The San Antonio Spurs lost their sixth straight game last night to the Houston Rockets. It’s the first time the Spurs have lost six in a row in 14 years and the lead over the Western Conference continues to dwindle by the day.
You can somewhat stomach a loss to the Celtics, because they are the Celtics, but losing to the 9th place team in the West is a little harder to stomach.
So in a game where the big three all scored over 23 points, what went wrong?
• A tale of two halves
Either the Spurs will play great to start the game and then let a lead slip away, or in the case of last night’s game, decide to show up a little too late.
I tweeted a few minutes prior to the end of the fourth quarter that it was nice seeing some execution on both ends of the court, but I spoke too soon. What followed was fumbling a ball at half court when crossing the line and eating up some clock could’ve put the game away.
I talked about the Celtics getting way too many open shots yesterday, but I saw a lot of the same. Luis Scola was doing his best Kevin Garnettimpersonation with the open mid-range jumper, and of all players, Kevin Martin got too many open jumpers as well. The Spurs have got to get better at rotating and closing out. One of the first things you are taught when you learn how to play defense as to chop your feet as your are closing out on a shooter. Instead the Spurs will usually run at or past the shooter and either give them a wide open shot or a lane to the basket. Also, going under screens killed the Spurs against the Celtics, and when George Hill chose to go under the screen instead of fighting over it, he gave Kevin Martin an open three at a crucial point in the game, which allowed the Rockets to eventually tie up the game.
• Passing up open shots
Tim Duncan passed on an open shot late in the game where he had been knocking them down all game. Also, instead of choosing to shoot on a step back or fade-away with time left on the clock, Manu ate up all the clock and more trying to get to the basket for a layup.
• Living and Dying by the three
The Spurs have been one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA this season, but as of late, they just have not been falling. I understand the need to shoot out of a slump, but shooting at a 26 percent clip will do your team no favors. Matt Bonner also continues to get significant minutes, even though he went 0-5 last night and is 12-50 in his last 14 games. I might be inclined to give some minutes to Steve Novak who shot over 50 percent from long range in March.
• Bench play
The Spurs bench, which looked like one of the best second units in the league earlier in the season, has not looked the same for awhile, aside from the games when the big three were out. Gary Neal has been in a bit of a slump his last three games, Bonner is struggling, Novak isn’t playing, Splitter did better as a starter and George Hill isn’t playing as aggressively as he did when he was starting. Last night, the Spurs bench was outscored by an inferior Rockets bench, even with three of their reserves not playing.
• Common sense
Usually you don’t need your coach to tell you to foul a player with seconds remaining on the clock. But the Spurs let the Rockets wind down the clock and didn’t decide to foul until it was in Kevin Martin’s hands, which is the last Rockets player you want to see going to the line late in a game.
So where can the Spurs go from here? A few of these issues seem to be what you would expect out of a young team, so I don’t see them continually struggling with them. But defense and bench play are biggies, and if the Spurs hope to make a late postseason run, both need to improve quickly.
In the end, it is just one game and in the NBA, a short memory is a must. Hopefully they’ll erase some of these sour memories with a win tomorrow against the Phoenix Suns.