The San Antonio Spurs (19-23) held on for an important win Monday night over the Phoenix Suns (18-25). The victory keeps the Spurs in ninth place in the Western Conference, a half game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the playoffs. San Antonio almost fumbled the game away but they did just enough to hold on.
Neither team was able to garner much separation on the scoreboard in the first quarter until Derrick White hit back-to-back three-pointers to put the Spurs up by eight points, 24-16, with four minutes remaining in the quarter. To end the stanza, the Suns turned things around and closed San Antonio’s lead to two points, 28-26, heading into the second.
Things remained close in the second quarter until Bryn Forbes went nuclear. In the final five minutes, Forbes drained all five of his three-point attempts. Thanks to his barrage, San Antonio was able to sprint to a 66-51 lead at halftime.
Things continued to go swimmingly for the Spurs in the third quarter. Their lead ballooned to 20 points after a Dejounte Murray three-pointer. But the Suns, powered by Devin Booker’s 22 points in the period, battled back enough to make it 96-83 by the end of the period.
For the good guys and their lead, everything remained quiet on the Western Front until the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter. At that point, San Antonio was up 108-93 and appeared to be cruising to a ho-hum victory. But that’s when the bottom fell out. The Suns went on a 15-0 run in less than three minutes to tie the game. From there, things got worse for the Silver and Black, as Phoenix took a 113-111 lead with 2:55 remaining in regulation.
Thankfully, that’s when Forbes and White, heroes from earlier in the contest, hit back-to-back three-pointers to put the Spurs back up by four points.
Fast forward to the Suns having the ball with 17 seconds remaining and still trailing by four points. A shot by Booker cut San Antonio’s lead to two points with 12 seconds remaining. The Spurs turned it over on the next possession and simultaneously fouled Ricky Rubio. Thankfully, Rubio split his two free throws as he failed to tie the game. LaMarcus Aldridge then split his pair of freebies to put the Spurs back up by two points.
With 5.6 seconds to go, the Suns had one final possession. Booker took the inbounds pass and fired up a three-pointer over White. It missed and the game was finally over. Collapse averted.
Net-net, this was a strong victory for the Spurs. The Suns were the favorites to win and had been playing well lately. San Antonio was on the second night of a back-to-back but didn’t use that as an excuse when things went sour in the fourth. Instead, without any sort of momentum going their way, they were able to claw their way to a victory that kept them right in the playoff mix.
Spurs at Suns – Final Grades
LaMarcus Aldridge hit another three-pointer to extend his streak to 14 consecutive games with a three. Closer to the rim, Aldridge mixed standstill jumpers with physical post moves, which helped send him to the line for eight attempts. That said, his activity level on offense was off and on. Defensively, he was much more active, as evidenced by his three blocks and two steals. His perimeter defense was lacking, though. His rebounding numbers look bad on paper but he was boxing out well and the Spurs took care of the glass when Aldridge was in.
After his sizzling streak of games, DeMar DeRozan is starting to cool off in terms of his shooting touch. Tonight, he hit only five of his 15 field goal attempts. To his credit, DeRozan didn’t let his wayward marksmanship ruin his night. Instead, DeRozan remained physical and got to the free throw line nine times. Additionally, his playmaking was very good. In fact, all eight of his assists resulted in three-pointers. DeRozan obviously knew Forbes had been struggling of late and was making an extra effort to get him clean looks. The result? DeRozan assisted on five of Forbes’ threes to get his struggling teammate going. In addition to his poor shooting, DeRozan’s main flaw on offense was his sloppiness. Defensively, DeRozan was okay-ish. He had three steals and had active hands but wasn’t much help when a switch was needed.
The good: Dejounte Murray hit both of his threes to raise his three-point percentage to 35.3%. His shooting from deep was smooth yet slow and deliberate. That said, any type of shooting from Murray is a plus. Defensively, Murray took full advantage of his long arms. When he wasn’t picking pockets, he was getting in the passing lanes or getting deflections. The bad: Again, the offense struggled to generate anything resembling rhythm when Murray was running the show. As of late, when Murray returns to the court for his second stint of the half, you can count on the offense dying — and, unfortunately, it’s not a coincidence. He needs to quicken the pace and make faster decisions with the ball. Additionally, while he was hyper defensively, the Suns were able to make him pay at times when he overplayed certain situations.
