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 10: After a wild first quarter of the season, the Spurs have settled into a rhythm and seem to be finding their niche as a bottom five team in the NBA.
It’s nice to finally be able to watch the Spurs again and expect to see them be competitive in every game and, for the most part, beat the teams they’re expected to beat. While this week featured games against four superior teams record-wise, they gave the home crowd two nice wins plus a thrilling loss to close out 2022, with the only disappointment coming via a fourth quarter collapse in OKC.
The Spurs began the week at home against the Jazz, who started the season as one of the surprise teams in the league but have come back down to earth a bit with a near-.500 record, still in play-in position. The Spurs led nearly wire-to-wire, and even though they allowed the Jazz to make it a little interesting down the stretch in the fourth quarter, it never felt like they were truly in danger of losing.
Next was a quick road trip to OKC, where despite never leading after the first quarter, they kept things close and were only down by two heading into the fourth quarter. However, perhaps tired from being on a back-to-back, they completely fell apart as the Thunder hit their first eight threes of the quarter, and what was a close game turned into a blowout loss.
Returning home for the final two games of 2022, the Spurs started off by treating a middling Knicks club the same way they did the Jazz: by pulling away early and never letting up, surviving a 41-point game from Julius Randall and 36 from Immanual Quickley with a full team effort, led by 30 points from Keldon Johnson and a career-high 23 from Romeo Langford.
Finally, the NBA star of the week in Luka Doncic came to town. Having just posted the first ever 60-20-10 stat line in NBA history, fans probably weren’t expecting a close game on New Year’s Eve. For a while it looked like it was going to be a comfortable Mavs win thanks to another yawner 51 points from Doncic and getting out to a 17-point lead in the third quarter. However, the Spurs refused to go down easily, and fought all the way back within a point with a chance to tie or take the lead multiple times but had too many flubs in the final minute, the last being a Tre Jones missed free throw in the final seconds, and the Mavs were able to hold on for the one-point win.
There’s probably be no catching Detroit with all their injuries and shelving their top players for the season, and Charlotte’s fortunes have not turned around since the return of LaMelo Ball (the Spurs can probably kiss their top-16 protected pick goodbye). So that leaves the coveted third spot that shares the top odds for the top four spots up for grabs, and two wins over the Rockets have a put two-game gap between them and the Spurs.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com — 27 (last week: 28)
OffRtg: 110.3 (26) DefRtg: 118.9 (30) NetRtg: -8.6 (30) Pace: 101.1 (10)
The Spurs remain the team whose record most belies their point differential, which is that of a team that’s 8-28. Their 24 losses have come by an average of 17.0 points, while their 12 wins have been by an average of 8.1. They’ve played the fewest clutch games in the league (12), but they have lost some close ones. And on Saturday, they almost got their first win in a game they trailed by double-digits. They came back against Dallas from a 17-point deficit (it was 10 after the third quarter), only to come up short in the final minute. Tre Jones (who’s eighth in assist/turnover ratio) committed a last-minute turnover, Jeremy Sochan missed a contested layup on a fast break for the lead, and Jones missed a free throw for the tie after successfully pulling off the intentional-miss move.
While most of their losses haven’t been close, with the Sochan miss, the Spurs are one of two teams — the Rockets (0-for-9) are the other — that haven’t made a shot (they’re 0-for-5) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. They also remain both the only winless team (they’re 0-22) in games they trailed by 10 points or more and the only winless team (they’re 0-20) in games they trailed after the third quarter. Even with the near-comeback against Dallas, they’ve been outscored by 19.3 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, by far the worst mark for any team in any period (next worse is their own minus-14.4 per 100 mark in the first).
The Spurs did get two single-digit wins last week, outscoring the Jazz and Knicks by 46 points (102-56) in the restricted area over those two games. They had been outscored by 6.6 per game in the restricted area (the league’s second worst discrepancy) prior to that.
They’re just two games into a stretch where they’re playing 12 of 13 against teams currently over .500, with another game against the Knicks on Wednesday. The Spurs have as many wins (they’re 6-15) against that group as they do against the other 12 teams currently below .500 (6-9).
Zach Harper, The Athletic — 27 (last week: 27)
New Year’s resolution: Make sure they end up with a 14.0 percent chance for the top pick. We don’t need to get cute about what the Spurs need to do to get back to their expected level of excellence during their run with Gregg Popovich. You need the willing star to restore that old Spurs standard.
Enzo Flojo, Clutch Points — 27 (last week: 28)
It was a pretty decent Week 11 for the Spurs, considering everything. Wins over the Jazz and Knicks were pleasant surprises to temper losses to the Thunder and Mavs. Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson have surely boosted their stock as well. Meanwhile, big man Jakob Poeltl might be on the move soon, if trade rumors come to fruition.
Prediction: 2-2 — 2023 promises to open just as interestingly as 2022 ended for the Spurs. With the week bookended by matchups with the two best teams in the NBA — yes, after all the early drama and disappointment, the Nets have won 11 straight and risen all the way up to the second seed in the East — that looks like two likely losses. (At least we’ll finally get Derrick White’s tribute video when Boston visits!) But the middle of the week features a couple of winning opportunities, with a Knicks team the Spurs just comfortably beat and the league-worst Pistons.