 when trailing after three quarters this season
This is just a crazy stat. It hasn’t mattered if they were down by one point or double figures, the fact that the Spurs have not won a single game this season when trailing after three quarters this season is mindboggling. That also means they are 24-8 when leading after three quarters (an overall winning percentage that would place them at second in the league). Those are both extreme percentages and beg the question, why?
Are they aware of this stat, and it gets in their head when they’re behind? Is it the youth and rebuilding nature of the team, with the lack of a true closer (despite Dejounte Murray’s best efforts)? The Spurs are known for not quitting, so is it all the energy they waste coming back from early deficits that leaves them out of gas by late in the game? All are likely at least part of the issue, and it’s something that has to be addressed not just this season but going forward as well.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 24 (Last week: 19)
Pace: 100.5 (4) OffRtg: 111.3 (13) DefRtg: 111.4 (19) NetRtg: -0.0 (16)
Coach Gregg Popovich remains one win shy of tying Don Nelson at the top of the all-time list, because the Spurs have lost four straight games. Three of the four losses have been within five points in the last five minutes, but the Spurs are now a brutal 9-21 (only the Pacers have been worse) in clutch games. They have the Western Conference’s eighth best point differential, but are now three games behind the 10th-place Pelicans. Prior to last season, the Spurs had never missed the playoffs in two straight years. Now, they’re looking good for a third straight trip to the Lottery.
Josh Richardson (who still has a year left on his contract) has played less than 12 total minutes over the last three games (he was DNP’d on Saturday), confirmation that the Derrick White trade was mostly about moving Devin Vassell and Josh Primo up in the depth chart. The Spurs’ new starting lineup (with Vassell in White’s place) has scored more than 125 points per 100 possessions in its 105 minutes since the trade (Keldon Johnson scored a career-high 33 points on Saturday), though Primo’s minutes have been a little rough. He certainly needs to be stronger defensively.
The Spurs are one of five teams with a better record on the road (13-21) than they have at home (11-19). Eleven of their final 18 games are at the AT&T Center, with a seven-game homestand beginning Monday.
ESPN Staff — 24 (Last week: 23)
San Antonio has dropped four in a row with a chance for Gregg Popovich to tie the all-time regular season coaching wins mark. Popovich should have a chance to tie and break the record soon; the Spurs have their next seven games at home, starting with the Lakers on Monday. — Andrew Lopez
Prediction: 1-3 — I went optimistic last week at 2-1, and it backfired, so I’m going pessimistic this time to see if that turns the tide (even though my mind is leading more towards 2-2). As the Spurs kick off a seven-game homestand, the Lakers are ripe for the taking, with Anthony Davis out and the team slumping behind the failed approach of trading all their depth and future for Russell Westbrook, but LeBron James has been hot and tends to bring his best against Pop and the Spurs, so this is no guaranteed win.
The Raptors are similarly struggling, although draft watchers will point out that it would be “beneficial” for the Spurs to lose this one if they want Toronto’s top 14 protected pick this year (they’d currently be picking 16th). After that, it’s hard to see the Spurs beating the Jazz, but the Pacers come in as one of the few teams in the league with a worse record, so that’s the most likely win for the Spurs this week (assuming they don’t go all out trying to beat the Utah the night before and end up resting everyone that night).