Well, wow, okay. After a terrible game against the Miami Heat, Bryn Forbes bounced back with a really strong showing. The Spurs were able to take control in the first half thanks to Forbes’ seven three-pointers and the fact that he was — shockingly enough — outplaying Devin Booker at halftime. Forbes shot confidently and once he got it going, all of his heat checks were scorching the nylon. He obviously cooled off in the second half — big time. But, hey, he hit a clutch three-pointer seconds after the Spurs fell behind for the first time all game. Defensively, Forbes was on Booker and I thought he guarded him really well in the first half. Booker went off for 28 second half points but most of that wasn’t against Forbes. Let’s hope we see this time of outing more often from the teams maligned starting shooting guard.
I thought Trey Lyles quietly had one of his best defensive outings of the season. His feet looked really quick out on the perimeter. In the paint, Lyles wasn’t a pushover. Instead, he kept his backbone erect through contact and continued to be strong on the glass. Offensively, he limited his mistakes, made some nice passes and remained enough of a threat to stop the Suns from ignoring him.
Derrick White banked in his first three-point attempt — and it was on. He ended the game with a season-high 25 points and nailed 4-of-5 threes. When he wasn’t shooting from deep, he was firing off confident missiles from midrange or foraying into the paint. Perhaps even more impressive than White’s scoring was his passing and playmaking. Specifically, his ability to notice size mismatches and lob passes over the defense to bigs in the paint is becoming a special talent of his. To do all of what White did on the offensive end without turning it over was also really impressive. Defensively, I wasn’t quite as thrilled. I thought he started off weak on that end and then had a few poor possessions in the second half. But, then again, White got a hand up on Booker’s final shoot — which turned out to be the biggest defensive play of the game.
I didn’t love Marco Belinelli’s shot-selection but he made enough to justify his decisions on this night. He kept mistakes to a minimum on offense and was making smart passes. Defensively, though, Belinelli was a major liability. The Spurs were rarely able to get a stop when Belinelli was on the court because they were basically playing four-on-five.
Lonnie Walker IV
Defensively, I was pretty impressed with Lonnie Walker IV. When the Spurs were in man-to-man, Walker was arguably the best defender against Booker. He utilized quick feet and his uber athleticism to make life difficult for Booker. Offensively, Walker didn’t do a whole lot. As it stands, Walker has reeled in his aggression on offense too far. He needs more of a c’est la vie attitude on that end. Right now, he’s overthinking everything and it’s causing him to freeze. But, obviously, he’s young and these growing pains are part and parcel to his development.
Jakob Poeltl is in a shot-blocking zone right now. It’s amazing that this is the same hombre who had only eight blocks in the first 14 games of the season. In his last 28 games, he has 56 blocks … quite the improvement. Against the Suns, he totaled three blocks and got his hands on a few passes for good measure. Beyond his one-man blockade, Poeltl finished well, passed extremely well and remained alert throughout. Poeltl’s one flaw this game was, unfortunately, a common one: he’s didn’t do a good job on the defensive glass. His boxing out and rebounding were both subpar. If Poeltl could clean up the glass on a consistent basis, his value would really start to rise.
Hmm. I’m not sure what was wrong with Patty Mills tonight. At one point, it looked like he came up gimpy when trying to get around a screen. Whatever was wrong with him robbed Mills of his normal energy. His shots were flat, his movements were stiff and his quickness was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully he can bounce back because he’s having a really good season, all things considered.
The good: Pop’s confidence in Forbes paid dividends tonight. Giving White extra minutes was smart. Giving him the keys down the stretch was vital. Going away from Mills was the right call. Pop’s smoke and mirrors defense was effective in stretches. His constant switching between man-to-man and zone has been difficult for teams to handle as of late. The bad: Giving Belinelli big minutes is highly questionable, even with Rudy Gay missing his third game with an illness. I could understand a few spot minutes to buy time but to trot Belinelli out as a closer is mystifying. Pop could have also done a better job of trying to stop Phoenix’s 15-0 run in the fourth with quicker adjustments to the flailing lineup.
Up Next for the Spurs
Things don’t get easier for San Antonio. On Wednesday, the Spurs travel to New Orleans just in time for Zion Williamson’s regular season debut with the Pelicans. That should be a fun environment but leaving with a victory will be no small task.