Grades: Spurs @ Hawks – Game #66

Ugly game. Neither team played well. Thankfully, the good guys strung together enough competent minutes of basketball in the fourth quarter to escape Atlanta with a 111-104 victory to extend San Antonio’s winning streak to four games.

For the vast majority of the night, the Spurs weren’t playing with enough purpose or intensity. The Hawks, luckily, spent much of the evening getting in their own way. If this game had a soundtrack, it’d be “Entry Of The Gladiators” on repeat. 

Despite the unsightliness, the Spurs will gladly accept a road win. With an overall record of 37-29, San Antonio is only 12-22 away from the friendly confines of the AT&T Center. An road win is indeed a good win.

LaMarcus Aldridge

While LaMarcus Aldridge’s statistics look fantastic, his actual play wasn’t as impressive as his numbers. He settled for fadeaways too easily, didn’t look to take advantage of mismatches often enough and wasn’t running the court as hard as usual. Aldridge wasn’t too active on defense but he was effective guarding the paint. The aforementioned criticism aside, Aldridge’s production was top notch. He scored efficiently and saved his best ball for down the stretch. 
Grade: B+
Summary: Aldridge could have been better but he was still really good. 

DeMar DeRozan

The good: DeMar DeRozan hit at least half of his field goal attempts for the seventh consecutive game. When he looked to pass, his playmaking was quite effective. Defensively, I’d rate him as slightly above average. He fell asleep at times, particularly when navigating around screens, but he was reasonably energetic on that end. The bad: DeRozan let the refs get in his head. He needs to learn how to not let negative emotions cause his play to go into a tailspin. Without mental toughness, he’ll never be a plus playoff performer. Against the Hawks, it’s difficult to say he was much of a difference-maker. Fourteen points on 14 shots and middling defense? Meh. 
Grade: C+
Summary: DeRozan didn’t help a whole lot but he also didn’t hurt the team much. 

Derrick White

Wow. Derrick White put up 18 points, nine assists, six rebounds and six blocks in 29 minutes. As the stats suggest, White was a terror in nearly every facet of the game. Defensively, he was really good against Trae Young and he consistently supplied stellar help-defense, especially in transition. Needless to say, his six blocked shots were a career-high. (White’s timidness to start the season is so very apparent in hindsight. He went 21 games and 433 minutes before his first block of the season. He now has 13 blocks in his last five games.) Offensively, White was masterful. He was deadly in pick-and-rolls and made nearly flawless decisions. His patience, high basketball IQ, sneaky athleticism and ability to hit shots from a variety of angles makes him a handful when he gets it going. The Spurs almost lost the Nuggets game because they took the ball out of his hands. Tonight, the Spurs were able to beat the Hawks because they kept the ball in his hands. With the game tied 91-91 with five a half minutes remaining, White went on to score or assist on the team’s next 12 points during a 12-5 run that gave the Spurs a lead they’d never relinquish. 
Grade: A
Summary: White was all over the court and saved his best play for when it mattered most. 

Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay was rock solid in Atlanta. Defensively, he was physical beneath the rim, pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds and his length disrupted the passing lanes on multiple occasions. Offensively, he looked to punish the Hawks whenever he was defended by a smaller player. Despite being back in the starting lineup to replace an injured Jakob Poeltl (hamstring), Gay spent time with the bench squad and successfully quarterbacked that unit for possessions at a time. His passing, once again, was an asset. 
Grade: A-
Summary: Gay came to play. 

Bryn Forbes

Bryn Forbes spent much of Wednesday night rumbling, bumbling and stumbling around the court. He had difficulties on offense whenever he tried to put the ball on the court against pressure. His rotations on defense were similarly as adventurous. I’m not sure what was wrong but he looked painfully uncomfortable for much of his 25 minutes of action. To his credit, Forbes kept firing away whenever he had a glimmer of daylight. His individual defense was also adequate. 
Grade: C-
Summary: Forbes struggled but at least the kept playing. 

Marco Belinelli

Marco Belinelli nailed a three-pointer less than ten seconds into his first stint … and then proceeded to do next to nothing the rest of his time on the hardwood. Defensively, he was even more statuesque than usual; anything resembling a quick move had Belinelli beat. Offensively, he just wasn’t very involved. At least he limited his mistakes and ill-advised shots, I guess. 
Grade: C-
Summary: Belinelli was mostly MIA after his first ten seconds. 

Davis Bertans

It was great to see Davis Bertans get 11 shot attempts against the Hawks. He has found open shots to be few and far between as of late. However, truth be told, Bertans didn’t shoot nearly enough tonight. While he took ten three-pointers, he passed up another five that where he was open enough to let it fly. Bertans value goes south whenever he started hesitating, as was the case tonight. Defensively, he was up and down. He had a few great defensive possessions but also had a few where he made basic mistakes. 
Grade: B-
Summary: Bertans shot ten threes but should have shot more. 

Patty Mills

In his first couple stints, I thought Patty Mills was bad. His energy was nonexistent, he didn’t appear to be mentally prepared and was committing boneheaded errors. Thankfully, Mills eventually remembered that it was a game day. While his three-point stroke never straightened out, his defensive intensity improved and he started hurting the Hawks with successful forays to the hoop. 
Grade: C-
Summary: Mills was asleep but woke up in time to avoid disaster. 

Drew Eubanks

Pretty good, pretty good. With Poeltl out, Drew Eubanks played center behind Aldridge. He rebounded well, flashed very good timing when going for blocks, and wasn’t skittish about getting into the middle of the action on offense by setting screens, rolling with purpose and calling for the ball on the low block. It’s too soon to say whether Eubanks is an NBA player but the early returns are positive. He passes the eye-test as he has good size, a sturdy frame and he’s legitimately athletic for a center. 
Grade: B
Summary: Eubanks gave the Spurs ten good minutes. 

Pop

Talk about a quick adjustment. Last game, force-feeding DeRozan down the stretch almost cost the Spurs the game. This game, White was rightly given the opportunity to orchestrate the offense during money time … and he succeeded with flying colors. Give Pop credit for making the change (and DeRozan deserves a handshake for accepting the backseat). We’ll see if White continues to be the team’s closer when he’s not being defended by an undersized rookie. Time will tell. Beyond that welcome sight, I didn’t have an issue with the rotation. The Spurs don’t play again until Sunday so some players playing extended minutes wasn’t a big deal. 
Grade: A-
Summary: White the closer? Yes please, Pop. 

Looking ahead: Four straight wins after the tumultuous Rodeo Road Trip is just what the doctor ordered. Getting one, even an ugly one, on the road is a positive.

Next up, the Spurs host the Bucks and their league-best record after three days of rest. Considering that’ll be a back-to-back for Milwaukee — and the fact that the Spurs will be at home — the good guys have a definite chance to push the win streak to five. Rest up … and then get it.

LJ Ellis