Tonight’s game versus the Hawks was almost exactly like Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Kings. But, this time, the Spurs managed to complete the comeback and win the game. That said, the victory was no cause for celebration.
Like the Sacramento game, San Antonio found themselves down in the fourth quarter after blowing a third quarter lead. This time, the Spurs trailed 98-89 with 9:44 left in regulation. And like the Kings game, the Spurs quickly battled back — in a little over four minutes, San Antonio gained the lead thanks to a 14-4 run.
Down the stretch, the Spurs hit enough shots to eventually escape by a final score of 117-111. Was this a step in the right direction? No, no it wasn’t. The Hawks were down a handful of key players, gave big minutes to players at the end of their roster (including some dude they signed yesterday), didn’t appear interested in actually trying to win the game … and, yet, the Spurs almost found a way to lose. Not good.
In his previous three outings, LaMarcus Aldridge struggled to sustain any sort of consistent energy or effort. You can now make that four straight games. Offensively, he wasn’t running the court well or being especially physical, which led to a majority of his shots being contested, low percentage jumpers. To his credit, he hit enough shots and limited his turnovers enough to be reasonably efficient, although obviously the quantity of his production was lacking. Defensively, Aldridge was engaged help-wise at the beginning of the game and at the end of the game but floated in no-man’s land during the bulk of the contest. Individually, his defense was sub par.
Summary: Aldridge’s lackadaisical play continued.
Last game, I criticized DeMar DeRozan for failing to get to the line and for only grabbing two rebounds. Tonight, his aggression level was much, much better and that resulted in 16 free throw attempts (the second most he’s totaled this season) and seven rebounds. He remained in attack mode for much of the evening, created plenty of shots for teammates and his scoring efficiency (29 points on 11 shots) was outstanding. Defensively, he was active both on the ball and off of the ball. Two minuses: he totaled a game-high five turnovers and ended up fouling out. But, honestly, I’m okay with errors due to hyperactivity, which was mostly the case tonight.
Summary: DeRozan brought his hard hat.
Once again, Rudy Gay was in the starting lineup but was also tasked with the responsibility to be a key cog in the bench attack. And again, it didn’t work. The bench was bad and Gay was a leading reason; he just couldn’t get anything going and scored just one field goal while playing with the bench. Unlike last game, Gay wasn’t doing much with the starters, either. Gay’s rebounding has been fantastic lately and it continued against the Hawks. He is also passing better than he ever has in his career. But in this role where he is the offensive focal point of the bench unit, if Gay isn’t scoring, he’s letting the team down.
Summary: Gay didn’t fulfill his role.
Derrick White was pretty damn bad the last four games. Versus Atlanta, he was able to show some signs of life — and that was by far the brightest spot in this otherwise unsightly win. In his last four outings, he averaged five points on 23.3% shooting from the field and was just 1-for-9 on three-pointers. Tonight, he looked extra focused and extra motivated to go against Trae Young and the results speak for themselves. He hurt the Hawks from three-point land, from midrange and was especially impressive going all the way to the rim. Defensively, he was marvelous, as he made life a nightmare for Young and his help was extremely effective — even against much bigger opponents. White’s playmaking was lacking and his mistake rate was higher than usual but the total package was definitely a step in the right direction.
Summary: White was back to normal (or at least what we hope will become his normal level).
Don’t look now but Bryn Forbes is playing really good basketball. Over his last six games, he’s now averaging 15.5 points on 59% shooting from the floor and 51.5% shooting on three-pointers. The recipe to his success has been a mixture of focus on energy. With a lot of halfhearted play swirling around him, Forbes has easily been the most locked-in player during that stretch of games. His three-point stroke looks even more picturesque than normal right now and his strength going to the rim seems to surprise opponents. I thought Forbes passed up a few shots against the Hawks and he overplayed a few possessions on defense but otherwise he was rock solid.
Summary: Forbes appears to legitimately be carving out an NBA career.
Marco Belinelli began the game by missing his first seven shots from the field. On top of that, his defense was a liability and his decision-making on both ends left a lot to be desired. But Belinelli was able to salvage his evening by making two three-pointers in the fourth quarter, including a heave from more than 30 feet away to give the Spurs a four-point lead with 3:39 left. On the other side of the hardwood, Belinelli’s defense improved enough to help limit the Hawks to only 21 fourth quarter points.
Summary: Belinelli shot poorly but at least his makes were timely.
Patty Mills hit four three-pointers in a span of a little more than three minutes in the first half. Those points were helpful, for sure, but the rest of his minutes on the court were nearly empty. Mills didn’t offer much playmaking or ball-handling and his tenacity on defense wasn’t notable. The Australian played better than he did last game but the bench struggled and he deserves to shoulder a healthy portion of the blame.
Summary: Mills couldn’t get his unit on track.
Davis Bertans rushed his standstill jumpers and was too ready to dribble. The ball was sticking in his hands too much and broke the rhythm of the offense. While it’s cool that he can put the ball on the floor, Bertans needs to remember he’s in the NBA for his shooting. Defensively, he wasn’t helping the cause: too weak in the paint, gave up too much space on the perimeter and his help was often a step slow.
Summary: Bertans didn’t help in any facet.
Apparently, Jakob Poeltl has forgotten how to play off the bench. His screening, movement and awareness were all poor against the Hawks. On defense, his rim protection was late, his one-on-one defense wasn’t good, he didn’t do a good job on the boards and was basically playing like he had cement insoles.
Summary: Poeltl didn’t hold down the fort, to put it kindly.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker IV had a couple passes that exhibited positive situational awareness. And … that was about it. He didn’t look particularly explosive off the dribble and couldn’t get to the rim. His defensive fundamentals are a work in progress, as he really doesn’t have much of a clue of how to operate on that end. Walker hasn’t played enough to get a real read on his development but one would hope to see a few more sparks of talent this late into his rookie campaign. Tonight, he was basically playing like a follically-blessed Dante Cunningham.
Summary: Needle status: Unmoved.
I guess Pop didn’t believe his burning fingers and decided to touch the hot stove again by starting Gay, benching Poeltl and then using Gay as the bench focal point. It didn’t work against the Kings and the same thing happened against the Hawks. Going away from a working formula (Poeltl starting, Gay off the bench) is difficult to forgive, especially versus an Atlanta team that was barely trying and couldn’t create any exploitable mismatches even if they were trying. As it turned out, Pop needed his shooters to get hot in order to squeak out a win against a team that looked like they wanted to lose.
Summary: Hide this footage from the Hall of Fame.
Looking ahead: It’s been an ugly stretch of games for the good guys. On Wednesday, they have a chance to get the mojo flowing in the right direction. Beat the Nuggets and all (or at least most) recent sins will be forgiven. Doing so would really help toward the goal of locking in a 2 vs. 7 matchup against Denver in the first round.