The Spurs being the youngest team in the league is going to keep getting pointed out all season long because it’s true, but it doesn’t make their repeated mistakes any less frustrating. In a pattern that has become all too familiar to the Frost Bank Center crowd, the Spurs started strong (something they have done much better at home than on the road), built a double-digit lead, and then proceeded to throw it away by taking their foot off the gas and getting sloppy with the ball.
Facing a shorthanded Miami Heat team, which was missing Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro, and on the second night of a back-to-back, the Spurs played swarming defense and were patient looking for the right shots early, finishing the first quarter up 29-15 while the Heat generally looked asleep at the wheel. They held Miami to just 6 field goals while hitting 12 of their own, including 3 threes.
The Spurs stretched the lead to 19 a couple of times in the second quarter, both on Malaki Branham threes, but as has been the case all season, they just couldn’t maintain the level of play that got them there. After leading 42-24, the Spurs started settling for jumpers while the Heat woke up on both ends and went on a 17-0 run in a matter of minutes to get back within one before a Doug McDermott three and Jeremy Sochan jumper briefly stopped the bleeding. Jimmy Butler later tied things up at 47 apiece before the Spurs scored six of the final nine points of the quarter for a 53-50 halftime lead.
Then came the dreaded third quarter, which has often been the one that either makes or breaks the Spurs. Consecutive threes from Sochan and Keldon Johnson a few minutes in briefly get the lead back to double digits at 69-59, but again the Heat responded with an 18-5 run to retake the lead for the first time since the opening bucket of the game. Still, the Spurs didn’t fold and responded back. They survived a 12-point spurt from Kevin Love in the final three minutes of the quarter with threes from Victor Wembanyama, Cedi Osman and a four-point play from Branham and entered the final frame up 84-82. Even though they technically lost the quarter by a point, compared to recent third quarter performances, they’ll take it.
The Spurs then went on an 11-2 run to start fourth quarter and again stretched the lead to double figures, and it felt like maybe they had weathered the storm and were going to say, “not tonight”. Alas, just like the rest of the game, the Heat had a response. They went on a 13-2 run to retake the lead with under four minutes left as the Spurs once again got sloppy and made things hard for themselves on offense. Vassell hit a tough contested three to briefly regain the lead, and they traded buckets for a few minutes before former Spur Josh Richardson scored five straight points to kick off a 7-0 Miami run to get them up by six with 31 seconds left and hand the Spurs their fifth straight loss, 113-118.
- A big factor that got the Heat back into the game in the second quarter was free throw shooting, with a 14-6 advantage in attempts for the first half. And it wasn’t one of those cases where it felt like the refs were calling the game different for both teams, but more indicative of type of shots each team generated. While the Heat were attacking the paint, the Spurs were settling for jumpers, and once they stopped falling, that’s when the Heat went on their run(s). For the game as a whole, the Heat outscored the Spurs 28-10 at the line, which is always a tough stat to overcome.
- After a big night on Friday against Minnesota, Wembanyama’s shooting struggles returned. He couldn’t establish himself down low against Bam Adebayo and ended up settling for jumpers most of the night, scoring 18 points on 8-22 shooting but just 2-9 from three. It wasn’t all bad as he hauled in 11 rebounds and dished 7 assists, but he also had 7 turnovers as he got too aggressive with the ball at times. While we don’t want him to settle for jumpers, he also needs to work on not getting too desperate when he’s frustrated, which can lead him to drive too hard and lose ball in crowds. It’s a happy medium that should come to him in time.
- The Spurs would look like an entirely different team right now if they could maintain leads and close out games at home. They have led by double-digits four times at home but lost each time (and yet they only led by as much as 6 in their lone win; OT against the Rockets). If the Spurs had held on for all four of those games, they’d be 7-3 right now instead of 3-7, and everyone would be ecstatic. It’s something that seems simple and shouldn’t be too hard to turnaround, but that’s where the point about them being the youngest team in the league comes back, and patience will be required.
Play of the Game
There some Wemby-lights in his game (when is there not?) and plenty of big shots throughout — it’s work noting that the Spurs were much better from three tonight, hitting 19-44 — but how about a shoutout to a play between two players who will very rarely be a contender for Play of the Game? This beautiful no-look backdoor pass from Charles Bassey to McDermott had fans on their feet early.
Up Next: Tuesday at Oklahoma City Thunder
The Spurs are headed back on the road for game 2 of the In-Season Tournament against Chet Holmgren and the OKC Thunder. Tip-off will be at 6:30 PM CT on TNT. Get ready for a bright blue court and more talk of a budding rivalry between the top two Rookie of the Year candidates.