Self-inflicted wounds and more: Dissecting the Spurs losses

We’re only ten days into March and the San Antonio Spurs (52-12) have already earned their ticket to the postseason. After beating Detroit on Wednesday night, the Spurs rebounded from their atrocious loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon. Clapping hands though

Keyword in that last sentence: L-O-S-S.

The question is asked, are there any positive signs to build on from the losses?

I’ve gone ahead and broken down all 12 of the Spurs’ losses. I’ve put them into unique categories and given a quick summary of what the category represents and a brief summary of the game.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Self-inflicted wounds represent games where the Spurs hurt themselves in a losing effort. Whether it was numerous turnovers, not bringing the aggressiveness early in a game or just making critical mistakes in crunch time.

  • October 30, 2010: New Orleans Hornets - L, 99-90

The Spurs fell behind 18 points in first half of this game. They made an effort to crawl back within five points in the fourth quarter, but in the end, the Hornets early lead was too much to overcome.

  • November 26, 2010: Dallas Mavericks – L, 103-94

This game was like every typical I-35 rivalry. Close throughout, physical, emotional, win-in-the-fourth-quarter type format. The Spurs had too many turnovers in this game (17) and it showed down the stretch in the fourth quarter as the Mavericks created separation. Manu Ginobili did all he could with a heroic 31-point effort but in the end, not one player can win against 15 others.

  • March 1, 2011: at Memphis Grizzlies – L, 109-93

The Spurs looked out of flux on offense. Passes were a step late, players weren’t in the right spot to receive a pass and everyone seemed to be using a different playbook before the game. The 22 turnovers were too much to overcome. The lack of defense was another issue. Memphis was able to score over 20 points in each quarter and shot over 50% without any three pointers. The worst part? One of Memphis’ best players (Marc Gasol) got ejected in the first half and the Spurs still had no chance at winning. The Spurs were playing their first game without Tony Parker who was injured at the time.

One quick note about the Grizzlies: Should this be a potential playoff matchup, the Spurs will have their hands full.

The Spurs hold a 2-1 series lead against the Grizzlies right now. In the first game, the Grizzlies took the Spurs to overtime in order for the Spurs to get the win. In the second game, the Spurs had a 20-point lead at home in the first half, yet the Grizzlies were able to make a come-back and hold a seven point lead once in the fourth quarter before the Spurs rallied for the win. In the third game, the Grizzlies ran the Spurs out of Memphis in a route.

Keep in mind, Memphis’ second best player Rudy Gay (19ppg) will be back for the playoffs after nursing an injury.

The fourth matchup with the Grizzlies (March 27) will be key in observing how a potential Spurs-Grizzlies series could unfold.

With the best record, the Spurs don’t want to make the same mistake the Dallas Mavericks did in 2007. Then, the Mavericks were the number one seed and lost to an underestimated eight-seeded Warriors team.

  • March 6, 2011: Los Angeles Lakers - L, 99-83

“They hit us in the mouth from the beginning and by the time we realized it, it was the ninth round and we were down on the scorecard,” Spurs guard Gary Neal after his team was blown out by the Lakers.

The fans could see it, the players knew it and the Lakers took advantage of it. What is the  “it”? Aggressiveness and passion are the “it”. Even though it looked as if the Lakers won due to their major size advantage, viewing the game in the first quarter was enough to tell you the Lakers wanted the game more. The Spurs were a step late whether it meant gathering a rebound, being aggressive on offense or hustling to any potential loose balls. After falling by as many as 30 points, coach Gregg Popovich used the second half as an extra-minutes period for the role players. The role players made a valiant effort to make the loss look a bit respectable but all in all, the Lakers just came in and tore apart the AT&T Center.

Some have suggested the loss was a positive because it gave the Spurs a reality check to inform them that in order to reach their coveted fifth championship, they will need to dethrone the current champions. The Spurs must keep in mind the Lakers will not surrender their crown without a war.

A Daniel Powter Day

Daniel Powter is known for the song Bad Day. The song is a reminder that on certain occasions, it’s just not your day. This can be applied to a game in which shots did not fall whether wide open or contested.

  • February 11, 2011: at Philadelphia 76ers - L, 77-71

The Spurs just couldn’t hit a shot. The mantra had already been about how Philadelphia was just a bad luck site for the Spurs. It proved to be true. There were possessions where the Spurs got some quality looks but the shots just were not falling. Give the 76ers defense credit; they took the Spurs out of their comfort zone. There were possessions where the Spurs couldn’t even set up their offense without getting a pass tipped. It was one loss were both teams shot horrific, and a shot here or there could have given the victory to either team.

Beyond Exhaustion

These were games where the team was playing on the second night of a back-to-back or just flat out looked exhausted.

  • December 1, 2010: at Los Angeles Clippers – L, 90-85

Looking at the field goal percentage and watching the fourth quarter it was obvious: The entire team had no legs. Some open shots didn’t fall for the Spurs, and the Clippers barely won.

  • December 23, 2010: Orlando Magic, L- 123-101

After playing the Denver Nuggets the night before, the Spurs immediately flew to Orlando for an early east coast game. The Spurs showed they had no energy from the back-to-back and got blown out in the second half.

  • January 22, 2011: at New Orleans Hornets, L – 96-72

Tiago Splitter was the leading scorer with 11 points. The Spurs lost by 24 points. At halftime, the Spurs only trailed by three points, but in the third quarter, New Orleans outscored them 31-10. It was over from there.

Here On Lucky Street

Lucky Street is a metaphor expressing when an opposing player or team played out of their mind and hit an uncharacteristic amount of shots at a high-rare percentage. Coyote Though

  • January 4, 2011: at New York Knicks, L – 128-115

With two days rest, the Spurs traveled to New York. At halftime they already allowed New York to score 72 points. The Spurs had walked into Times Square holding their last three opponents to 82.67 points and walked out of Madison Square Garden scorched by 128 points. Wilson Chandler (before being traded) scored 31 points, shooting 13 of 19 from the field.

