AT&T CENTER – Asked what he learned after his team defeated the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio 111-100 on Saturday, Indiana Pacers head Coach Frank Vogel responded, “Nothing.”
Why was it nothing that he learned about his team on a night when they led by 26 points at one time?
“It’s a regular season game,” explained Vogel. “What if we won game seven (of the Eastern Conference Finals) and played these guys? I don’t think it would have been anything like today.”
For San Antonio, Saturday marked their fourth loss of the season and coincidentally, their fourth loss to a top-talent team. The Spurs currently sit at 15-4 on the season, still placed second in the Western Conference and third overall in the NBA through 19 games. Against teams that are .500 or better record-wise (winning teams), the Spurs are 5-4.
Looking at their 5-4 record against winning teams in more detail, the Spurs are scoring 96.5 points per game while giving up 97.8 points per game against those nine teams – a margin of -1.3 points per game.
Some critics might say the Spurs can beat the bad teams (10-0 vs. competition below .500), but they are having trouble with teams they could potentially see in the playoffs. If there’s one trend against the top notch teams, it’s the Spurs’ ability to fall behind in games and at times, not make that leap in recovering.
A week before playing the Pacers, the Spurs found themselves down 23 points at home to the Houston Rockets. The Spurs would battle back to reclaim the lead before Houston finally put San Antonio away in the closing minutes. Going back to the second game of the season in Los Angeles, the Spurs found themselves down 15 at one point against the Lakers but they were able to climb the hump and beat the Lakers by six points that night.
Falling behind has been a larger occurrence for this Spurs team against winning teams than has gaining a big lead on said teams. Against the nine winning teams they have faced, the Spurs have fallen behind by 10 or more points 6-of-9 times while they have only held a 10 or more point lead 4-of-9 times against those teams. When you put those numbers into total type statistics, here’s how the total points winning opponents have been ahead on San Antonio and the amount of largest leads total San Antonio has been ahead on those teams.
Opponents’ largest lead combined Spurs’ largest lead combined
118 points – 13.1 point average 76 points – 8.4 point average
That’s a difference of 42 points. When you play better competition, obviously your numbers aren’t going to be as spectacular as when you beat up on the bad teams. Better ball clubs will exploit your weaknesses and as has been witnessed through six of those nine games against winning teams, winning teams can take a large lead in some cases, and then the Spurs haven’t been able to recover.
For this Spurs team, it’s been a number of issues that become exploited against top talent teams – stagnant offense at times, turnovers, missed assignments on defense, lack of focus and energy, etc. It’s all part of the process that comes in November and December as part of an 82-game season. In fact, the Spurs have matched their record through 19 games last year as they went 15-4 and suffered losses to the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Clippers, and Miami Heat. All four of those teams made the playoffs and the Spurs ended up being less than 30 seconds from a title in game six against the eventual champion Heat.
When a team wins 50-60 games a year and hasn’t missed the playoffs since Tim Duncan joined the franchise, some critics of the team might at times overreact and find any type of weakness to pin-point since winning is the norm and losing is not a consistent issue.
In the Spurs’ locker room, there reads the famous quote by Jacob Riis on ‘Pounding the Rock.’ There’s a reason why the Spurs have built their team by this concept year after year – because they know it’s all part of the process and like Vogel said Saturday, this won’t be the Spurs team that the Pacers would play in a playoff series should they meet in the future.
Yes, the Spurs are 5-4 against winning ball clubs and they may lose more games to those types of teams but as Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said on November 30 when the Boston Celtics were in town, it’s too early to over-analyze teams, you just have to worry about your own team.
“I haven’t watched anybody except ourselves,” said Popovich that night on whether he’s watched the Celtics.
“I haven’t sat down and scouted anybody or watched anybody because at this point in the season there’s enough to fix on your own team,” continued Popovich, “and if you do those things well, you’ll be in pretty decent shape. You’ll worry about those guys (opponents) as the season progresses.”
The Spurs lost to another winning team Saturday, but as history tells us, there is going to be a huge difference from how this team looked one December night to the finished product come April.