Grades: Spurs vs. Bucks – Game #67

The Spurs extended their winning streak to five games with an exciting win over the Bucks. This was without a doubt one of the very best victories of the season for San Antonio.

Milwaukee entered the game with an NBA best record of 50-16 and showed their mettle early on. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Bucks opened up a 23-9 lead seven minutes into the affair. A few minutes later, former Spur Pau Gasol hit a three-pointer to put the Bucks up 32-17 with two minutes left in the first quarter.

At that point, the Spurs staged one of their many runs in front of their home fans, as an 11-0 outburst following Gasol’s three-pointer got the good guys right back in the game. San Antonio fell behind by a dozen points again with three minutes remaining in the first half. This time, the Spurs went on an extended 26-7 run that spanned halftime and gave them a 71-64 lead with eight minutes remaining in the third period.

The Bucks battled back and took a two-point lead, 81-79, with two minutes left in the third. That’s when the Spurs delivered the knockout: a 21-5 run over the next six and a half minutes. With a 100-86 lead with seven and a half minutes remaining in the game, San Antonio kept Milwaukee at bay and waltzed to the 121-114 victory.

Sure, the Bucks were probably tired. Yes, the Spurs had extra days of rest before this showdown. But, hey, it was still a great win for a Spurs squad trying to climb the Western Conference standings. At 38-29, the suddenly red-hot Spurs look to be a good bet to extend their playoff streak and are currently tied for the sixth seed. Well done, team. 

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge played really, really hard. I was impressed. Defensively, he was excellent. He was a beast on the boards, guarded the rim well, kept his hands active in passing lanes and played better than expected defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo. He wasn’t perfect on defense but his effort was top notch. Offensively, he was very much involved and did good work. His efficiency was hurt a bit due to a lack of free throws but I thought he was supremely physical, took smart shots and limited his mistakes. 
Grade: A
Summary: The Spurs couldn’t have asked for much more out of their All-Star bigman. 

DeMar DeRozan

It wasn’t the prettiest game for DeMar DeRozan but it was a well-rounded, encouraging showing. Defensively, this had to be one of his very best performances of the campaign. He was attentive to his individual assignments, moved his feet much better than usual and was mentally locked in. DeRozan’s team-defense was also much better than normal, too. Offensively, he provided San Antonio with a consistent attacking force. He was constantly making plays off the dribble that either resulted in a good look for himself or opened opportunities for teammates. DeRozan hit half of his shots from the field for the eighth straight game, shot nine of the team’s 15 free throw attempts and turned it over only once in 36 minutes against the NBA’s best defensive team. Again, this wasn’t his most aesthetically-pleasing game of the season but DeRozan came to play on both ends and played a smart, winning brand of basketball. 
Grade: A-
Summary: DeRozan was the engine that made the Spurs go tonight. 

Derrick White

The good: Derrick White’s defense was quite good. He was active on the ball, offered strong help and hustled endlessly on that end. Offensively, he had a strong stretch in the fourth that helped ice the game. His play in the pick-and-roll continues to be a bright spot for the team. The bad: White missed makeable shots early and that negatively impacted his confidence. He started second-guessing his shots, which then caused him to force ill-advised passes. All in all, White’s decision-making was out of rhythm for a majority of the game. Even on defense, he made a few unwise decisions in help situations. 
Grade: C+
Summary: White wasn’t bad but he had trouble staying out of his own way at times. 

Bryn Forbes

Offensively, Bryn Forbes did his job. He was letting the rock fly whenever he had daylight, drove the ball when the lanes opened, stayed within the sets and played his complementary, floor-spacing role to a tee. Defensively, Forbes gave back some of his value. He got caught out of position too often and got beat off the dribble too often. His transition defense was also notably shaky. 
Grade: B
Summary: Forbes was strong on offense, not so much on defense. 

Jakob Poeltl

Back from a one-game absence due to injury (hamstring), Jakob Poeltl was back in the starting lineup and proved his value. On defense, Poeltl exhibited his mobility and versatility by defending all the way out to the three-point line, which is obviously an important attribute in today’s NBA. When he was able to fall back into the paint, his rim protection was strong. I also liked his tenacity on the defensive backboard. Offensively, he wasn’t a liability at all. He was setting sturdy screen, finished everything at the rim and kept the Bucks busy by doggedly chasing offensive rebounds. Poeltl also illustrated flashes of being a plus passer with a high basketball IQ. My only critique of his offensive game were his half-hearted rolls to the basket in which he sometimes didn’t even attempt to get open. 
Grade: A-
Summary: Poeltl is trying to win that full-time starting gig. 

Marco Belinelli

This is how the Spurs need Marco Belinelli to play. When he comes out firing and causing chaos on offense by expertly moving without the ball, he’s a valuable game-changer. Belinelli wasn’t especially efficient but the energy boost he gave the team was palpable and very much needed. Defensively, he wasn’t too good … but he might have been slightly above average on the Belinelli scale. 
Grade: B+
Summary: Belinelli was loaded for bear and the Spurs were better for it. 

Davis Bertans

Defensively, Davis Bertans held up rather well. His feet were quick, he challenged shots and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the paint. He had a few miscues rotations-wise but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Offensively, I liked all of Bertans shots and he was sufficiently aggressive. Obviously, his shot-making could have been better. Bertans also provided additional value by using his dribble to punish the Bucks when they went too hard at him in rotation. 
Grade: B-
Summary: Bertans did a lot right despite his underwhelming numbers on the statsheet. 

Patty Mills

Patty Mills came to play. His vivacity helped turn the momentum in the first quarter and he also authored key plays in the fourth that kept Milwaukee from getting back into it. On defense, he was doing all he could to disrupt the proceedings. Mills got overpowered a few times but usually fought hard enough to keep the Bucks from exploiting mismatches. Offensively, Mills pushed the pace well, played better in pick-and-rolls than usual and made solid decisions with the ball. When the Australian plays with this level of vigor, determination and discipline, he’s truly one of the better backup point guards in the league. 
Grade: A-
Summary: Mills played a key role in the win. 

Pop

Pop was vicious. He knew there was blood in the water whenever Gasol stepped on the court for the Bucks and he relentlessly attacked him by putting him pick-and-rolls virtually every time down the court. Gasol has lost all his mobility and Pop wasn’t bashful about exploiting that fact. I also was very pleased that Poeltl was put back in the starting lineup even though the Spurs were facing a small, speedy team. The only flaw in the rotation was Pop going back to bad habits by putting in Dante Cunningham for a four-minute stretch in a misguided attempt to slow the Greek Freak.
Grade: A-
Summary: Pop didn’t hesitate to use insider knowledge to sink the Bucks. 

Looking ahead: Very good win. The momentum is now surging in the right direction again. 

On Tuesday, the Spurs travel to Dallas to take on the Mavericks. The Mavs have lost five straight but they’ve had close losses as of late and always seem to play the Spurs close at home. This won’t be a gimme road win but it’s one San Antonio needs to get to stay on track.

LJ Ellis