clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Bulls

A record-setting loss in a winnable game.

Chicago Bulls v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs have now lost 16-games in a row after losing 121-112 to the Chicago Bulls on Friday night. This ties the franchise record that was set by the 2022-23 team. It was done in familiar fashion. The Spurs built a double-digit lead in the first half, only for it to be wiped away by a disastrous third quarter in which they were outscored 35-20.

The Spurs are now 1-9 when leading by 10 or more points this season. Last years squad was 6-4 when up 10 or more, despite losing 22-games. The expectations for this team were higher than last year’s squad, and yet the Spurs have not been able to figure out how to win over the last month and some change.

While it’s not the the only reason for the team’s struggles, the third quarter (or turd quarter as I call it) is a massive problem. There have been so many games over the course of the losing streak where the Spurs have come out flat in the second half, gone through an offensive drought, and given up a huge lead. Turnovers, missing open shots, giving up rebounds, and allowing open three pointers have all been staples of these “turd quarters.”

I think the frustration from fans on these losses isn’t simply the fact that the team is losing – but that they are doing it in the same way, night after night, and not improving. This team was never going to compete for a playoff spot this season, they are still young and have made transactions like a rebuilding team. The hope was with Victor Wembanyama on the team, they would gradually improve this year. Unfortunately, we’re learning that development is not linear.

Takeaways

  • As I watched Torrey Craig dominate the Spurs in the fourth quarter, I wondered to myself if San Antonio has anyone on their roster with as much dog in them as the veteran wing. Sure, the five three-pointers will stick out on the stat sheet. But he was everywhere defensively too. Pressuring the basketball, getting after loose balls – he also had two steals. You don’t see that type of effort and toughness from a lot of the young Spurs. Tre Jones will pressure the ball and be a pest, and guys like Cedi Osman certainly play hard. But who is going to step up and lead this team by example with hard-nosed play?
  • Speaking of which, giving up 24 offensive rebounds is an insane stat. That’s something you might not even see at the high school level. Nikola Vucevic grabbed 10 of those 24 and Andre Drummond grabbed 6. The other boards came from perimeter players who no one put a body on. I don’t like to judge the effort of professional athletes because often times it’s lazy analysis... but 24 offensive rebounds is 24 offensive rebounds. It’s a hustle stat, and the Spurs failed to win that battle.
  • The biggest difference for Chicago’s offense in the second half is they actually started to hit open shots. The Bulls went 4-14 from three in the first half, but finished the game 13-28 from deep. They got good looks in the first half but just couldn’t convert. The Spurs defense has struggled to contain the three point line this season. When Craig got hot in the second half, there was almost no resistance on the perimeter until it was too late. In a league increasingly focused on getting shots from range, San Antonio must improve at defending the three.
  • Okay, but there were some bright spots from the Spurs loss. Namely the play of Wembanyama. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but becoming the youngest player to post a 20-20 game is something to be proud of. He grabbed 7 offensive boards by tipping the ball up and grabbing it over a defender. His patience defensively improved in real time. Vucevic fooled him on a few fakes, but he quickly learned and stopped falling for them on his way to 4 blocks. He looked much more comfortable at the rim on offense (where you would still like him to get the ball more.) Eventually the three-point shot is going to get there. It’s too smooth of a jumper for him to go this cold for so long.
  • Keldon Johnson continues to be one of the best players night after night, yet you will still see Spurs Twitters putting him in the trade machine after every game. He’s now shooting 37.8% from three after struggling from deep last year. Against Chicago he hit 6 of his 11 threes on the way to a 20 point, 5 assist performance. It’s great he’s finding success from deep, but what makes him such a good offensive player is his ability to get paint touches. I would really like to see him be more aggressive in those third quarter droughts.
  • Speaking of aggression, it wasn’t his best night, but there were some positive signs from Devin Vassell. He was ice cold shooting the basketball, which happens from time to time for shooters (I mean, look at DeMar DeRozan’s stat line.) So he started to aggressively drive more. We’ve seen some strong, athletic drives to the paint in the last two games from Vassell. It’s a part of his game that is improving, and will help him become a more well-rounded scorer.
  • The bench unit was good against Chicago. Jones, Doug McDermott and Zach Collins all performed well on Friday. Gregg Popovich has made it abundantly clear that they do not view Jones as a starting point guard (especially with the Spurs 3rd starting lineup change that didn’t include him.) He’s making the best of his bench role. He had 18 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds and hit two deep balls. Collins was a great change of pace big man with Wembanyama out. Hit a few threes, and banged inside on his way to 12 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. McDermott is an absolute flamethrower off the bench with his movement shooting. It’s not likely that a rebuilding team like the Spurs need someone like that, but if he continues to shoot a high percentage, he could net them some draft capital from a contender in need of shooting at the trade deadline.