Spurs show they are still a work in progress in failed comeback attempt against the Grizzlies

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

It looks like it might take the Spurs longer than expected to find their identity.

After a tough loss to the Celtics on Saturday, the Spurs had a perfect opportunity to bounce back against a weak Memphis team in San Antonio before Tony Parker’s jersey retirement ceremony. They instead had another thoroughly disappointing performance and lost to the Grizzlies 113-109.

Once again, a slow start got the Spurs in a double-digit hole they spent a lot of energy trying to get themselves out of. The execution on offense was either too mechanical or too hectic, with players either having to work too hard to get shots that should be easy to manufacture, or rushing into bad ones. On the other end the small mistakes San Antonio typically makes were not as noticeable as in other losses, but the team lacked the versatility necessary to contain a Grizzlies squad that had significant size advantages and muscled its way into the paint over and over throughout the night. When the Spurs tried to respond with physicality, they couldn’t help but foul. When they tried to drop back to protect the basket, they surrendered open looks from range. Memphis was ahead by as many as 16 both in the first and second halves and deserved those leads.

There were good stretches in which the Spurs closed the gap, usually spearheaded by the bench. Derrick White looked like a better fit than Dejounte Murray with the starters and in the minutes in which he was on the court alongside Patty Mills San Antonio looked like a more cohesive team. Rudy Gay had it going offensively and provided a much needed scoring punch on a night in which others struggled. The Spurs made their runs, normally propelled by the long ball falling, and came surprisingly close to stealing a game they should have had no business winning. The Grizzlies deserve an enormous amount of credit for not folding under pressure in the fourth quarter, but had a couple of questionable calls gone the other way San Antonio might have actually completed the comeback.

It shouldn’t come down to a few calls late in the fourth quarter, however. The Spurs are supposed to be better than the Grizzlies; they are supposed to be a deep veteran team with continuity on its side; they are supposed to win games at home against inferior opponents, because that’s what they’ve always done under Gregg Popovich.

Unfortunately it might be time to accept that these Spurs are not like past iterations and are actually more of a work in progress than we hoped they’d be. The pieces are there for them to be good, but figuring out how they fit has proved harder than expected.

Hopefully losses like this one, as painful as they are, help the Spurs speed up the process of finding their identity, because with every passing game the margin of error shrinks.

Game notes

  • The Spurs were determined to get Aldridge involved early, setting him up with pick and pop opportunities. It was great to see that following the Celtics game, in which they completely went away from him after he couldn’t establish himself in the post. The mid-range jumper after a ball screen should always be there for LA and the Spurs need to look for it more.
  • DeRozan faded in the second half. After scoring 10 points in eight shots in the first two quarters he went 1-for-7 from the floor the rest of the way and didn’t get to the line. It was exactly the type of game in which the Spurs needed someone to take over and their star wing just couldn’t do it. He should have gotten a call on a drive to tie the game with 22 second left, but again, it shouldn’t have come to that.
  • Murray tried to be aggressive on offense, but it backfired. He kept driving to the rim without a plan instead of surveying the defense after getting past his man. White did a much better job of running the offense, at least until the fourth quarter, when he got a little wild with his shoot selection. They both did well containing Ja Morant, at least.
  • Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills struggled on defense against the bigger Dillon Brooks and Marko Guduric. They tried to make up for their lack of size with physicality but not always could. They were still solid on offense, for the most part, with Forbes making up for a forgettable first half by getting hot in the second.
  • The Grizzlies had 12 more points in the paint and five more second chance points than the Spurs. Jonas Valanciunas, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke combined for 56 points while the Spurs bigs had 30 among them. San Antonio lost the battle inside, by a lot.
  • Rudy Gay had his best game of the season, finishing with 18 points on nine shots to go with eight rebounds. Gay has been inconsistent so far, but he’s still a big piece of the puzzle for San Antonio. The Spurs need more performances like this out of him going forward.
  • The schedule is about to get tough. Six of the next seven games are on the road and the home one is on the second night of a back-to-back. This next stretch is going to tell us a lot about the Spurs.

Next game: @Timberwolves on Wednesday

The Wolves are one game ahead of the Spurs in the West standings after a hot start. It’s early in the season, but a win against them would be big.

Spurs show they are still a work in progress in failed comeback attempt against the Grizzlies
Spurs show they are still a work in progress in failed comeback attempt against the Grizzlies

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