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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Lakers

The Spurs fought back in the fourth quarter, but the same issues cost them another game.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

For some reason, I spent yesterday afternoon slightly optimistic about this game. I don’t know why; the Spurs have given fans zero reason to believe they’ll win another game anytime soon, with only the law of averages working in their favor right now, but I am a naturally optimistic person and sometimes just can’t help myself. Maybe it was because LeBron James would be out, and that would be the “break” they needed (because absolutely nothing else is going their way).

They almost got another break on the Lakers’ very first offensive possession when Anthony Davis twisted his ankle after attempting a layup. He stayed down for a minute, but as Victor Webamyana did a few nights earlier, he showed resiliency, got up, and kept playing. Good. Davis has had some horrible luck with injuries the last few years, and while I said in yesterday’s preview that the Spurs would take any break they could get, that isn’t the type you want. You’ll take 39-year-old LeBron needing a breather on a SEGABABA after such a crazy, emotional weekend — winning the inaugural In-Season Tournament and watching his son, Bronny, return to play for USC after suffering from cardiac arrest just five months ago — but no one wants to see another player go down with a noncontact injury. I’m glad AD was okay and kept playing.

Back to the Spurs, it didn’t take long into the game for my optimism to wane again. This team continues to just look lost at times. Usually, they at least play a strong first half at home (and you only have to start worrying in the second half), but they just seemed dejected at times. The starters in particular played with seemingly no sense of urgency before Gregg Popovich did a full lineup change, and the Lakers slowly, but surely, built their lead out to 20 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

I was already taking notes for what I wanted to say here, and I was ready to eviscerate them. They showcased some of the laziest passing I’ve ever seen, with the Lakers effortlessly picking off several nonchalant passes in transition and the half-court to just add to the lead. No one outside of Wemby was showing any sense of urgency, and even then, he too had his share of mistakes and carelessness, be it poor shot selection, passing or sticking his hand in the cookie jar instead of playing vertical defense.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Keldon Johnson woke up and led the charge back against a stunned Lakers team. I learned several weeks ago to refuse to allow myself to believe until the clock struck zero and the Spurs were on top, but even when the Spurs tried to give it back to the Lakers — such as one last lazy pass inside the final 1:30 to give the Lakers a seven-point lead — they kept fighting back. Fourth-quarter Wemby made a return with two huge threes, and they came one missed free throw from him away from tying things up with 21 seconds left. Get those three points back, and maybe things are different.

Was last night’s outcome reason enough to be optimistic going forward? I don’t know. It seems like a different team shows up game-to-game and even quarter-to-quarter, but it’s never the “good” Spurs for long enough or at the right times to win in the end. I’d like to think that fourth quarter was enough of a confidence booster and learning experience that they will carry that effort into the next game, but there’s no telling. At this point, all we can do is the only thing we’ve been doing for the last month: hope that the next game will be the one.

Takeaways

  • What the basketball gods giveth in one game, they take away in another. Hold the Timberwolves and Rockets to well below their season averages? Okay, you can’t score either. Go off offensively against the Hawks, Bulls and Lakers? Goodbye, defense. Oh, you’re hitting threes now? No more twos for you. Actually win the second half by double-digits? Cool, not only do you not get first-half double-digit lead this time, but you’ll actually lose it by more. The Spurs’ inability to put together a solid game on both sides of the ball for an extended period of time is why they’re on such a long losing streak, and it’s truly crazy how things keep working out this way.
  • Wemby had a very good game, scoring 30 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, blocking 6 shots and coming up big in the clutch, but he also got quite the lesson from a veteran Davis, who scored 37 points of his own, used his weight to bully his way down low, and took advantage of Wemby reaching for the ball a few times instead of keeping his hands up to draw fouls, which resulted in his first ever foul-out. These are the best type of games for him to learn and grow, and hopefully he takes the lessons learned into Friday’s game against the same opponent.
  • The NBA TV announcing crew of Channing Frye and Greg Anthony probably had the best explanation yet for why these Spurs are struggling so badly: you simply can’t have a 19-year old rookie as your best player and expect to succeed because that’s too much pressure. It’s the same reason LeBron James and Kevin Durant had almost equally as rough records to start their rookie seasons. Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell are about as good as Wemby — Vassell should probably be better, but has been inconsistent — but that’s not good enough. Wemby should be their best player in the future, but he needs more help while he’s still growing and learning.