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O’Neal, Suns defeat Spurs in return home

“I think overall we made a lot of mental errors,” said San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after his number-one seeded Spurs fell to the team that ranked last in the Western Conference coming into Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns, 105-101 in overtime.

Popovich said one of the Spurs’ biggest mental collapses came with 3.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Then, the Spurs held a slim 100-97 lead over the Suns. With no timeouts, Jermaine O’Neal threw the ball to half court and found an open Wesley Johnson for the game-tying 3-pointer that sent the two teams into overtime.

“That cost us the game,” said Popovich after.

In overtime, the Spurs went cold as they shot 0-10 and their offense was discombobulated. The final statement was a turnover to the end the game as Phoenix held the Spurs to just one point in overtime.

 “They played well. You have to give Phoenix credit. They deserved to win the basketball game. I thought that they were the more aggressive team and they played smarter than we did,” said Popovich of the Suns afterward.

Here are five key points in the Spurs’ loss to the Suns.

1.     Spurs went cold to end the game, Suns got hot

Though the Spurs led through the majority of the game and even held an early 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, the team just couldn’t stop the Suns in the fourth quarter and overtime while San Antonio’s offense was struggling to put the ball into the basket. The Suns torched the Spurs in the fourth quarter 33-23, and then outscored them 5-1 in overtime. San Antonio’s offense shot just 8-of-20 in the fourth quarter and 0-10 in overtime.

“They played great,” said Spurs point guard Tony Parker after the game, “we just couldn’t find any solutions.”

2.     Jermaine O’Neal’s surprise explosion

“He played great,” said Tim Duncan of Jermaine O’Neal after the game, “he got the best of me.”

O’Neal was huge for the Suns in the second half as he scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half. None were more valuable than his production in the fourth quarter where he continued to grab offensive rebounds for put-backs, hit fade-away jumpers, and hook shots on his way to 13 points in the fourth quarter on 5-of-7 shooting. To add to O’Neal’s big night, he also grabbed 13 rebounds. The Spurs were outrebounded 49-44 on the glass and 16-10 in offensive rebounds.

Duncan finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but his shooting was off like his teammates as he shot 6-of-15 from the floor. He did reach a new milestone in his career as he became the 11th NBA player to score 20,000 points and grab 13,000 rebounds in league history.

3.     Johnson mirrors Thabo Sefolosha on Parker

 Parker put up 22 points and eight assists in the game, but it looked like last April when Johnson was put to defend Parker. In last year’s playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Thunder put Thabo Sefolosha, a lengthier forward on Parker to disrupt him and the Spurs’ offense. Wednesday, the Suns implemented a similar strategy in the second half as Johnson made Parker work for every point he earned. Parker shot 9-of-20 on the night, but he could never totally free himself of Johnson as Johnson seemed to be involved on every defensive possession, even when Parker received a screen.

Parker attributed his off night to a bad shooting contest. “Weird rhythm the whole game,” said Parker, “It’s just not one of those games for us tonight.”

Though Parker wouldn’t admit Johnson’s defense was the difference in his off game, Johnson’s coach Lindsey Hunter did.

“Wesley Johnson’s defense on (Tony) Parker was phenomenal because he could recoup from being beat and still bother him.”

4.     Missed opportunities

Some of the biggest areas where the Spurs hurt themselves were once again with turnovers (17), and missed free throws (25-of-35). The offensive rebounds also put a dent in the Spurs’ game as they were outscored 21-11 in second chance points.

5.     When will Kawhi be ready?

With a night like tonight, where Parker was being limited, Duncan’s shots weren’t going in, and Manu Ginobili was also off (2-of-8 shooting, 10 points), the Spurs seemed like they needed another played to take over on offense. Kawhi Leonard seemed like he would be that player as he went into halftime with 11 points. He had a brilliant one-on-one spin move on a Suns defender and was attacking the basket at will in the second quarter where he scored eight points. However, when the Spurs needed him most, the fourth quarter and overtime, he only took one shot. It’s still too early to ask Leonard to become the number one option on a night when the stars are struggling, but when will that time come?

Side notes

·         With 21 minutes logged, DeJuan Blair had an impressive game off the bench with 15 points and six rebounds. In the second quarter Blair scored six points and early in the fourth quarter, he scored five points. He was being aggressive in getting himself in position to score in the paint.

·         Late in the second quarter, Spurs forward Stephen Jackson sprained his right ankle.
He went to the locker room on his own and came back on his own to the bench. At halftime, he did not return to the game. After the game, Jesse Blanchard of 48MinutesOfHell.com overheard Jackson tell someone “the same ankle I hurt in New York, it came back.”

DeMarcus Cousins and Co. visit Friday

Though the Spurs fell to the worst team in the Western Conference, they’ll have their shot of earning win 46 as they face the new worst team in the West, the Sacramento Kings (20-39) on Friday.

Where San Antonio stands

Here are a few stats showing where the Spurs stand in certain categories in the NBA.

Season record: 45-14  

Home Record: 22-3

Vs. teams below .500: 27-4 

Vs. the Western Conference: 25-10

In overtime: 3-3

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 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.

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