The San Antonio Spurs fell to the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, succumbing to another blowout loss as their well-documented defensive struggles reared their hideous head. Although the youngest roster of the Gregg Popovich era has been no stranger to underperforming on the road this season, their second-half collapse was particularly jarring.
The Silver and Black were competitive for most of the game, maintaining a single-possession deficit with their Western Conference opponent until a Damian Lillard dunk with 4:40 left in the third frame opened the seal for an onslaught of points. From there, the Blazers picked apart San Antonio, sending them 19 games under .500 for the first time since 1997.
- Jeremy Sochan has displayed tangible development in several areas over the last month, with numbers that line up with the eye test. The 19-year-old combo forward averaged 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on .455/.174/.458 shooting splits in his first 23 games with the Spurs. In the 18 contests since switching to a one-handed free throw, he has increased those numbers to 11.9 points, 5.9 boards, and 2.4 assists while becoming a more efficient complementary scorer (.469/.351/.745). That expeditious maturation as a basketball player was front and center versus the Blazers on Monday night, providing fans a beacon of optimism to hold onto amid another frustrating blowout loss. Sochan got to the rim as a pick-and-roll ball handler with a well-executed crossover on a smaller defender, nailed a couple of catch-and-shoot threes, and earned eight trips to the charity stripe by leaning into contact on his drives. Perhaps the most impressive offensive flash came on a second-quarter post-up, where he spun away from a dig and delivered a one-handed assist along the baseline with a hook pass around the weakside helper that hit Josh Richardson perfectly in his shooting pocket.
- The Spurs might possess one of the worst defenses in recent memory, and while that might sound harsh, decades of data only substantiate that claim. San Antonio has a 120.4 defensive rating (worst all-time), and they allow their opponents to shoot 50.9% from the field (17th-worst all-time) and 40.2% from three (third-worst all-time). Although you can chalk up most of their struggles to young players navigating through the growing pains of learning a brand-new system, some of their mistakes are flat-out headscratchers. Heaps of missed rotations, miscommunications in transition, ill-advised switches, unnecessary gambles, overzealous reaching, late closeouts, and ball-watching culminated in 147 points for the Blazers, a season-worst mark for the Silver and Black. Gregg Popovich has a handful of excellent stoppers like Jakob Poeltl, Romeo Langford, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jeremy Sochan. But individuals can only have so much impact within the scheme of a team defense if the other pieces are undisciplined. Despite failing to make much progress in this department, the Spurs still have 35 games left on their schedule to instill better practices in their youngsters.
- Damian Lillard dominated the Spurs for 37 points and 12 assists on 63.2% shooting in 31 minutes of action, making superhuman feats of long-range scoring seem effortless. The six-time All-Star maneuvered through traffic for one-handed slams, drained seven three-pointers off a medley of pull-ups, dribble handoffs, and catch-and-shoot attempts, and leveraged his immense gravity to generate openings for his teammates. Even when San Antonio chased Lillard off the perimeter, he used his physicality and slick footwork to get to the charity stripe. The 32-year-old point guard has the uncanny ability to self-create something exceptional out of nothing, which served as a stark reminder that superstars are the currency of success in the NBA. Generational players still need the right ancillary talent to bring everything together, but without a franchise cornerstone, you’re unlikely to make much noise in this league. PATFO are still searching for an heir to the throne Kawhi Leonard vamoosed a half-decade ago. And each loss is another step towards stacking the lottery odds in their favor for landing a once-in-a-lifetime prospect like Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson.