Insanity is doing the same thing again and again, while expecting a different result. Perhaps that’s why so many needed to touch grass and ground themselves after the Spurs 120-108 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. Even with an 17-point lead at halftime, many, myself included, were not about to fall for the old familiar trick.
In the first half the San Antonio Spurs were attacking. The young team looked to be the aggressors, and had the injury-riddled Grizzlies on the ropes. But nothing is so easy with this San Antonio team. In the second half, Memphis punked the Spurs. Outscoring them in the paint 56-38 over the entire game. Jaren Jackson Jr. got to the paint at will on his way to a 27-point night. When the Spurs stopped getting the calls they got in the first half (20 of them, to be exact) they folded under the Grizzlies pressure.
As soon as the fourth quarter started, you could write up exactly what was going to happen. The Spurs offense went stagnant and the Grizzlies charged ahead to an 18-0 run to flip a 7-point deficit to a 10-point lead. Here is how they did it:
- A Ziaire Williams technical free throw, followed by two Jackson Jr. free throws (96-99 SA)
- Two Williams free throws (98-99 SA)
- Bismack Biyombo and-1 layup, but he misses the free throw (100-99 MEM)
- Desmond Bane mid-range (102-99 MEM)
- Santi Aldama 8-footer (104-99 MEM)
- Jackson Jr. driving layup (106-99 MEM)
- Biyombo dunk (108-99 MEM)
- Williams three off a kick out from Biyombo (111-99 MEM)
Almost everything happened at the basket. The Grizzlies took advantage of a Spurs squad that looked shaken up. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. When San Antonio gets punched in the mouth, it’s rare to see them respond with force. We saw it in Phoenix once, but that feels like a different time and perhaps even a different team from where we stand now.
After eight-losses that have been either blowouts or blown leads, clearly something needs to change. Whether it’s on the strategy of the coaching staff, or the mentality of the players. What is currently happening does not work. Perhaps blowing a big lead to the team with the worst record in the league, who are down a few starters, will help the Silver and Black wake up and turn it around.
- It seems there are two major things this team needs offensively. One is consistent rim pressure from it’s guards. With Jeremy Sochan at the point, it’s mostly come from Keldon Johnson drives and cuts, or Zach Collins post touches. When Tre Jones or Malaki Branham are in the game, you see a bit more pick and roll, or those two curling off screens to get into the paint. I am neutral on the whole “point Sochan” experiment (more on that in a second,) but it does seem like he would be best used taking smaller defenders into the post, or cutting off-ball, where he’s been so effective. Secondly, they need consistent shotmaking on the perimeter. They are starting to shoot the ball better from deep, but having a player or two who can consistently punish defenses with their on-ball creation would increase efficiency greatly. Devin Vassell has shown glimpses of that. They need him healthy, and they need him to do it consistently.
- On the “point Sochan” issue. I don’t inherently see a problem in developing his on-ball skills. But what makes him such an intriguing piece is his secondary creation, cutting instincts, athletic finishing and all of a sudden, a developing three-point shot. Sochan is shooting 69.2% on catch and shoot threes! Yet he’s only spotting up off-ball on 16.2% of his possessions (per Synergy.) In those possessions, the Spurs are scoring 1.63 points per possessions, which is in the 99th percentile in the NBA. Seems like good usage! As a pick and roll ball-handler, the Spurs are scoring 0.410 PPP, 5th percentile in the NBA. But he’s doing it on 23.4% of his possessions. It seems that the Spurs are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s okay to have Sochan bring it up the floor and guard opposing scoring guards, but they should also put him in positions where he can thrive more often.
- Victor Wembanyama had an impactful defensive game. Having 8 blocks will jump off the page obviously, but his length and instincts are already causing big problems for defenses. One multiple possessions, he deterred the pick and roll ball handler, and still was able to recover to the roll man. He’s a one-man PnR defense at 19-years-old. Crazy stuff. You’d like to see him stop jumping on pump fakes so much. Other than that, early returns have been as advertised for the rookie.
- I am interested in seeing when the Spurs go back to running some good sets for Wembanyama to put him in positions to succeed. They’ve almost completely abandoned the cross screen into high low action with he and Collins to get good looks. We haven’t seen them run as much Milwaukee action to get him touches in the post. They seem adverse to putting him in the pick and roll (although he’s running more lately.) Even coming off handoffs as a shooter has been a good play for them, that they aren’t running too often. I understand wanting to see what he can do without structure, but running some effective action for him could help the scoring efficiency that has taken a dip on this losing streak.
- This isn’t a huge story, but it seems the backup center position may be heading towards a competition. Charles Bassey is giving up some minutes to Sandro Mamukelashvili over the last two games. Mamu has given them some needed offensive versatility off the bench. Heck, Popovich even gave Dominick Barlow a shot against Memphis. The Spurs have bigger fish to fry, but watch the backup-five rotation carefully over the next few games.
- A true “old-school Popovich” moment was caught on hot mic on Saturday. When Collins picked up his fifth foul, and subsequently received a technical for complaining about said call, the broadcast picked up Pop telling the center, “are you happy now? Sit your ass down.” I loved it. The team needs some edge. Hopefully we see more of it going forward.