  • January 5, 2011: at Boston Celtics, L – 105-103

After not being able to stop the Knicks from scoring, the Spurs allowed the Celtics to shoot a staggering 61% and Rajon Rondo almost had a quadruple-double. The Celtics game was very close throughout, but the Celtics could not miss, even on contested shots. Ray Allen scored 31 points on 13-16 shooting from the field and Paul Pierce scored 18 points on 7-10 shooting from the field.

  • February 1, 2011: at Portland Trail Blazers, L – 99-86

LaMarcus Aldridge (40 points, 13-16 FG), Welsey Matthews (21 points, 8-16 FG) and Andre Miller (18 points, 8-13 FG) all had an extremely un-characteristic night. Aldridge led the bunch and played magnificent. The entire Trail Blazers team played lock-down defense holding the Spurs to just 15 points in the final quarter and ending the game on a 14-2 run. Assess this game from this angle: It was 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, the Spurs were having trouble scoring while two of the top contributors (Parker 6pts and Neal 3pts) were non existent for the game. The Spurs didn’t bring the fire and energy in the fourth quarter and Portland’s combination of players and home-crowd synergy devoured the Spurs.

  • February 17, 2011: at Chicago Bulls L 109-99

The Bulls shot 54% for the game; there was nothing the Spurs could do. Derrick Rose just had an extraordinary game (42 points, 8 assists).

Learn From The Kryptonite 

Of the 12 losses, I have found six particular games that the team can find some positive reinforcement.

The Dallas Mavericks loss is important because if the Spurs and Mavericks hold onto their current playoff positions, they would be meeting in the Western Conference finals. Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler combined for 45 points in this game. The Spurs were missing Parker’s production yet still let the game slip away in the fourth quarter.

The team can use this loss to know beforehand that a Spurs-Mavericks series will again be close, physical and come down to whichever team can execute flawlessly down the stretch. This game showed the Spurs beat themselves by turning over the ball in crunch time, this is something that they can correct for a potential series with the Mavericks.

The Clippers loss can give the Spurs confidence that they can still compete even if they are tired and on their last legs. Even though the Clippers won’t make the playoffs, it’s a good sign for the Spurs to know there won’t be any back-to-back battles. This game can teach the team to bring out that extra burst of energy in overtime or when they need it most.

The Celtics loss is a major asset for the Spurs confidence because even though Kevin Garnett did not play; Allen, Pierce and Rondo all had an amazing game but could only defeat the Spurs by two points at home. The Spurs can grow even more confidence knowing they only lost by two points on the second night of a back-to-back.

As I wrote after the game:

“I was proud of the way the team fought to the death against Boston. Manu willed the team to a comeback by scoring 20 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. Even though he did make a bad decision by forcing the game winning three, you always have to remember Manu is a gamble. You live and die with his heroic and some times detrimental plays. But any Spurs fan will tell you; they would rather have him rolling the dice on their team, than having to be the team that has to try and stop him.”

The Portland loss was another good building block because the Spurs still had a chance going into the fourth quarter tied but a lack of execution hurt them, as did the big game from LaMarcus Aldridge. The loss could help the team to see that they have a target on their back, every team will continue to bring their “A” game until the season ends and that target will grow even larger when the playoff begin.

Mentally, the Philadelphia loss was a good experience for the team to go through because they will have games like this in the playoffs. There will be playoff games where both teams play extremely hard, execute, but just can’t hit a shot or get a lucky bounce. One play will decide the game and the loser will rest for two days, put it behind them and gear up for the next game. The Spurs must learn, even if they lose in a game that could have gone to either team, the focus the next game has to be on the game at hand and not dwindle on the past.

The last game the Spurs can take some confidence away from is the Chicago loss. The Spurs were playing from behind the entire game but never fell too far out of reach. They would go on a run but the Bulls would counter back. The Spurs could never get over the hump. This is a good experience because it enthralls the “keep climbing, never give up” attitude. Even if you’re down and you’re climbing to get over that hump, you cannot falter. You have to keep trying and trying and believe your going to get to the top of the hill eventually. Even though they never made it to the top of the hill in Chicago, the Spurs know if they keep climbing with all their might, there’s a chance.

Even Heroes Have The Right To Bleed Superman Swag

There’s a song by a band called Five for Fighting titled Superman. In the song, the lyrics portray the other side of Superman. The side that no one can see. Yes, he’s there to save the world and protect everyone. He’s there to live up to the standards his destiny has set for him. Like the Spurs, they’re a team and organization that is not only a role model to the city of San Antonio, but around the world you can find Spurs fans and organizations that model their attitude and culture. 

Losing is never fun in any facet of life, but losing can teach you valuable lessons. For the Spurs, they can take some of their losses and learn from them so the next time they are faced with the same challenge, they’ll be prepared strategically and mentally to do their best.

Like Superman, the Spurs are a sign of hope for so many. Whether it’s the casual fan watching the game with their family and friends, the writer writing about them right now or even the high school basketball player hearing the stories of Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair or any other of the Spurs players’ stories of triumph in the face of adversity.

Superman rarely gets hurt in battle like the Spurs with only 12 losses. Superman isn’t perfect and neither are the Spurs. If they were perfect then they would go 82-0 and sweep every team in the playoffs. Superman could lose a fight or be wounded.

When thinking about the Spurs (Superman) as they get ready for the playoffs (battle), remember this, even heroes have the right to bleed.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @24writer | Email Paul at: paul@projectspurs.com 

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX and the 2013 NBA Finals.

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