The San Antonio Spurs improved to 11-16 on the season with a much-needed 118-105 victory over the Brooklyn Nets (15-13) on Thursday night. The Spurs improved to 8-7 at the AT&T Center as they begin an important stretch in which the play five of seven games at home.
Things didn’t begin swimmingly for the Spurs against the Nets. Three minutes into the game, San Antonio was already in a 12-2 hole. After a timeout, the Spurs responded with an 8-2 run to stem the tide. At the end of the first quarter, the Nets retained a 33-27 advantage.
In the second period, the Spurs struggled to keep their heads above water. At multiple junctures, San Antonio fell into double-digit deficits. Thankfully, the Spurs rallied a bit before halftime to go into intermission behind by only six points, 56-50.
The third quarter looked like a repeat of the second quarter. In fact, with two minutes remaining in the period, the Spurs were once again down double-digits, 81-71. But that’s when the good guys went on their game-defining run. They scored the quarter’s final 12 points to take a lead going into the fourth.
To begin the final stanza, the Spurs expanded their run to a 19-0 blitz that stretched over five and a half minutes. The Nets battled back, getting within two points with 5:44 remaining. Instead of melting under pressure, this game San Antonio hit key shots — authored primarily by Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge — to pad their lead. A Mills three-pointer with 1:37 left in regulation, his seventh of the game, pushed the advantage to 11 points and essentially ended the drama.
Overall, this was a good win for the Spurs. The Nets are a quality team and the Spurs needed to battle back, show some resiliency and avoid cracking under pressure. The defense stepped up, allowing just 72 points in the final three quarters, while the offense peaked in the second half. Let’s hope the Spurs are able to build upon the positives in upcoming games.
Spurs vs. Nets – Final Grades
Although he had his ups and downs, LaMarcus Aldridge’s effort was consistently commendable. He had trouble dealing with Brooklyn’s pick-and-rolls most of the evening but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Eventually, he did enough — most notably by blocked four shots — to rebuff the Nets’ goal of exploiting his lack of mobility. Offensively, Aldridge did his best work in the fourth quarter. In the game’s final seven minutes, he scored ten points on 4-for-6 shooting from the floor. His catch-and-shoot jumpers were key to holding the Nets at bay.
Well, this was an interesting affair by DeMar DeRozan. He was well below par for much of the game. When he wasn’t getting caught with his head turned on defense, he was bobbling the ball away at the other end. He never got going on either end, as his touch and deftness was missing in action. But DeRozan salvaged his performance by how he attacked in the fourth quarter. Instead of pouting, isoing and dribbling into traffic looking for calls, he turned into a playmaker. He totaled four of his six assists in the fourth quarter while only attempting one shot. DeRozan showing self-awareness to not try to be a hero is a step in the right direction.
The good: Four of Dejounte Murray’s five baskets were jumpers, including his sixth three-pointer of the season. His chemistry with Aldridge appears to be improving. He turned the ball over only once and his effort on defense was commendable. The bad: His orchestration of the offense was iffy. His decision-making regarding when and where to pass was highly questionable. And while he efforted on defense, his impact was minimal at best. The Nets used screens to brush Murray aside and he was unable to consistently get back into plays in time to provide needed aide.
Bryn Forbes’ struggles continue. Outside of his hot first half against the Houston Rockets, Forbes is an unbelievably frigid 2-for-26 over his last four games. His field goal percentage on the season has fallen below 40% and he’s forcing the issue more than ever, as he has only three assists in those four aforementioned games. Defensively, he was a horror show once again. This time, his lowlight was committing a boneheaded flagrant foul on a three-point in the fourth which turned into a five-point play for the Nets that nearly evaporated San Antonio’s lead at the time. It’s beyond time to end his days in the starting lineup.
Unfortunately, Trey Lyles has regressed shooting the ball. After hitting 44.4% of his three-pointers in November, he is shooting only 4-for-20 (20%) on three-pointers in December. When Lyles isn’t shooting straight, he doesn’t bring enough to the game to be much of a positive. Against the Nets, he was slow to rotate at times, didn’t do good work on the backboard and was too tentative at times on offense.
The game ball tonight goes to Patty Mills. He was aggressive looking for his shot from his first minutes on the court and that aggression paid off in a big way in the fourth quarter. With the Spurs desperately trying to stop Brooklyn from taking control, Mills’ 11 fourth quarter points were the biggest key. Not only was he taking and making big shots, he ran pick-and-rolls well, provided vivacity on defense and was San Antonio’s obvious floor leader out there.
Marco Belinelli stepped into a bigger role than we’ve seen him play recently. He was in the first wave of reserves off the bench in the first half and then was in the starting lineup in the second half. Belinelli, to top it off, led the team in minutes in the fourth quarter. So, yeah, the coaches went to the Italian early and often. To his credit, Belinelli did pretty well, all things considered. He tied his season-high with 11 points and even made a couple plays on the defensive end. Belinelli certainly had his forgettable moments too but given his struggles this season, the Spurs couldn’t have reasonably expected much more.
This had to be one of Derrick White’s better games of the season. He was much more aggressive than usual — and he also looked faster and bouncier than usual. When the Nets went under screens, White did well to make them pay. On defense, he was active with his hands and also crashed the boards. And while White turned it over three times, they were errors where he was actively trying to make plays — which, for him, is fine. As long as he’s not passive, he’s almost always helping the team.
After receiving the game ball, Mills should have walked over to Jakob Poeltl and handed it over to the Austrian as a token of appreciation. Each of Mills’ first three three-pointers were assisted via crafty passes from Poeltl (see video). Beyond those three passes that got Mills going, Poeltl was a monster in the lane on defense — particularly in the second half. The Nets couldn’t figure out how to attack him. He was quick enough to stay in front of smaller players and then fast off his feet to protect the rim. Add in timely rebounding and Poeltl was quietly really darn good in his 16 minutes. His shot-blocking has become a major weapon and it has made him much more valuable over the last three weeks.
Yikes. Rudy Gay was really bad on the offensive end. His shots looked flat, he wasn’t moving well and he couldn’t create space. Gay never seemed to notice he didn’t have it and kept firing away. Defensively, he was a bit better and he was more attentive than usual but that didn’t come close to make up for his lack of offense or his overall malaise.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker IV was the 11th player to hit the court for the Spurs. Despite hitting only one of seven shots, I thought he did a whole lot of good. The electricity he brought to the floor was palpable and his activity and athleticism helped create space for his teammates to operate. Before he entered the game, the offensive attack was stale and predictable — Walker changed that. Defensively, I also thought he was rock solid. The Nets rarely got a good look when he was in the game, as he sprinted back in transition, rotated swiftly and crashed the defensive glass. All told, while his stats don’t jump off the boxscore, Walker’s presence made a difference and he played an unmistakable role in San Antonio’s engine looking more lubricated on both ends.
I liked that Pop limited the minutes of DeRozan and Aldridge more than usual. Having a quick hook for Gay and Lyles was the right call. Forbes only played 22 minutes but that was too much. Speaking of too much, I just don’t understand Pop’s trust in Belinelli. Playing him more minutes than White is lunacy and playing him nearly twice as many minutes as Walker is something beyond lunacy.
Next Up for the Spurs
On Saturday night, it’s Round 3 of Kawhi Leonard back in San Antonio. Let’s hope the Spurs can play close to as well as they have in the first two rounds.