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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Lakers

San Antonio comes up huge in the clutch as they close the gap in the play-in tournament race.

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The shorthanded San Antonio Spurs prevailed over the understaffed Los Angeles Lakers in crunch time as they rebounded after relinquishing a 14-point first-half lead. Despite floundering at the free-throw line throughout the night, the good guys found other ways to get on the scoreboard while holding the Purple and Gold at bay when it mattered most.

Dejounte Murray bolstered the box score for the Silver and Black with 26 points, ten rebounds, eight assists, and three steals. Josh Richardson and Jakob Poeltl scored 18 points apiece in their first start together. And best of all, Josh Primo and Tre Jones provided some clutch defensive stops as Los Angeles attacked the paint in pursuit of easy offense.

Gregg Popovich has now tied Hall of Fame head coach Don Nelson for the most regular-season wins in NBA history, which only adds to his legacy as one of the greatest play-callers of all time. Though the Spurs have helped Pop secure that evasive record, their short-term goal of making the play-in tournament is still very much up in the air.

Observations

  • Shooting free throws has been an issue for the Spurs all season long. Not only has San Antonio taken the fewest attempts in the NBA (19.1), but they have also knocked them down at the fifth-worst clip (73.8%). Their issues from the charity stripe surfaced again on Monday night as the club went a collective 16-of-30 (53.3%) at the line against the Lakers, which somehow wound up being a lower percentage than they shot from the field (54.8%). Los Angeles couldn’t seem to keep their mitts off the Spurs as they fouled them 30 times. Unfortunately, San Antonio couldn’t take advantage of all the calls that went their way, leaving enough points on the board to make what should have been a comfortable victory another nail-biter. Lost in all the madness was the unthinkable anomaly that Jakob Poeltl was arguably the most reliable free throw shooter for the Silver and Black. The Austrian center went 6-of-8 (75%) from the stripe, with the rest of the team going 10-of-22 (45.5%). The good guys need to lock themselves in a gym and work on their freebies this Summer. During a home contest in 2010, Gregg Popovich once said, “Next guy that misses a free throw is gonna buy me a new car.” And maybe he should consider making that a policy as an incentive.
  • Spurs fans finally got their first legitimate look at Josh Richardson as the seventh-year guard got a spot-start in place of Devin Vassell. Richardson only scored 13 points across his first four games with San Antonio, but he stayed ready and rose to the challenge, recording 18 points in 30 minutes of action against the Lakers. Although the six-five swingman has primarily operated as a 3&D specialist this season, he showed the Silver and Black he is capable of much more than spotting up around the perimeter. Josh attacked an aggressive closeout to get into the paint for a floater, snared an offensive rebound for a short jumper, and pressured Carmelo Anthony into dribbling the ball off his leg and out of bounds. Of course, the catch-and-shooting was on display as the 27-year-old journeyman drained four triples. One from the left wing, one from the right corner, one in transition, and one as a trailer via a beautiful bounce pass from Tre Jones. Does this breakout performance mean more Richardson minutes are on the horizon? Probably not since San Antonio already has a set rotation with intentions of getting Josh Primo regular minutes, but improving his trade value might help PATFO gather more draft assets this offseason.
  • Although the Spurs have crumbled in crunch time throughout the season, there have been instances here and there that give fans hope for a better tomorrow. Monday was one of those examples as the contest entered the clutch and San Antonio found a way to win. Full disclosure, LeBron James and Anthony Davis sat out this matchup, so this was probably a matchup that shouldn’t have gone down to the wire. That said, all victories appear identical in the standings, and the good guys will take whatever they can get as their season hangs in the balance. Regardless of the personnel on the other side of the court, San Antonio still had to execute their playbook for a chance to send the Lakers packing. The Silver and Black didn’t score a single basket during what the league defines as “clutch” (separated by five points in the final five minutes of regulation). However, they held Los Angeles to four points in five minutes and watched Jakob Poeltl go 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to seal the deal with the Purple and Gold within striking distance. This clutch performance isn’t necessarily something for San Antonio to write home about, though it was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for a team still learning how to win.