Houston Rockets 119, San Antonio Spurs 114: The devolution of all things


After the Spurs’ Game 3 loss to the Suns in last year’s playoffs, there was a scene from the locker room that has stuck in my mind. Tim Duncan was sitting on the floor with Gregg Popovich crouching down beside him. Their once great defense had been shredded for a third consecutive game, especially on Steve Nash-led high screen and rolls. The series had come unraveled, and they didn’t have answers.

The recent play of the Spurs—going back before the current six game losing streak—has been marked by the same kind of systemic failure that marked the Suns series. Warning signs began to flash red in the games immediately prior to San Antonio’s blowout losses to the Lakers and the Heat. The Spurs are not playing good basketball right now, and they haven’t for weeks.

The Spurs lost last night’s game for doing all the things that the Spurs are famous for not doing. Careless turnovers, missed rotations, bad shot selection, failure to get back in transition, and poor clock management. It was a nightmare of near, but just missed executions. It was a game punctuated by far too many misfires and not nearly enough well-executed possessions, especially late.

This is strange, considering Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan scored 31, 23, and 23 respectively.  In San Antonio, those lines are typically indicative of good times.

The most symbolic moments of the game came near the end of regulation and at the end of overtime. The Spurs had a three point lead with just under a minute remaining. The Rockets had just scored. Off the inbound, San Antonio threw a series of careless passes, beginning with a lazy pass from Manu Ginobili, that eventuated in a Rockets steal and score.

The other moment came at the end of overtime. The Rockets crossed the timeline with some 20 seconds left to play and the Spurs were in a must foul situation, but the Spurs didn’t foul. Gregg Popovich was hopping red mad on the sidelines, instructing his team to foul, but no one heard him, or they simply ignored his instructions. When the Spurs finally fouled, Pop was so angry that he flung his clipboard to the ground in disgust.

I suspect many Spurs fans reacted in a similar fashion. If not a clipboard, than a beer can or television remote.  The Spurs are having their Don Draper moment. The season started out brilliantly, but one wonders if this Spurs team only loves the beginnings of things.

Every facet of Spurs play has devolved since the season began, and that devolution has been especially apparent lately. Things are ending a mess.

It’s hard to put a finger on went wrong, and when. But I would say this. The Spurs’ strong start had much to do with an emphasis on pushing the pace and scoring points in transition. The team began to drift away from that in their pursuit of “championship defense”. But, you know, they haven’t got there. Their defense is what it is. Passable, but not great. I think we all assumed it would eventually come together, but it hasn’t. The Spurs are closer to an average defensive team than a good one.

The Spurs’ historic ability to get stops was a great insulator. That is, even if San Antonio botched a crucial clock management situation or turned the ball over a little too often in a game, they could still depend on their defense to bail them out. Not anymore. Without that insulation, in-game failures hurt more.

I’m curious to see what this means going forward. Put differently, is the Spurs’ recent play Act II or Act III of this season’s story?


  • Ryan

    @ John T and TD=BE

    First off.. sorry for the late reply on this.. had to work today so here goes…

    My point is this… it doesn’t matter if you’re gonna come out and play hard and show championship level basketball for 44 min if you’re going to quit over the last 4 min. The losing streak occurred because this team took it’s foot off the gas pedal and rather than trying to just close people out early, they settled thinking things were in the bag…

    Earlier this season we won games because guys came out there and laid it all out on the court to win.. the whole year people have been talking how important HCA is, and that we need it. I mention effort because it’s that exactly whats been winning us games and it’s exactly why we had the record we did at the All-Star break. We beat Milwaukee because Manu made the effort to get open and knock that shot down… We beat LA earlier this year by McDyess making the effort to go after a missed shot and tip it in… Those are the small intangibles I’m talking about that win games… competing, wanting to win, effort, and trying… from what I’ve seen over the last 6 games, we’re competing, but when it comes to money time, guys just disappear, no one wants to take a big shot, the offense becomes stagnant, guys quit on defense, and we blow leads. This had everything to do with effort.

    I agree.. some of these guys are probably “trying really hard” but when you watch the games you don’t see that… you see laziness, people giving up on plays, people missing defensive assisgnments, everything that falls into that little gray area where you say to yourself ‘you can’t really coach this” and “maybe the other team was just that good”.

    Trust me when I say this… it’s not an emotional response. Effort is what won us games in the past and it’s going to be effort (and maybe a little luck) that’s going to get us through the playoffs. Losing is fine.. as long as you can honestly say you left it all out on the court, you did your best, and it just wasn’t enough… it’s another when repeatedly make boneheaded and dumbfounded mistakes that leave the fans and coaching staff baffled.


    Sorry bro.. that one WAS a little bit of an emotional response, and I apologize for it coming across in a demeaning way (if it did), but it’s just how I feel and I think maybe alot of others feel. I like your facts, and I like your analysis.. but it’s one thing to come out and say these are the facts, and its another to take those facts, roll them up like a newspaper, and beat the crap out of the rest of us for it. All I’m asking is to stop beating a dead horse… We’re all on the same team here, and we all know what this team lacks, what they excel at, and other things.. All I’m saying is that you don’t have to keep coming back to the same arguements you’ve been making… right or wrong, we heard them all the first 90 times, and there’s nothing we can do about it… the team is set, Pop has his way of doing things… we can bitch about it all we want, but it’s not going to change.

    As I mentioned before.. I like your posts, I like your info, and I like your arguements.. but just tone it down a little… cool?