Grades: Spurs vs. Pistons – Game #63

The Spurs entered the game losers of seven of their previous eight games. The Pistons entered the game winners of seven of their previous eight previous games. Naturally, San Antonio cruised to a 105-93 victory in front of their home fans.

This affair followed a similar pattern throughout the evening: the Spurs would build a lead, the Spurs would sputter, the Pistons would get hot from the perimeter, the Pistons would close the gap, the Spurs would get back on track, the Spurs would build a lead … and back to the beginning of the loop.

With five minutes remaining, the Pistons got within two points, 90-88. DeMar DeRozan responded with a three-point play that sparked a 9-0 run that essentially ended the drama.

Overall, this was a very good, much needed win. After the disaster that was the 2019 Rodeo Road Trip, San Antonio desperately needed to right the ship. Tonight’s victory should help the good guys turn the page. 

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge played really good defense. He spent a lot of time on the perimeter trying to keep up with Blake Griffin and did a commendable job. He was stout in the paint and, even though he didn’t grab many boards, Aldridge’s boxing out was strong. Offensively, he was productive, hit important shots, passed well and went turnoverless in 39 minutes. It wasn’t Aldridge’s cleanest game but he played hard and played well. 
Grade: A-
Summary: Aldridge got the job done.

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan was two assists away from his second career triple-double. His 13 rebounds were the second highest mark of his career. Despite those notable numbers, it was a herky-jerky evening for DeRozan. He never got into much of a rhythm on offense and was second-guessing a lot of his decisions. DeRozan also got bailed out on a handful of occasions when he jumped with nowhere to pass. That said, he was rock solid down the stretch and played within the offense throughout the night. Defensively, he was more attentive away from the ball than usual and his rebounding total accurately tells the tale of how active he was on the glass. 
Grade: B+
Summary: DeRozan played a winning brand of basketball. 

Bryn Forbes

Bryn Forbes got hurt in the first quarter and didn’t return. It looked like he slightly twisted his ankle and then got kicked in the calf by Griffin. Let’s hope he can bounce back quickly; the fact that the Spurs listed his return as questionable following his injury is a good sign. Before he went down, Forbes hit both of his three-point attempts. That alone is noteworthy considering he had hit only two of his previous 18 attempts from three-point land. 
Grade: Inc.
Summary: Forbes showed signs of three-point life and then got hurt. 

Derrick White

Derrick White is successfully working his way back to 100%. Tonight’s outing was an uneven one for White but he got better and better as the game progressed. Throughout the contest, I liked White’s decision-making in terms of when to shoot and when to pass. His playmaking was a plus, he kept his mistakes to a minimum and he was getting ample lift on his shots. Going into the game, White had a minute restriction of 25 minutes but waived off Pop late in the fourth when Pop tried to take him out. White then proceeded to be the best player on the court in the game’s final five minutes. Hopefully that’s a sign that White is feeling good enough to resume playing a larger role going forward. 
Grade: B+
Summary: By the end of the game, it looked like White was back. 

Jakob Poeltl

To combat Detroit’s bigman duo of Griffin and Andre Drummond, Pop opted to started Jakob Poeltl next to Aldridge. That turned out to be a great call. Poeltl played very likely his finest game of the season — and without a doubt his best game as a starter. On defense, his rim protection was excellent, as was his work on the defensive boards. Poeltl was also helpful on pick-and-roll defense and other times when mobility out on the perimeter was needed. Offensively, he did a really good job of remaining aggressive and not simply trying to stay out of the way. Poeltl isn’t a natural fit next to Aldridge in today’s NBA but if he confidently attacks the rim when given airspace, there’s a chance the Spurs can make it work offensively. Defensively, San Antonio looked really good tonight when Aldridge and Poeltl were on the court together. 
Grade: A
Summary: Poeltl took advantage of the opportunity to show what he can do as a starter. 

Marco Belinelli

Alright, this is the Marco Belinelli the Spurs need. After a couple passive performances to end the Rodeo Road Trip, Belinelli entered tonight’s game with both guns blazing. Within two minutes of stepping on the hardwood, Belinelli had poured in eight points to spark what had been a sputtering offensive attack. After Forbes went down, Belinelli stepped into a bigger role without skipping a beat. His defense was forgettable and he wasn’t doing much playmaking but all was forgiven because Belinelli displayed the scoring zeal that had been missing as of late. 
Grade: A-
Summary: Belinelli provided the offensive lift San Antonio needed. 

Rudy Gay

Strange game for Rudy Gay. He missed all five of his shots from the field but handed out seven assists in only 21 minutes. While he authored a few really good passes, Gay was also turning down shots he needs to take. Defensively, Gay didn’t look too limber and also forgot to help out on the boards a couple times (Pop sternly reminded him), but he was physical most of the time and provided needed toughness on both ends. 
Grade: C+
Summary: Gay came off the bench and posted an unusual statline. 

Patty Mills

The good: Patty Mills straightened out his shooting stroke. After going 3-for-21 in his last two outings, Mills wasted little time ending his slump. I thought his defense was better than usual. He stuck his nose in the middle of the action and pressured the ball more than is typical. The bad: Mills’ time management was terrible. It’s amazing that a player with as much experience as he has is so bad at managing the clock at the end of quarters. Mills also recorded four of the team’s ten turnovers. 
Grade: C
Summary: Mills’ sloppiness overshadowed what was otherwise a solid performance. 

Davis Bertans

Davis Bertans got lost in the shuffle tonight. He was the fourth player off the bench and then was never involved much. Even when Pop successfully drew up plays for Bertans, the Latvian didn’t deliver. Defensively, he was decent — particularly out on the perimeter — but he didn’t move the needle much on that end either. In his last three games, Bertans has scored six points in 70 minutes and is 2-for-11 from the field, including 0-for-6 from three-point range. 
Grade: C
Summary: Bertans played a forgettable 15 minutes. 

Dante Cunningham

Dante Cunningham played five minutes in the second half and reminded everyone why he’s no longer part of the rotation. He got in the way offensively and was slow to react defensively. Cunningham entered the game when the Spurs had a 14-point lead. The Pistons immediately went on a 14-4 run. Not good. 
Grade: C-
Summary: Cunningham provided a reminder. 

Pop

Starting Poeltl worked out perfectly. Allowing White to stay in the game in the fourth quarter despite the minute restriction worked out rather well. Aldridge and DeRozan played a lot of minutes but considering San Antonio’s desperation for a win and the fact that the team has an extra day off before their next game, I can’t criticize the decision. 
Grade: B+
Summary: Pop’s button pushes were right ones tonight. 

Looking ahead: Good win. Well done, especially on the defensive end. 

The Spurs complete their three-game homestand with a pair of difficult contents: Saturday versus the Thunder and Monday versus the Nuggets. A win against OKC would make the failed Rodeo Road Trip seem like a distant memory. Get it.

LJ Ellis