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 Spursâ€”going back before the current six game losing streakâ€”has been marked by the same kind ofÂ systemicÂ 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,Â especiallyÂ late.
This is strange, considering Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan scored 31, 23, and 23 respectively. Â 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,Â beginningÂ 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. Â 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 thatÂ 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?