SAN ANTONIO —
The formula for a Spurs loss has been the same for most of the season: too many mistakes, not enough threes.
That's what bit the Spurs in a 115-111 loss to the Suns as a comeback bid fell short in the fourth, but this was one of those losses where the team fought the whole way through.
"I thought we did a good job," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. "We're making a lot of youthful mistakes, but as far as competing I was proud of them, they did a good job."
"Pretty similar story, 44% to 25% from three, gametime," he said matter-of-factly. "Turnovers, assists, boards, we played with them. We scored in the paint very well (70 points), but we didn't shoot the threes. That's the name of the game today."
The Spurs were just 2-6 from deep in the first half and 5-20 for the entire game. Regarding the number of long-range attempts, Pop stated the obvious.
"We're not getting enough," he said. Dejounte Murray agreed.
We do work on it, it's just translating it to the game, shooting with confidence," Murray said after another triple double in another loss. "I feel like we second guess a lot, whether it's drive and kick or wide-open, we've got to work on what we do every day."
Murray reiterated that he doesn't care about the triple double in the loss, and felt he played poorly to start.
“How long do you want to just be right there? Starting with me, I feel like I played (badly) just my energy in the first half," he said. "And I have to be special at all times.”
Derrick White had a solid game as he shakes off a rough start to the season, and he talked about Dejounte's desire to be great after the game.
"That's what makes him special," said White, who finished with a team-high 19 points. "That's what continues to drive him to be great, he just wants more and more, and he's our leader and he's our point guard, we love him and believe in him."
Murray had 18 points, 11 assists, 10 boards, 3 steals, a block and just one turnover, but he made it clear after the game
"I've been a winner. I want to win. Obviously we're a young group developing, each and every day as individuals and as a team, but at the same time we proved that we belong, we could play with the best of them," Murray said. "As a competitor, you don't want to continue to use that, "Oh we're right there right there.'"
The Spurs were right there, though, and Murray was a big part of that in the fourth quarter as Lonnie Walker IV got hot as well.
"We got some stops and that allowed us to get out in transition," White said. The Spurs outscored the Suns 36-25 in the final period, but came up short.
"With the free throws, we were 8-16 and lost by four, do the math," a frustrated Murray said.
"It was it was a good game all night long," Pop said in closing. "You know, we go down and we come back. We go down, we come back. So I'm pleased with the way that we play. Obviously you'd rather win, but we have to understand what we need to do to win. I think we do know that, the threes are a little bit more dicey in that you can't invent them. People have to find ways to get them, and we have to try to help them. But I'd be very disappointed if we weren't getting assists or we were getting murdered on the boards or we're turning it over. We had a few too many turnovers tonight. We need 8, 9, 10; 15, 16, 18 is too many for us considering what we've been doing from the three-point line. But I'm proud of the guys that they competed well and executed pretty well."
This was another one of those games where the Spurs knew what the needed to do, couldn't quite do it well enough against a really good team, and came up just short. The fans and players are hoping the story is a little different on Wednesday when they take on the Atlanta Hawks.
San Antonio was able to get out to a 16-9 start to the game behind the play of their starting backcourt. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray initiated things offensively while working with Jakob Poeltl to contain Chris Paul and Devin Booker in the pick and roll.
Keita Bates-Diop popped in a few putbacks as a starter before the bench unit came in. Phoenix chipped away at the lead and quickly tied the score at 20 as San Antonio's offense hit a wall. The defense held and made some impressive disruptive plays, notching two blocks and four steals as a team in the opening stanza.
Phoenix outscored the Spurs 15-4 in the last five minutes of the period, but the Spurs limited the damage and went to the second quarter down 24-20.
Phoenix started the second on a 12-4 run, capped by a JaVale McGee post fade to put the Suns up a dozen. Devin Vassell answered the bell with a three and a putback, but Landry Shamet got those five points right back.
As the Spurs continued to struggle from deep they shot threes sparingly, and the Suns were able to focus their defensive efforts on the paint.
Vassell was the only Spur to hit a three in the first half, knocking down a pair. Derrick White stole it from Booker and fed Tre Jones on a fast-break for an and-1, then got a mid-range jumper to go.
Deandre Ayton got going to end the period, finishing with a game-high 14 points and 9 rebounds at the break. Phoenix held a 57-43 lead.
The Suns built their lead out to 18 as San Antonio continued to struggle from deep, but the Spurs used defense to get back in it and force a Phoenix timeout with the score at 66-56.
After Keldon forced an air-ball miss, Dejounte got a switch onto Ayton and crossed him over into a smooth jumper to cut it to single digits. Phoenix answered, but Derrick got to the cup and hung in the air for a finish.
Devin Vassell hopped into the game and immediately banked in a driving jumper, then curled off a screen and popped in another to make it a six-point game. Phoenix pushed it back to 10, and Pop called time.
Tre Jones got a switch on Ayton and finished a crafty reverse under the bucket. Drew Eubanks dribbled into an elbow jumper, cutting it to 6 once again. He then air-balled a three, but apparently off the noggin of a Suns player, so San Antonio got it back.
Phoenix was able to push it back to a 15-point lead. as the Spurs' bench struggled. Lonnie Walker IV stopped the bleeding by nailing a three off the bounce, but Shamet answered from the corner and the Suns took a 90-75 lead into the final period.
Lonnie Walker IV opened the final quarter with a slick fake and pass to Poeltl for a rolling basket. Then Jak returned the favor, hitting Walker on a cut for a bucket. Walker netted a pull-up jumper, then spun his way to the rim for an emphatic dunk that forced the Suns to call time with a 96-85 lead.
White drew a charge on McGee out of that timeout, and Dejounte drilled a pull-up jumper from the stripe to cut it to single digits. Phoenix answered, but Murray found Poeltl on a sick feed and White hit him on a rolling finish as well.
The Spurs played smothering defense and forced a few turnovers in a row, and Dejounte shaved the deficit to 5 with a tough driving finish and then another dumpoff to Poeltl.
The Suns responded out of a timeout with a quick 10-0 run to take some of the air out of the crowd that had been getting excited. San Antonio missed some good looks, and the Suns capitalized.
Poeltl got things back on track with a layup, and Dejounte finished at the rim. Pop won a challenge on a foul call, and Murray drove in for an and-1 but missed the free throw.
Derrick White drove, eurostepped, and finished to make it a 9-point game. He took a tough pull-up three to cut it to 6. Phoenix hit a deuce, but Vassell knocked down a three to keep things interesting.
Dejounte stole the ball and scored in transition to make it a three-point game, then the Spurs tied up Booker on the inbound for a jump ball. Book won it and went to the line, hitting the first but missing the second.
The Spurs got a clean three at the end but missed, and fell 115-111.
The Spurs have started 4-11 through a brutal schedule to start the year, and if they want to end a four-game losing streak they'll need to give the Suns their first loss in 13 games.
After losing to the Timberwolves 115-90, the Spurs held a players-only meeting to talk through some of the on-court issues they've been having. Thad Young said that Devin Vassell led that meeting, and that no matter what else is happening, San Antonio needs to play with effort, focus, and solid communication.
Doug McDermott was ruled out before the game with right knee inflammation, and Coach Gregg Popovich surprised many by saying that Keita Bates-Diop would start in his place.
Jakob Poeltl will also get the starting nod after coming off the bench in that Timberwolves loss, working his way back after missing a few weeks due to COVID-19.
The Suns went to the Finals last season and have won a dozen games in a row at this point. The only good news is that they played last night, so maybe they'll be tired. The bad news in that good news is that they scored 48 points in the first quarter and coasted to victory.