Let us begin at the end. With the Spurs up 117-116 and a shade over 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Serge Ibaka missed a free throw that could have tied the game and DeMar DeRozan pulled down a difficult, contested rebound.
As DeRozan brought the ball up the court, the Raptors were obviously going to pressure the basketball and eventually foul if they couldn’t create a turnover. Here’s what DeRozan had to work with as he advanced the ball against Kawhi Leonard:
The most glaring mistake the Spurs made after DeRozan corralled the rebound was not giving him additional help in the backcourt in order to advance the ball. As you can see, Patty Mills is trying to signal to Marco Belinelli to have him stay in the backcourt. Unfortunately, it was too late — and, really, it was Mills’ job as the point guard to be back there.
Mills doesn’t have true point guard instincts — mostly because he never really had to play a classic style of point guard while playing all those years with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker around — and it was costly here. Mills should have been in the backcourt; being in no man’s land allowed Kyle Lowry to leave him and go double-team DeRozan. Belinelli also deserves some blame for not recognizing the predicament DeRozan was in.
DeRozan and Pop don’t get away scot-free, either. DeRozan had one of the greatest open court thieves in basketball history bearing down on him. Add in a looming double-team and he obviously needed to get rid of the ball. Pop, in hindsight, should have called timeout after DeRozan grabbed the rebound. The Spurs didn’t have enough ballhandling on the court to risk advancing the ball.
The final offensive play was just as disappointing. DeRozan was isolated against Danny Green with the whole strongside of the court cleared. And while Spurs fans know how great of a perimeter defender Green has been for years, DeRozan actually did a great job of creating daylight.
DeRozan needed to get a shot off in that situation. He had a clear step on Green. The only help defender in the area was Ibaka, however LaMarcus Aldridge gets a layup if he goes to help. If DeRozan didn’t think he could have gotten to the rim, a short jumper right there is the right play. Even if he misses, with nearly eight seconds remaining, the Spurs can foul and get another crack at it.
Instead, DeRozan passes it to Davis Bertans. And while Bertans has worked on his off-the-dribble moves, they’re still a work in progress. Rather than force up a difficult jumper, Bertans should have either passed it back right away to DeRozan in the post, passed it to DeRozan after he drove and drew a double-team, or spotted Mills wide open on the other side of the court.
Tough loss. The Spurs battled the Raptors extremely well all night long until the ill-timed collapse late in the game. But considering how great Toronto has been at home and how bad San Antonio has been on the road, the fact that the game was close has to be considered a step in the right direction for the Spurs.
There were a lot of bright spots for the good guys. DeRozan played very well. Defensively, his help-defense was as good as we’ve seen it all season. His man-to-man defense wasn’t as strong but he competed. Offensively, he took smart shots, played within the offense and wasn’t bashful about seeking contact when going to the rim. Scoring 23 points on 12 shot attempts was outstanding work. That said, DeRozan’s best work came when he found open three-point shooters when the defense collapsed on him.
Aldridge was battling an illness and could be seen coughing throughout the game. But he ran the court hard, played physically and managed to be an asset despite not being 100% healthy. Derrick White was back in the lineup after being away for three weeks with a heel injury and was on a minute restriction. After an extremely slow start, he found a rhythm in the fourth quarter and had a very good stretch to help give the Spurs a chance to win.
Belinelli and Mills both played exactly how San Antonio needed them to play. They were aggressive with their shot-selection yet remained under control. They gave the squad an energy lift when they hit the floor, made plays for teammates and their defense was actually decent. In fact, both spent a bit of time on Leonard (Mills especially) and did much better than I could have ever expected.
Jakob Poeltl put together one of his better games of the season. Offensively, he was rolling with authority to the rim, setting great screens and playing with toughness in the paint. Defensively, his rebounding was outstanding and he was challenging shots all over the court. Since coming to San Antonio, Poeltl’s shot-blocking rate has dropped quite a bit. However, in his return to Toronto, the Austrian bigman flashed his vast potential in that area.
Bertans is another player who did well. His perimeter defense was a little bit looser than usual but he was effective enough on that end, especially because he was physical in the paint. Offensively, Bertans might have pulled the trigger on a few bad shots but the spacing he provided was extremely valuable. With him, he’s such a good shooter than it’s difficult to be angry at any of his attempts.
Rudy Gay did a whole lot right. He bailed the Spurs out on a handful of occasions when the offense started to sputter and Gay created something out of nothing. Defensively, he looked slow at times against the length and speed of the Raptors but he was actively challenging shots and led the team with ten rebounds.
Why did Gay only play 24 minutes despite his production? Spacing, or the lack thereof. When Gay was on the court, his man (usually the uber lanky Pascal Siakam) was able to keep two feet in the lane to muck up offensive possession for the Spurs.
While Gay is a much improved three-point shooter, he’s never going to space the court like Bertans. If a team gives Bertans room, his release is so high and so fast that the opponent can’t recover in time. Gay has a slower release, which allows teams to play off of him and still challenge his shot.
To Gay’s credit, though, he did make the Raptors pay in emphatic fashion for giving him room on this play:
Bryn Forbes was probably the only player on the Spurs who should have been disappointed in how he played. And even he had some good passes and made a few plays off the dribble. However, he hit only 1-of-6 three-pointers and played a lot of bad defense.
While his individual defense wasn’t, Forbes really struggled defending three-point shooters. On this play, for example, he was so unaware of his surroundings that he physically couldn’t offer help when the Raptors made a simple pass:
On this play, I have no idea what Forbes was thinking. Siakam was posting up on Poeltl, which is actually an advantageous matchup for the Spurs and it required no help. But, for reasons unknown, Forbes double-teams off of Lowry to give up a wide open three-pointer to a very good three-point shooter. The bench can’t hide their disappointment in Forbes decision.
All in all, the Spurs played well. They had a chance to tally perhaps their best win of the season but came up just short. However, if they can sustain that level of play for the duration of the season, San Antonio will easily extend their playoff streak.