The San Antonio Spurs began Wednesday night with a 5-2 record to start the season. They have overcome many strong opponents as a unit, but with Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell out, their flaws took a front-row seat against the Toronto Raptors. San Antonio ended the night with a 100-143 loss to a team with more length, athleticism, and multiple three-point shotmakers.
A Rocky Start Against the Raptors
The Spurs got off to a rocky start within the first four possessions. San Antonio’s first pass resulted in a turnover and a quick two points for Toronto. Their next three response attempts all turned up empty too as they fell behind 9-0 early. Near the end of the first quarter, shots finally started going down for the silver and black and they were able to cut Toronto’s lead to four. With the Raptors holding onto just a one-point lead at the end of the frame, however, a San Antonio win didn’t seem so far-fetched.
For most of the second quarter, the Spurs were able to hold their own. They took at 33-32 lead at the 11:33 mark first one-point lead off of a finger-roll layup from Jakob Poeltl. Maintaining that lead was a challenge, and it was one San Antonio failed. At the half, the team trailed by 19 point. For the Spurs, it was clear this was a battle they could not win.
Familiar Flaws for the San Antonio Spurs
Turnovers were a key issue San Antonio ran into that has cost them games many times in the past. The Raptors’ defense seemed to lock the Spurs up too quickly restricting their movement of the ball. Constantly picking off the passing lanes, Toronto forced 23 San Antonio turnovers. Eight turnovers in the third quarter by the Spurs really allowed the visitors to make it ugly.
Keita Bates-Diop was the leading scorer for the Spurs with 17 points, shooting 50% from the field. Jakob Poeltl was effectively neutralized as a scorer. He walked away with more two turnovers than the three field goals he made, though he did tally five offensive rebounds. Rookie Malaki Branham was the second top-shooter of the night with 13 points, three assists, and two rebounds. As a collective the team shot 39% from the field compared to the Raptors who shot 53%.
Toronto Was Focused
The Raptors’ style is similar to the Spurs in that they play aggressive and at a fast pace. That is why they were able to run through San Antonio who was playing with limited reserves.
Even without point guard Fred VanVleet, the Raptors were able to dominate San Antonio on both ends of the floor. The Spurs had no genuine three-point shooters without Johnson and Vassell there who could counter guard Gary Trent Jr. or forward Pascal Siakam from the perimeter. Trent walked away with 24 points, two steals, and two assists. Siakam scored 22 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and 11 assists, playing his way into a triple-double.
Preparation Is Key
As hard as it may have been for Spurs fans, this game was needed for the young core. It showed what could occur when a team takes their scouting report seriously and doesn’t underestimate the talent that is in this organization. It also brings to life the saying, “You are only as strong as your weakest link”.
That is not to say San Antonio has many “weak links”. There are plenty of individual talents on the team. In the game of basketball, however, you can never be sure you will always have your leading scorer or most vocal facilitator suited up. Now more than ever all, combinations of the starting five and substitutions off the bench need to be prepared for different styles of opponents. While developing versatility against other teams, they must learn to read each other even at a moment where time to process their teammates next move isn’t in their favor.
Next Up for the San Antonio Spurs
Up next for the Spurs is the Los Angeles Clippers coming off a win against the Houston Rockets. The Clippers stand at 11th in the West with a 4-4 record to start the season. They will be traveling to the south to meet San Antonio at the AT&T Center at 7pm on Friday, November 8th, 2022. In away games, the Clippers sit at 3-2. The goal would obviously be for San Antonio to balance that ratio to 3-3 by keeping the win in house.
All stats used in this article are from NBA.com.