What can you learn from the biggest blowout loss of the season? Is there anything you can take away from a 44-point loss besides frustration, embarrassment or helplessness? This road trip has been a one-way ticket straight to basketball hell.
Over the course of the last-four games San Antonio has lost by a combined 127 points. One hundred... twenty-seven. During that stretch Spurs fans have seen incomplete rosters, complete meltdowns offensively and a lack of defensive fortitude. Any sense of optimism surrounding the club’s fun 6-game home stand has vanished faster than you can say Victor Wembanyama.
There was a glimpse at what success can look like against Boston. The Spurs guards were getting downhill off of screens and handoff from Zach Collins. Devin Vassell was hitting mid range jumpers, making good passing reads in the pick and roll and shooting confidently from deep. He looked like he was poised for a huge night based on the first 6 minutes. Collins was spacing the floor well, and Malaki Branham started to build on his solid performance in Washington. Most importantly, the offense did not turn the ball over in that quarter, a rarity these days!
But the cracks in the armor were there, just waiting for the Celtics to rip them to shreds. The transition defense is bad, and has been bad all season. They gave up 29 fast break points, continually getting punished when Boston pushed the pace. But they didn’t just need to get to the basket in transition. They could get there pretty much any time they wanted to. Boston outscored San Antonio 62-46 in the lane, blowing past the Spurs perimeter defenders in the half court for layups, dump offs and kick outs. Boston made 18 shots from three point range at a 41% clip, and most of them were uncontested.
The Spurs were the inverse of Boston in the final 3 quarters. They turned the ball over, were stagnant on offense and didn’t get to the paint nearly enough. Without Jeremy Sochan and Keldon Johnson, no one on the roster puts consistent pressure on the rim. Tre Jones is good at getting downhill in the pick and roll, but he’s not a strong enough finisher yet. Vassell would rather take a contested step back jumper than get into the paint, and besides Branham, not many of the other Spurs are creative enough off of the bounce to get there themselves. It’s hard to shoot a good percentage without getting into the paint and playing inside out.
But it’s hard to get too upset about the way the team is playing when all of the key pieces aren’t even out there. To be fair, we don’t have the access to know just how injured some of the players are. But using our brains a little bit to piece together some context clues would paint a picture of a team that has more to lose by winning than they do to gain, and are limping to the finish line as a result of it. It’s rational, sure, but it does not inspire much hope – especially when the value of your entire season boils down to a couple of ping pong balls bouncing the right way.
- Zach Collins has been awesome since joining the starting lineup, but Boston put his limitations on display. The Celtics were creative in putting a smaller player like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown or Derrick White on him, then sending a big to double as soon as he caught the ball on the low block. Collins doesn’t have a lot in his low post repertoire outside of a basic jump hook over his left shoulder, so he’s easy to predict down there. He wasn’t great at passing the ball out of the double too, turning the ball over 4 times. Collins isn’t really a back to the basket player, so the Celtics used this weakness to disrupt the offense in the second half on their way to a big run.
- It’s great to see Branham get back on track. He finished with 15 points on pretty efficient 7 of 13 shooting. I’m starting to really like his fit next to Jones. The point guard takes some of the playmaking burden off of him, letting him score on cuts, drives, and mid range pull-ups. Branham still needs to improve his on ball defense (so do pretty much all of the Spurs perimeter defenders) and you hope the spot-up three point shooting gets better. However, he’s shown enough late in the season for Spurs fans to be excited for how he develops this coming offseason.
- Jaylen Brown is special. His shooting ability, strength and speed allow him to score at all levels. This 40 bomb was one of the better games I’ve seen him play. With whispers of unrest with the Celtics organization... could he be one of the next players to ask out of his current situation? If so, would the Spurs have the assets to do a deal like that? It’s probably not a deal that would make sense with their current timeline. But what about a year or two from now? If you hit on this year’s lottery pick, it may make sense. I certainly wouldn’t count out San Antonio with the stash of young talent and draft picks they are building.