After a nice, relaxing break in the schedule, the San Antonio Spurs were back in action … and back to making Spurs fans shake their heads in dismay. I’m not sure if this is the low-point of the season but it’s certainly down there. Coming into the game as 12-point favorites, San Antonio managed to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-109 in overtime.
The Spurs came out of the gates sluggish and with next to no energy. The Cavs weren’t playing great basketball but their effort level was much better, which resulted in Cleveland taking a ten-point lead, 53-43, into halftime.
In the second half, things didn’t get a whole lot better in the third quarter. The effort was slightly better by the good guys but the results didn’t change much on the scoreboard. Heading into the fourth, the Spurs still trailed by ten points.
In the final stanza, San Antonio finally got going. In the first two and a half minutes, the Spurs went on an 8-0 run to get within two points. Eventually, the Spurs went on to take a 6-point lead during the middle of the fourth quarter. Even with two minutes remaining, the Spurs were still up by five.
But when winning time arrived, DeMar DeRozan missed two free throws, saw a ball bounce off his fingers on the defensive end and then he missed an attempt at the end of regulation that sent the game into the overtime period. In overtime, the Cavs scored the first five points … and the Spurs never recovered.
To say this was a pathetic loss would be an understatement. The Spurs had five days off before this game. The Cavs, on the other hand, were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and entered the game with an eight-game losing streak and had lost 14 of their previous 15 contests.
While the Spurs are technically still in the playoff picture, it just doesn’t look like this team deserves to be in that conversation. Bad coaching, bad playing and everything in between has this season suddenly circling the drain even faster than it was before the five-day break.
Spurs vs. Cavaliers – Final Grades
In the first half, the Spurs made a concerted effort to try to establish LaMarcus Aldridge. One problem: he was garbage. In the first two quarters, Aldridge was 0-for-5 and couldn’t be bothered much to run the court, defend out on the perimeter or be physical on offense. Eventually, he got it going a little bit in the fourth and overtime but it was too little, too late. Aldridge is a leader on this team and for him to sleepwalk through the first half in a game the Spurs really needed to get is unacceptable.
In the first three quarters, DeMar DeRozan wasn’t doing much of anything. Entering the fourth quarter, DeRozan had ten points and was getting eaten alive on the defensive end without putting up much of a fight. The coaches had him playing power forward on defense at times and DeRozan wasn’t up to the challenge at all. In the fourth, things started to get better — his defense, specifically, went from pathetic to somewhere around average. Offensively, the 30-year-old also got going. But then in the final six minutes of the fourth and in the overtime, DeRozan did more harm than he did good. Or, to be clear, he choked. He hit only two of his final seven shots from the field and missed two free throws with the Spurs up by three points with 14 seconds remaining in regulation. (DeRozan is now 9-for-18 at the line in clutch situations.) Like Aldridge, this was a sad performance from a guy who is supposed to be a leader. His play down the stretch was difficult to watch, especially because he was frustrated and his bad aura was bringing down his teammates.
Rudy Gay had a rough night. However, it wasn’t completely his fault. Starting Gay was a bad idea because it doesn’t make sense to match him up against Kevin Love. The Gay-Love experiment was regrettable on this night, as Love erupted for 30 points and 17 rebounds. Gay, on the other hand, pulled down one rebound. Outside of that, he hit a couple of shots but was otherwise fumbling the ball and looking extra immobile.
Derrick White was definitely better — but that wasn’t too difficult considering he was 0-for-7 last time out. On this evening, White scored on a variety of forays to the basket. He looked a little bit better physically and he had a little bit of a burst at times. However, he’s still not jumping too well and his defense looks a step slower than last year. And while it’s nice that he scored 17 points after a bad performance last time out, he wasn’t doing much playmaking and he didn’t even attempt a shot outside of five feet from the rim.
You know Bryn Forbes’ defense had to be bad considering that with all the bad defense being played by the Spurs, it was only Forbes who got benched for his lack of D. Pop finally got fed up with Forbes and sat him on the bench for the game’s final 24 minutes. Considering Forbes was also a liability on offense, it was a good decision.
The Spurs were getting smoked on defense whenever Patty Mills was on the court. That was mostly due to the young but talented guards on the Cavs taking it right at Mills. He didn’t do much to stop anything on the defensive end this game. Offensively, Mills hit a couple three-pointers but that was about the extent of the aide he offered. I also didn’t think his overall energy was as effervescent as usual.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker IV was again a spark plug for the Spurs. He jumpstarted the team at various points tonight. On the fast break, the Cavs had no chance to slow him down. Walker was beastly attacking the rim in transition. Defensively and on the boards, I was also impressed with what he did. Walker used his athleticism well and I didn’t see any of the hesitation that has caused some growing pains this season. Honestly, Walker should be playing more minutes. That’s clear to anyone watching these games.
The good: Jakob Poeltl was active on defense. He was easily the team’s best interior defender and also guarded well in transition. The bad: Poeltl’s lack of confidence on offense held him back on that end. He also wasn’t grabbing boards at a high rate on either end. A couple times, he lost contested rebounds to a guard — that can’t happen. Overall, he just wasn’t as demonstrative as we’ve seen him lately.
No one could expect a whole lot more than what Marco Belinelli delivered on Thursday night. He hit four of his five field goal attempts, including a clutch three-pointer in the fourth. I even thought his defense was pretty good, especially when factoring in his physical limitations.
During the five-day break, Pop announced to the media that Dejounte Murray’s minutes restriction was a thing of the past. Tonight, Murray played a season-low 17 minutes. So, yeah. In those 17 minutes, Murray was all over the map. He was really disruptive defensively and looked dominant on that end at times. However, he was also a train wreck on offense for stretches, while making decisions with the ball that were frustratingly terrible. That said, he seemed to start to get things straightened out at the end of the third quarter … only to watch the game from the bench in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Trey Lyles played a bit in the first half but he was mostly out of sorts. He was a bit more aggressive than usual on offense but his defense was lacking. Lyles needs to be steadier in his minutes. Right now, he’s too much of a hurricane when he hits the court.
Pop was impressive in terms of his consistency. He started the game off coaching poorly, coached poorly throughout and his poor coaching continued into the overtime session. Starting out Gay on Love was a head-scratcher. He fixed it by starting Poeltl in place of Gay in the second half — but the damage was done and Love was rolling. Pop putting DeRozan at power forward when the Cavs had two legit bigs on the court was also puzzling. Still playing Belinelli 20 minutes is bordering on lunacy at this point. Walker needs to play more, Murray needs a longer leash and Pop can’t be hesitant to bench DeRozan and Aldridge for longer stretches, especially when all statistical evidence points to the Spurs being a better team when those two are sitting. DeRozan and Aldridge should be playing about 30 minutes per game — max. I’ll give Pop some credit for sitting Forbes and stumbling into a backcourt of White and Walker that looked surprisingly coherent on both ends of the court (we haven’t been able to say that about many [any?] guard combinations this season). Overall, the players did a bad job but Pop wasn’t helping matters. Poor game plan, poor scouting, jumbled rotation and a stubbornness in trusting his vets too much. I mean, entering overtime with Mills, Belinelli and DeRozan as your three perimeter players is just dumb, I’m sorry.
Next Up for the Spurs
The Spurs face the Phoenix Suns in Mexico City on Saturday. Let us hope the Spurs can rebound from this abomination.