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Week in Review: Spurs rallies are fun but shouldn’t become the new norm

The Spurs got down in all four games before rallying at some point, but they were only successful once.

San Antonio Spurs v Washington Wizards Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

Welcome to the Week in Review: a Monday feature that looks back at the week that was for the San Antonio Spurs, takes a look at the week ahead, and more. Enjoy!

Week 12: Spurs’ improved play starts translating into wins.

Week 13: 1-3 (8-34, 15th in West) — 99-109 L @ Atlanta Hawks; 98-117 L @ Boston Celtics; 120-124 L @ Charlotte Hornets; 131-127 W @ Washington Wizards

As the Spurs’ level of play continues to rise, so do expectations (if ever so slightly). After a recording a winning record last week, a relatively easy schedule this week presented another opportunity to win at least two games, but the Spurs weren’t quite able to take advantage in large part thanks to the arrival of a new trend: slow starts. After the first half of the season featured fast starts only to blow double-digit leads after halftime, the reverse has started taking place, where they get out to slow start and before rallying in the second half.

Monday’s MLK Day matinee was that to the extreme. After a listless first half performance in Atlanta that saw the Spurs down 35 at halftime, Gregg Popovich took extreme measures coming out of the locker room and benched any starters who hadn’t shown enough effort, namely Devin Vassell, Tre Jones and a scoreless Victor Wembanyama. The move worked, as the new role-player starting lineup responded to the opportunity, and the starters took the message. Upon returning midway through the third quarter, Wemby exploded for 26 second-half points, his teammates followed suit, and they got within six points with under four minutes left before the stunned Hawks recovered just enough to hold on for the win. It ended up being an exciting game but another in a long list of losses featuring the theme “what if the Spurs showed up for more than one half”.

After a scheduled loss in Boston (in which the Spurs also unsurprisingly got down early but didn’t fold easily, making the Celtics keep working in the second half to prevent another rally) the Spurs entered a winnable back-to-back in Charlotte and Washington D.C. In a reverse from recent b2b’s, Wemby chose to sit out the first game, giving a revenge-minded Hornets team a chance after the Spurs had annihilated them just a week before. They succeeded behind big nights from LaMelo Ball and rookie Brandon Miller, but again not before the Spurs made multiple rally attempts, and it was encouraging to see everyone step up in Wemby’s absence, led by 25 points from Keldon Johnson.

Finally, the week ended in the nation’s capital with Wemby back to face his old teammate, Bilal Coulibaly. This time, the Spurs played the better first half but began looking like a team on tired legs in the second, getting down by 11 midway through the fourth quarter. However, the starters had one final push in them, rallying back behind the heroics of Wemby before an unlikely hero emerged to seal the deal. With the Spurs down twice in the final minute, Jeremy Sochan hit a drawn-up three followed by two free throws to give the lead back to the Spurs both times, the latter ultimately being the game-winners. No one would have counted on Sochan to hit either of those shots a year ago, let along both (all three?). His rapid improvement in those categories had gone largely unnoticed so far thanks to the PG experiment, but they were on full display in the Spurs’ only win of the week.

Power Rankings

John Schuhmann, — 28 (last week: 27)

OffRtg: 109.0 (28) DefRtg: 117.8 (25) NetRtg: -8.8 (26) Pace: 102.7 (3)

The Spurs still have a positive point differential in the month of January, and they got their third win of 2024 on Saturday, coming back to beat the Wizards, with Jeremy Sochan hitting the biggest shot of the night.

Three takeaways

1. The Spurs came back from deficits of 10 and 20 points in October. Then they lost 29 straight games in which they trailed by double-digits before coming back from 12 down (with less than five minutes left) in Washington on Sunday. Victor Wembanyama blocked six shots, went past his minutes limit and drained a pick-and-pop 3-pointer to tie the game with a little more than two minutes left. The Jones brothers also traded late buckets as Spurs’ Tre got his first NBA win (in 10 games in which they both played) over Wizards’ Tyus.

2. The Spurs being a much more competent team in 2024 may have something to do with the younger Jones moving into the starting lineup on Jan. 4. He ranks third in total minutes this month, up from seventh through Dec. 31. The Spurs’ two most-used lineups since his first start — their regular starters and a lineup with Keldon Johnson in Julian Champagnie’s place — have outscored their opponents by 17.3 points per 100 possessions in 96 total minutes in that stretch.

3. Those two groups have allowed just 99.5 points per 100 possessions on defense, though that comes with the context that five of the Spurs’ last seven games have come against teams that rank in the bottom eight offensively. Their next two are against teams that rank fifth and fourth on that end of the floor.

The Spurs wrap their five-game trip in Philadelphia on Monday and then begin a seven-game homestand with the Thunder two nights later. Their third of four straight Friday-Saturday back-to-backs is games against the Blazers and Wolves, and it will be interesting to see in which of those two Wembanyama plays (if he’s still limited to just one).

Brett Siegel, Clutch Points — 28 (last week: 26)

Victor Wembanyama continues to impress and has received consideration for the All-Star Game in the fan vote. Whether or not Wemby can make his way to Indianapolis and be an All-Star is now in the hands of the media and NBA players who get to vote. Either way, Wembanyama will probably be at All-Star Weekend either as a spectator or participant in one of the contests.

For the San Antonio Spurs as a whole, this is not a terrible eight-win team. Look, their record is not good and they are not going to be contending for a playoff spot, but the Spurs definitely have talent on their roster. Devin Vassell has a chance to be a really good player for this organization and Tre Jones has shown tremendous growth at the point guard spot.

By the end of the season, it would not be a surprise to see the Spurs move up a handful of spot in the NBA Power Rankings, setting themselves up for future success.

Coming up: Mon. 1/22 @ Philadelphia 76ers; Wed. 1/24 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder; Fri. 1/26 vs. Portland Trail Blazers; Sat. 1/27 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Prediction: 1-3 — The Spurs finish their East coast swing today before heading home for a seven-game homestand ahead of the Rodeo Road Trip. Three of the four games will be tough ones against top three teams in their respective conferences, but home against the Trail Blazers should present a good opportunity for another win, as the Spurs have shown a knack for beating teams in their tier when fully healthy. Speaking of which, that’s the news to watch for this week, as Wemby said he expects the Philly game to be his last on minutes restrictions, so it sounds like the re-examination of his ankle will happen as soon as they get back to San Antonio (and he’s shown zero reason to believe it won’t be clean).