The Spurs will go into the All-Star break on a 14-game losing streak. After a solid start and several attempts to get back in it after the Hornets built a lead, San Antonio simply couldn’t muster the energy for a true comeback, falling 120-110 in Charlotte.
The Spurs simply looked more ready to play than a lackadaisical Hornets team early. The turnovers quickly piled up for the home team and the defense was soft and unfocused on the other end, with San Antonio finding open shots on backdoor cuts and post-ups. LaMelo Ball was the first of Charlotte’s players to find his rhythm and with a couple of threes and some good passes provided some life to an offense that desperately needed it to prevent the Silver and Black from creating a big gap. As the benches checked in, however, the Spurs’ second unit’s understandable lack of cohesion made them look a little lost. The Hornets were getting open threes and free throws, as Pop left an all-sub unit out there while Steve Clifford picked a shorter rotation. In the end, it was all tied up after one.
With Malaki Branham, Keldon Johnson and Zach Collins still on the bench to start the second, the Spurs’ offense struggled and the Hornets capitalized to carve out a small lead. The only way San Antonio was scoring was by turning defense into fastbreak opportunities. Eventually Pop sent the rest of the starters back in and they stabilized the attack. Things went back to being even and the two opponents would trade buckets and leads for a while. Pop still experimented more than Clifford with his rotations, including some Dominick Barlow at center minutes, but neither team was finding the right combinations to pull away. A three by Bryce McGowens with eight seconds to go broke the parity that characterized most of the first half, sending the Hornets into the break up three.
The second half didn’t start auspiciously for San Antonio, as a missed shot resulted in a fastbreak bucket for the Hornets and a timeout from Gregg Popovich, who seemed committed to trying to get the win. Unfortunately, the effect of the gesture wore off quickly, as Charlotte got a double-digit lead to take control of the matchup in the following minutes. As they typically do, the Spurs fought back but the Hornets didn’t panic. Pop avoided all bench units in the second half, but some bad turnovers and misses torpedoed the offense for about two minutes, giving the home team a buffer they could use to remain in front even after a good closing of the quarter that featured a 7-0 run at one point. San Antonio was in it, but it was going to take better execution and more consistency on defense to finally snap the losing streak.
Alas, it didn’t happen. The Spurs had their opportunities, as they tried and often succeeded to match a Hornets’ mini runs with one of their own, but they lacked the firepower to truly mount a comeback. Despite some questionable decision-making by LaMelo Ball late, the Spurs, who entered 0-41 when trailing by double-digits, ended up losing once again after getting themselves in a hole. Questionable calls by the officials and foul trouble for Zach Collins didn’t help, and neither did a monster night for the Hornets’ centers while protecting the rim, but in the end it came down to getting stops and baskets when needed and the Hornets were simply better at both on Wednesday.
- Is it time to reassess how high Malaki Branham’s ceiling really is? It seems premature to do so, but he just keeps putting together efficient shooting nights. Against the Hornets he finished with 23 points on 14 shots and had some great backdoor cuts to go with his silky jumper and solid handles. It’s better to not be prisoners of the moment and give him time to develop slowly, but he’s really been impressive lately.
- The other rookies didn’t do well. Jeremy Sochan finished with six points in 12 shots and three turnovers and Blake Wesley had just one point and one assist in 15 minutes while fouling four times. Wesley’s assist was a beauty, thought, and Sochan did Sochan things on defense, so no need to worry about either.
- Instead of talking about Keldon Johnson’s five misses in six attempts from beyond the arc, it might be better to focus on his improved ability to get the line. Johnson had nine attempts from the charity stripe on Monday and is averaging over five a game this season after only going to the line about three times a game last year. His outside shot not falling is a concern, but he’s still finding ways to put points on the board for his team.
- The newly signed Charles Bassey missed a bunch of close shots, but he finished with 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks in his 14 minutes. He couldn’t really compete with the athleticism and length of the Hornets’ bigs, but he always plays with a high motor.
- Matt Bonner was the guest analyst and he told the most Matt Bonner anecdote ever. When asked about what he bought with his first big contract he first said bonds, but then confessed he got a $60 watch that was also a universal remote he used to change the channel at sports bars as a prank. Bonner is a gem.
Play of the night
The Spurs had 24 assists for the game with no one logging more than five and seven players having at least two. This season is about building good habits and it’s good to see this version of the team is willing to move the ball.
Next game: at Mavericks on Thursday, Feb 23
Right after the All-Star break the Spurs will start the second leg of the Rodeo Road Trip with a visit to Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving and the Mavs.