The San Antonio Spurs never stood a chance in Tuesday evening’s beatdown by the Denver Nuggets, but what exactly went wrong?
Making a statement against the surging Denver Nuggets could’ve pushed the San Antonio Spurs one leap closer to the second round of the 2019 Playoffs, but instead they were on the receiving end of an 18-point rout. Across the board, San Antonio came out flat with stagnant ball movement and a blatant lack of energy.
You can point to late-season fatigue or Denver’s altitude as issues plaguing the Spurs, but a distinctive lack of intensity was the clear reason for their downfall. As Gregg Popovich works to rally his troops on the brink of First Round elimination for the second season in a row, San Antonio must learn from their mistakes in Game 5.
San Antonio shot abysmally from everywhere in this game with a shooting line of 41.1 percent from the field, 29.2 percent on 24 attempts from deep and just 9-of-15 from the charity stripe. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan shot a combined 13-of-28 from the field while Derrick White struggled to gain any momentum until garbage time.
Even in the darkest of moments, there still a resounding level of faith in the Popovich-led Spurs despite their current circumstances. Generally, this is an excellent team at the AT&T Center with the energy and excitement radiating from the hometown crowd.
This is where role players tend to turn on the jets and find their footing, even after a brutal loss like they suffered in Game 5.
There’s still a lot to be learned from Tuesday evening’s detrimental loss.
Next: Rudy Gay can’t be trusted in the Playoffs
Rudy Gay can’t be trusted in the Playoffs
Though his time in the Alamo City has been brief, it feels like small forward Rudy Gay has done everything in his power to embody a Spur. His charisma and steadfast attitude helped to level the team throughout the regular season and his voice is omnipresent in the locker room. Gay was the link between DeRozan and Aldridge in the lineup, providing a second scorer to compliment one while the other is on the bench.
He hasn’t done that at all in the playoffs and continues to pour on duds.
In just 20 minutes of play during Game 5, Gay finished as a -20 with six points, making just a third of his shots including 0-for-2 from three-point land. He contributed seven boards and a block, but also committed 2 fouls while playing dreadful on-ball defense against Denver’s steep rotation of forwards.
Gay isn’t alone in his woes; the entire Spurs bench has been uncharacteristically inconsistent through this series against Denver. This group was ranked fourth in +/- and ranked 11th in second-unit scoring average during the regular season.
Over the course of his career, Gay hasn’t seen much postseason success. Prior to his stint in San Antonio, Gay had only participated in seven playoff games in his career. He played each of those in 2012 as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies and got bounced by the ‘Lob City’ Clippers in the first round.
The harsh reality of the matter is that Gay has spent most of his career putting up stats on losing teams, so he doesn’t know how to adapt to the playoffs. Most of Denver’s young core has never seen the postseason before, and somehow, they’ve kept their composure on the court better than the 13-year veteran.
Gay is a valued member of this team, but his playoff disappearance on the tail end of a contract year is not a great look after a stellar regular season.
Next: Playmakers need to set their teammates up for success
Playmakers need to set their teammates up for success
Within the natural hierarchy of a basketball team, the point guard is supposed to take on primary ball distribution duties. This year’s Spurs are a little bit different since DeMar DeRozan is the de facto ball handler, but he was nowhere to be found in Game 5.
San Antonio finished the night with only 17 assists as a team to Denver’s 25. Isolation scoring can be a great way of finding an easy bucket, but it cannot be relied upon every time down the floor. Part of what makes the Spurs great is the expert-level execution as an offensive unit with ball fakes, short screens and fast-paced ball movement setting up open jumpers.
Popovich mustn’t be pleased with his guards, considering the team’s leading assister on Tuesday evening was center Jakob Poeltl with four dimes.
When his team needs him most, veteran point guard Patty Mills is losing touch with his role. Mills is supposed to operate the pick-and-roll while initiating offense around the perimeter. Whether he’s the recipient of a shot opportunity or the man creating it, Patty generally ensures that the ball is in constant motion in the half court.
Instead, he opted to score five points on 2-of-8 shooting in 20 minutes on Tuesday. He missed 4-of-5 three-pointers and oftentimes held on to the ball for much longer than he should’ve.
A Patty Mills isolation play can be useful here-and-there, but it’s not in the nature of this team to have their undersized point guard try to create shots for himself instead of dishing off to teammates.
Mills, along with DeRozan and Derrick White, need to make sure that they’re setting up teammates if they want any chance at winning this series. This team needs to regain its identity heading into Game 6, or all hope will be lost.
Next: Instilling energy in the lineup
Instilling energy in the lineup
To win in the playoffs, you have to play like you mean business. The opening moments of Game 5 were close with both teams trading buckets and hustling on defense. DeMar DeRozan hit some quick jumpers and Bryn Forbes flashed to the corner for his only three-pointer of the game just moments after the opening tip.
As soon as the Nuggets began to pull away, it was apparent that San Antonio wasn’t prepared to fight back. Between blown coverages, missed layups and careless turnovers, the body language and execution of this team took a turn for the worse.
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San Antonio lost the margin in fast break points by nine and got outrebounded by eight boards. They had fewer errors than the Nuggets and corralled two more steals, yet somehow scored just nine points off of turnovers to Denver’s eleven. Most of the team exhibited very little hustle, allowing the Nugget’s athletic wings to bully them into submission.
This didn’t resemble playoff basketball in any way, shape or form. Just by the way that the Spurs carried themselves, you’d think this was a regular season game in November instead of the most crucial matchup of the First Round.
These Spurs aren’t going to beat the Nuggets in athleticism, so they have to beat them in effort instead. The high-flying Denver core could zoom up and down the court for 48 minutes, but it won’t matter if the Spurs play harder and smarter.
No pep talk is going to remedy this situation, it has to come from within. The competitive fire that burns inside these players needs to ignite before it’s too late.