A Six Degree Separation Still Shows This Team Can’t String Quality Wins Together

By Gregory Moore
Updated: January 13, 2005

SAN ANTONIO, TX – In the past six games, the San Antonio Spurs have had two lackluster games in which they lost in the waning minutes of those contests. The total margin in the combined losses has been six points. For a team as talented as the Spurs are, losing two winnable games by a total of six points doesn’t sit well with anyone including the coaching staff. So has it been any surprise that after a loss this team has rebounded with a vengeance on their next opponents? It should be noted that even though the Spurs have played well at times, in the six games that are used as the example of this piece, this team has even struggled in what should be blowout contests.

“It’s hard sometimes for guys to get up for games,” Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said after Wednesday’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

If you want to dissect this problem, you have to begin on December 31, 2004 when the Spurs took on the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles. In that game the Spurs and Clippers were tied at the half with 39 points each. And while Tim Duncan and Tony Parker combined for 44 of the team’s 98 points, it took a five minute run of 17-4 to start the momentum to pull away from a team that should not have even been in the contest in the first half. For some it may seem like a quality win but it also showed that this team was capable of winning a game with mediocre effort against certain squads. Against a team like the Clippers, they could flip that switch that the Lakers used so well during their run but as you will see in the next segment, sometimes that switch simply doesn’t work against a good team.

From the Clippers we go to Sacramento and it was in this game that a weakness seemed to materialize for the Spurs; they had a hard time keeping a strong team off the boards and from scoring. Bruce Bowen had a horrendous game against Peja Stojakovic and it showed, as the shooting ace was capable of putting up big numbers even in his down year. In that game, Peja had six threes and scored 28 points. Yet what was probably more telling was the fact that again keeping the energy level up was something that was very difficult for this team to do. With Manu Ginobili leading the team with 18 points, the game made you wonder what happens when Duncan and Parker aren’t main contributors and whether the bench is capable of carrying the team when the starters are having off nights.

The third game of this scenario is probably the best game the Spurs have played in this stretch. The Los Angeles Lakers came to town and the team took their frustration out on Kobe Bryant and company. Bowen scored a regular season career high of 24 points with 13 of them in the first half. More importantly he held Bryant to 17 points in that game. Brent Barry chipped in 14 points and the team was 50% from the three-point range, hitting 15 of 30 in the game.

In their fourth game, the Spurs met an Indiana Pacers team that was capable of winning and with Jermaine O’Neal scoring 32 points in the contest, that could have very easily been the case as the Spurs had no answers for stretches of the game. Although they did win the game 111-98, keep in mind that Duncan was 2 of 7 in the first half and was not really a big factor until late. Also add to this factor that Jamal Tinsley scored 18 points against the point guards of the Spurs. The slow effort during a game was beginning to rear its ugly head and this time it could be detrimental to what the team was trying to accomplish.

Game five of this scenario is the precursor to what happened in Utah. Remember Bowen’s quote very early in this piece? Well that warning was slowly coming to pass as the Spurs had a difficult time with the Nuggets on Jan. 8th. Again while the team won, it wasn’t a quality win like the coaching staff would want from this squad. In stretches there was lackadaisical play or effort. In some instances there were hesitation in the execution of assignments. Against a lesser team, the Spurs got away with a lot of mistakes even though Bowen scored 17 points and kept Carmelo Anthony to just eight points in the game. While I may sound redundant, I want to stress that this win actually set the team up for a rough game in Utah.

THE EPITOME OF MONOTONOUS EFFORT SHOWED UP IN UTAH When the Spurs lost an 86-85 effort to Utah the other night, which was the culmination of a series of games that I had described earlier. In five games the team didn’t play completely up to their level except for the Lakers game. The other four were a ho-hum type of effort that seemed to show a lack of focus in some instances, decisiveness in others. The Spurs couldn’t keep Memet Okur off the boards in that game. There were times when defensive breakdowns were quite evident throughout the contest. As head coach Gregg Popovich told the media that night, “We didn’t deserve to win.” The problem with that game is that the effort that was shown is actually becoming more of a normalcy than ever now. Right now this team does not have any consistency when it comes to crunch time. Against the Bucks tonight, Tony Massenberg got playing minutes and while Popovich may have said it was to reward him for what he did in practice, the real reason was that Marcus Fizer was abusing Rasho Nesterovic. While Devin Brown played a few minutes tonight, there was no Malik Rose in the contest. Now is that saying that this team didn’t play hard in the 94-79 blowout? Of course not. Fifty-six points came from Ginobili, Parker and Duncan in the game. Nesterovic blocked four shots and grabbed eight boards in the contest. The team shot 46% from the field and was nearly perfect from the line. You can’t ask for a better performance. However can this team put a string of games like this win together and go on a win streak prior to the All-Star break? That’s a hard question to ask at this present time.

SPURS NEED TO TAKE EACH GAME ONE AT A TIME, LITERALLY “The thing about the NBA,” Bowen said after the win against the Bucks, “is that if you lose, you don’t have time to dwell on it. You play too many games.” Could this formula also be used for a team like the Spurs who are capable going on a massive win streak? Sure it could but in order for that to happen the Spurs will have to play each game like it was their last one of the season. At 29-8, this team is poised to go ahead and finish the season off near the 70-win mark. I am projecting them to actually win about 66 games this season barring any unforeseen issues that may arise. Now do I think they will actually reach that plateau? Not really. Realistically they may fall short of that magic mark because of the competition that is in their own conference but the goal is attainable. It’s attainable because if the Spurs play each game like their last, they will eradicate the sluggish playing attitude that has plagued them in several games. Their nine losses aren’t just because those teams were good, a few of them were simply because the Spurs didn’t play “Spurs basketball”.

There is an indemnifying fact that will help fans understand why this team is capable of winning so many games. That simple fact lies in the reverence of a team that understands its capabilities. What made the Bulls in their heyday and the Lakers of just a few seasons ago so formidable was the fact that those teams played with a confidence that was unbeknownst to the rest of the league. Sure they had off nights but they were rare. Sure they had match up problems but those were solved by the time the playoffs came around. In other words, if the Spurs really want to shake loose of whatever is plaguing them right now, they will have to figure out a way to put together quality wins for a long period of time. Can this be done? Well if this team continues to have wins like against their other opponents, who can argue that this team would not be capable of winning a few championships. The key to their success is going to be from learning from their mistakes and ironically it is six games of this past week that are the key to their success in the future this season.