Spurs can’t corral Zion, lose again in preseason

Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Despite a strong start and improved offensive execution, a poor third quarter and inconsistent defense kept San Antonio winless in preseason.

Spurs center Jakob Poeltl couldn’t say at what point in his team’s 123-114 preseason loss to the Pelicans he picked up the two large scratches he sported during his post-game availability. Instead the welts, which went from his collarbone to somewhere beneath his jersey, served as a symbol of the constant contact he’d subjected his body to in 20 minutes of play, mostly with first overall pick Zion Williamson.

At some point this season one of the shared experiences of rival fanbases will be the perpetual unease for Williamson’s next downhill drive, which is like watching Bowser with a star power-up in Mario Kart or, as in Bryn Forbes’ less nerdy terms, “a defensive end that can jump.” It’s an illogical combination of size and body control that makes something inevitable so difficult to stop, and seeing it in person made one wonder if LaMarcus Aldridge’s night off (he and Rudy Gay were both DNP-Rests) was something of a business decision.

“It was tough,” said Poeltl about guarding the Pelicans rookie. “He’s definitely a good player… very athletic, very strong. He’s gonna keep attacking the rim. I think it’s gonna get easier once we see him a little bit more, scouting him a bit more, but he’s definitely a good player…. He has a good feel for the game, as well. He’s finding his teammates, he’s attacking strong. You don’t see it everyday.”

Poeltl, to his credit, did an admirable job using his height advantage to contain Williamson — especially in the 1st quarter, which the Spurs won 27 to 16. On one possession, Zion took a power dribble to his left and tried to create some space by leaning into Poeltl with his right shoulder, only for the San Antonio big to recover, block the shot and collect the rebound. Williamson finished with a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Even in a meaningless game self-preservation felt like an underlying theme, whether it was watching Spurs defenders bounce off Williamson, DeMar DeRozan drop to the floor after taking a shot to the midsection (Pop said he may have had the wind knocked out of him), or simply ruminate on the division rival’s impressive act of rebirth last summer in offloading disgruntled superstar Anthony Davis. It was also something that new Spur DeMarre Carroll touched on in his post-game scrum, both in a literal sense (he stressed the importance of “staying healthy” for himself and for Dejounte Murray) and in how he’s adapted his skillset through 10 years in the NBA.

“[Shooting threes] is something I built over the course [of my career]. I had a bunch of shooters as my coach and teammates. Jeff Hornacek was one when I was in Utah, Kyle Korver really helped when I was in Atlanta. Even in Brooklyn Joe Harris helped me a little bit. So, it’s just trying to better myself. I knew that’s something I needed to improve in order to stick around in this league and that’s what I do.”

Carroll had a nice outing on Sunday in 21 minutes, dropping 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and showing off that very welcome three-point range by hitting 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. If his fit in San Antonio appears seamless early on, it’s due in part to his appreciably professional approach to playing in the league, as well as his experience with nuclear members of the Popovich coaching and executive tree.

“There’s a lot of things that go into playing Spurs basketball,” he said. “I expected it — being over there with Coach Mike Budenhozler in Atlanta, I got a sample. Even with Sean Marks in Brooklyn. So at the end of the day, it’s a home away from home.”

Carroll’s right about the multitudes that comprise Spurs basketball: role players like him must fundamentally evolve out of a sense of career survival, while featured players like Aldridge and DeRozan function as basketball dinosaurs thriving in San Antonio’s Land Before Time; the team will try to leverage the continuity it’s rolling back while fitting familiar pieces into new roles. It’s the balancing act that Pop will look to perform as he turns the losses in preseason into lessons for the regular season.

Other notes…

  • Murray showed more promising signs on both ends of the floor, getting hands on passes and setting teammates up nicely in the open floor and on dribble penetration.
  • Bryn Forbes continued his hot preseason play, leading the team with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He started the day with a four-point play and scored shortly after on a baseline drive and dunk, his first (as far as I know) that took place in the half court.

“It’s always one on every team,” Carroll said of Forbes. “Always one guy who can shoot, make it look effortless.”

  • For a third straight game, Murray and White did not share the floor at all. I understand staggering them as a guiding principle so as to benefit spacing and ensure there is always a strong point of attack defender on the floor, but Pop not having done so at all by now is, in the least, noteworthy.
  • Aldridge getting the day off meant a third starting lineup combination in as many games. This time, it was Trey Lyles getting the unlikely start. He had some nice moments despite making just 1 of 5 shots, showing a good feel for the game. Pop said he looked “solid.”
  • As Jesus Gomez presciently noted, the road to rotation minutes for guys like Lonnie Walker will indeed go through Marco Belinelli. Walker saw the floor a bit more in garbage time, but it seems clear at least to start the season that Pop will ride with the more known commodity in Belinelli first off the bench.
  • Loss aside, the first half against New Orleans was likely the best stretch of play San Antonio’s put together this preseason, with better ball movement, shot creation, and overall execution. It should be a performance the team can build upon overall.
  • The Spurs began trimming their training camp roster shortly after the game, announcing they’d waived forward Dedric Lawson. Now his watch has ended.

Spurs can’t corral Zion, lose again in preseason
Spurs can’t corral Zion, lose again in preseason

Leave a Reply