San Antonio Spurs: Did Gregg Popovich blow the game against Houston?

Gregg Popovich (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Gregg Popovich (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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The San Antonio Spurs didn’t respect a severely shorthanded Houston Rockets Thursday but still might’ve survived without some bizarre coaching choices.

“We had four or five guys who were out to lunch,” Popovich said postgame after a 109-105 loss to the Houston Rockets Thursday. Indeed there were several issues with the San Antonio Spurs against a team that only suited up nine guys and just lost their franchise player, but it’s pretty clear this loss wasn’t all on the players.

Short of the young trio of Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker, and Devin Vassell, the team certainly didn’t help their cause. As a team, the Spurs shot just 9-of-31 from the 3-point line, a weapon that has been crucial in their early success. They also extended their streak of being outrebounded to 10 games, further solidifying my recent point that the frontcourt is not getting it done.

Despite all this, San Antonio still secured what should’ve been a comfortable lead of 99-90 with 4:39 remaining after a LaMarcus Aldridge hook shot. That is until the Spurs completely collapsed on both ends of the floor behind some uninspired defense from a couple of guys that were having rough outings, Aldridge included.

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It became clear as the game went on that the young guns were going to need to pull this game out for San Antonio. After missing a couple of games dealing with his father’s illness, it was understandable that DeMar DeRozan wasn’t all there. LaMarcus Aldridge, meanwhile, was simply outmatched against Christian Wood in every aspect.

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As they did in the Orlando bubble, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker showed out, single-handedly keeping the Spurs afloat and helping them pull ahead in the third quarter. Where the game really got away from the Silver and Black was in the last five minutes.

As much as I appreciate Patty Mills, it was apparent he didn’t have it going tonight. On top of shooting just 3-for-10, he was being blown by repeatedly by Sterling Brown, Jae-Sean Tate, Mason Jones, and just about everyone else all night long.

It was befuddling to see Mills remain on the floor when Devin Vassell, with his three steals and eager defense, was sitting on the bench.

Yes, Vassell had just been replaced by Keldon with 7:13 remaining, but the man is 20 years old. At some point, the endless parade of 50 points in the paint needed to be halted to hold onto a lead.

By the night’s end, Patty Mills finished -14 on the court in his 27 minutes while Walker and Vassell played 25 and 23 minutes, respectively. Given the razor-thin margin of this game, having some bigger guards on the court in crunch time likely would’ve made the difference for the Spurs.

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As Saturday’s rematch approaches, it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments Coach Popovich makes. As established as he is, even Pop might still be learning exactly how to utilize his younger guys when the veterans aren’t getting it done. He said four or five guys were out to lunch during this game — it seems like one of those was himself.

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