Sometimes all it takes is one lousy stretch to undo a night of grit and good intentions. For the Spurs, it was a sloppy, uninspired, no-good second period that made all the difference in their 134-128 loss in Portland on Friday.
Finding alternative perspectives comes natural in a losing season, but it doesn’t take much squinting to appreciate what San Antonio put on for anyone who decided to stay up late for Victor Wembanyama-free basketball. They pushed the pace well, including off made baskets. Tre Jones overcame a rolled ankle to put up 14-8-6. Zach Collins couldn’t overcome his but put in plenty of work in his 18 minutes (17 points on 8 of 10 shooting) as the offensive hub. Doug McDermott (6 of 8 from three) became the Human Torch to keep the Spurs in it. Keldon Johnson, seemingly always there when the Spurs need a counterpunch, had 29-7-7 off the bench.
But the Spurs are what they are this season because of what happens when that gust blows the sheet music away and the band forgets how to play. In the Blazers’ 42-point second quarter, recast Spurs point guards lost the ball multiple times in the backcourt. They added three turnovers off inbounds in the first half alone, including at least one coming out of a timeout. They gave up too many wide-open looks from three (and, to Portland’s credit, were punished for it).
From the end of the first quarter when the game was tied to the 7-minute mark of the 3rd, the Spurs were outscored 61 to 35. Credit to them for battling and cutting the deficit to 6 in the final period, chipping away with mini runs and cleaning up the turnovers in the 2nd half.
The bigger picture is, of course, what was mostly out of frame on Friday. 24 hours earlier on the same floor, Wemby reheated all the justification for long-term optimism, and losses like this will continue to be softened when considering the ligaments in Wemby’s right ankle and how far they should be able to take the Spurs in time. Perspective and whatnot.
- The latest on Wemby’s absence here and below:
Pop says it is "mandated" that Victor Wembanyama be on a minutes restriction and not play in back-to-backs for "a couple weeks."— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) December 30, 2023
At that point, Wemby will get another MRI on his ankle and the medical staff will determine if there should be changes to the protocol.
- Dominick Barlow provided some promising moments defensively, moving well on the perimeter and contesting without fouling at the rim. He’s still looking to put it together on the other end.
- The sons of Harvey Grant (Jerami) and Samaki Walker (Jabari) accounted for 52 of Portland’s points. Jabari’s 25 was a new career high and just one point less than father Samaki’s career high.
- The way 3rd overall pick Scoot Henderson can get to the rim and eat up space while on the dribble, it’s pretty exciting to see he also has playmaking like this in his bag. He also hit 3 of 5 threes on the night and looked very much like the league’s other other promising rookie.
DO Y'ALL SEE THE VISION pic.twitter.com/LmNEL1BFeg— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 30, 2023
- The Spurs and Blazers were even after one quarter at 29 a piece, helping SA retain its positive differential in the first period this season. More importantly, the Spurs actually took the 3rd quarter, 38 to 33, by my count the 2nd time that has happened this season.
Play of the Game:
Aggressive attacks like this from Devin Vassell (22 points) remain more of an exception than we would like, but it was exceptional nonetheless.
Next Game: Sunday vs the Celtics
Expect a warm welcome for Derrick White, who’s thriving as a pivotal piece for the contending Celtics.