AT&T CENTER – Coming into Wednesday’s Christmas Day matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, the Spurs were already 0-6 against the “elite” teams of the NBA, and their defensive rating in the month of December had dipped to 15th in the NBA.
Fast-forward through 48 minutes of the Christmas day game and here is what Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had to say about the loss.
“(But) you can’t combined poor performances with a lack of physicality and a lack of discipline. They whipped us. They whipped us good. That’s an embarrassing loss.”
Embarrassing is what it was from the start for San Antonio as they allowed the Rockets to come out shooting 6-of-9 from three point range for 40 first quarter points. Wednesday was the second 40-point quarter the Spurs’ defense had given up in the last five days.
Chandler Parsons was a menace going for 14 of his 21 points in the first quarter, while James Harden continued to be a nemesis for the Spurs as he continued his role as the “closer” by scoring 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter while shooting 6-fo-7 during that stretch.
Even on a night when their bench was outscored 53-13, the Rockets still had all five of their starters score 10 points or more with Dwight Howard scoring 15 points and grabbing 20 rebounds, Terrence Jones scoring 21 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, and Jeremey Lin scoring 13 points and throwing eight assists.
The Spurs got a strong 22-point game from Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard was able to score 9-of-his-13 points in the third quarter, but in the end the whole team could not get enough production to make-up for the lapses on defense. Tony Parker (6 points, 3-of-1 shooting, 4 assists), Tim Duncan, and Tiago Splitter all shot a combined 9-of-30 from the field for 23 points. Outside of Ginobili, Leonard, and Duncan, no other Spurs player scored more than 10 points and the team was held to just 18 assists on the night.
Another loss to the “elite” teams was the Spurs’ 7th of the season and coincidentally their 7th overall loss of the season. Losses to “elite” teams are starting to become a trend for this team and the players have begun to take notice.
“Against the good teams we have been struggling and always fighting from behind,” said Ginobili. “It’s hard against the best teams. So far we’ve lost all seven games against the main contenders and we need to do a better job.”
The Spurs fell behind by 18 points in the first quarter and would eventually claw back within two points in the game, but could never get over the hump. In their first match-up with Houston, they also fell behind by 23 points and retook the lead, but could not sustain it.
“We want to do better against the best, we want to win against teams like the Thunder, the Rockets, and the Pacers,” finished Ginobili.
Asked since it’s December, if losses against “elite” teams matter, here’s what Duncan had to say.
“In December it doesn’t matter as much, but it’s starting to matter more and more as each one of our losses have been against the top-teams in the league. So it does matter.”
One of the biggest issues for the Spurs’ losses recently has been their defense in the month of December. Their defense overall is ranked 4th in defensive rating at 98.2 points per 100 possessions, but in December they’ve fallen to 18th at 105.0 points per 100 possessions.
Wednesday they allowed the Rockets to make 12-of-24 three pointers (50%) and are ranked 26th in opponent three point percentage at 39% in the month of December. The Rockets scored 111 points on Wednesday and the December numbers continue to haunt the Spurs as they are giving up 102.2 points per game in December, ranked 18th in the NBA. Going further, teams are shooting 45.8% from the field (19th) and averaging 21.2 assists per game (16th) against San Antonio’s defense in the month of December. The Rockets tallied 28 assists on Wednesday against San Antonio.
Mind you, the Spurs have played tougher teams in December after an easier November schedule, and though they’ve made it through the month 8-4, those four losses still came to the “elite” teams.
With a game against another “good” team in the Mavericks in Dallas on Thursday, the Spurs will try to fix some of their defensive issues that have been troubling them in the month so far. Though the Mavericks aren’t considered “contenders” just yet, they are still a team with a winning record and the Spurs are 6-7 against winning ball clubs through two months of the season.
Will they find some answers in solving their defensive issues in Dallas? Only Thursday will tell.