San Antonio Spurs’ Fight Through Adversity Could Ignite Old Fire

After what the San Antonio Spurs have been through the past two weeks, Saturday night’s 99-93 loss to the Dallas Mavericks almost feels like the least of this team’s problems.

Coming into Saturday’s contest, head coach Gregg Popovich’s reigning champions had lost two triple-overtime games in the span of three days to the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers—the first time a team played three extra frames in consecutive contests since 1951, per San Antonio Express-NewsDan McCarney.

San Antonio has also dropped four consecutive games for the first time since 2011 while losing seven of its first 11 contests this month.

The taxing adrenaline and sweat-soaked triple-overtimes didn’t help the Spurs’ case on Saturday. Popovich sat half the team, some with injuries and others getting rest after a grueling week. The fact that San Antonio led Dallas after three quarters is something of a moral victory in its own right—for whatever those are worth.

It’s hard to get worked up about a team that plays its best basketball in April and May, but comparatively speaking, this December qualifies as something of a crisis in these parts.

And that might not be such a bad thing. 

More than any improved Western Conference rival, the biggest threat to this team’s repeat chances is its own complacency. Without the bitter sting of 2013′s Finals defeat, can this club summon the kind of urgency that drove it a season ago?

Head coach Gregg Popovich isn’t one to partake in the Dr. Phil school of armchair psychology, but that didn’t stop him from sharing similar concerns with San Antonio Express-News scribe Buck Harvey during the preseason.

“I’m worried for one reason,” he confessed in September. “They are human beings. They are going to feel satisfied.”

Reasons for worry have been hard to come by for this franchise, and that may be precisely the problem. Absent the early adversity—such as it is—this team has had every reason to be overconfident.

That may be changing.

And things could get worse before they get better. With games against the Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans and Grizzlies remaining this month, this team could conceivably find itself at .500 by month end. At the moment, the Spurs are 17-11 and 2.5 games behind the No. 6 seeded Los Angeles Clippers.

But the Spurs aren’t panicking. They’re fighting.

“I’m proud of the whole team and what they have done,” Popovich told reporters after Friday’s 129-119 loss to Portland. “It’s a different group every night. It would almost be better if you had two guys injured and you knew it for three months.

“It is different every night, and it keeps them out of rhythm. We are wearing some guys down, though. Timmy [Duncan] is a big worry in that respect, and so is Manu [Ginobili]. I’m really proud of them, and they did a great job under tough circumstances.”

They don’t have many recent wins to show for it, but this ever-shifting rotation has been fighting. 

“Our effort, that’s one category that we’re satisfied with,” shooting guard Danny Green told media after the Trail Blazers game. “We’re learning and growing. That’s the best positive we can take out of it. But moral victories are not what we do. Learn from it and move forward. Best thing about this league is there’s another one tomorrow.”

To their credit, the Spurs also showed serious grit in their epic loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday. Down by as many as 23 points in the second quarter, they stormed back against a team with the West’s second-best record (now 21-5).

“We fought back and pushed it to that level,” Tim Duncan told reporters after the contest. “We felt like we had the game in so many respects at so many different times, only to give it away and get it tied back up. It is what it is, though. We chalk it up as a loss and hopefully learn from it. We need to do better.”

Effort and execution may be the difference for this team. On paper, little else has changed since June.

Though backup point guard Patty Mills is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the organization didn’t lose any of its championship contributors to free agency or retirement. If this roster was good enough to exact vengeance against the seemingly invincible Miami Heat of old, conventional wisdom suggests it can handle whatever challenges await this time.

Perhaps it will, too—eventually.

For the record, San Antonio hasn’t had a bad season so far—even when accounting for the recent rough patch. Through their first 27 games, the Spurs rank third league-wide in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents just 99.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Hollinger Team Stats.

And there’s much to be said for quality wins against contenders like the Golden State Warriors, Grizzlies, Mavericks and Clippers. The Spurs are almost certainly better than their record suggests, and that record is pretty respectable given the brutal competition out West.

San Antonio also figures to move up the standings once it has the chance to get healthy and regroup, something that might not happen until the All-Star break. Six-time All-Star Tony Parker has already missed nine games this season with a hamstring injury, and reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has missed six games—five since Dec. 10 on account of a torn ligament in his hand.

Center Tiago Splitter has also missed significant time.

For a team whose movement and shooting rely so heavily on chemistry, injuries have taken a particularly egregious toll. And they’ve done so at a time when the competition is as unrelenting as ever. Even champions succumb to those kind of odds.

In turn, the team now faces its first real soul-searching since those 2013 Finals. If history’s any indication, it just might find something special.  

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San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks 12/20/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 99-93, on Saturday night. Monta Ellis led Dallas with 38 points on 15-of-23 shooting.

Rajon Rondo had six points, nine assists and seven rebounds in his first game with the Mavericks.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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Ellis leads Mavericks over Spurs 99-93 (Yahoo Sports)

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 20: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs on December 20, 2014 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

DALLAS (AP) — The star of Rajon Rondo’s debut with the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night was Monta Ellis – the teammate whom the Mavericks hope helps Rondo form a lethal backcourt combination that will make them championship contenders.

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Rajon Rondo solid in debut as Mavs rally past Spurs

Rondo had six points, nine assists and seven rebounds in his first game with Dallas.



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San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks: Live Score, Highlights and Reaction

The San Antonio Spurs are on the road to take on Rajon Rondo in his debut for the Dallas Mavericks, Saturday at the American Airlines Center.

The Spurs won the first matchup of the season series on opening night, 101-100.


Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

Coverage: UPN2/FSSW

Injuries (via CBS Sports): Kawhi Leonard, SAS (out, hand); Tony Parker, SAS (out, hamstring); Patty Mills, SAS (out, shoulder); Raymond Felton, DAL (questionable, ankle)


Keys to the Game

San Antonio’s defense will really be tested, as the Mavericks lead the league in both points per game and points per 100 possessions. Defending the pick-and-roll is particularly important. If Dallas’ guards get into the lane, it creates space for the shooters on the outside.

For the Mavericks, this first game with Rondo will be about seeing how he fits in the already-prolific offense. Obviously, he’ll assimilate over time, but the first impression can still tell you a lot.

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Robin Lopez fights Spurs mascot, knocks his eyes out (Video)

Portland Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez pushed the San Antonio Spurs Coyote mascot down and knocked his eyes out during Friday night’s triple-overtime victory at the AT&T Center.Lopez has a reputation for fighting opposing team mascots, and despite recovering from a broken right hand, he refused to ignore the Coyote’s taunting.  We would argue that the Coyote should know better than to mess with someone bigger than he is, but Lopez shouldn’t be such a bully.Video via G4NBAVideos. H/T TNLP.Related posts:
Robin Lopez beats up Pistons mascot (Video)
Spurs mascot loses his eyes after taking a charge from Aaron Brooks (Video)

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs 12/19/14: Video Highlights, Recap

Damian Lillard scored a career-high 43 points to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 129-119 road victory over the San Antonio Spurs in triple overtime Friday night.

The reigning champs—who also lost a triple OT contest against the Memphis Grizzlies two days before—faded away in the final period despite a strong performance from Tim Duncan (32 points, 10 rebounds).

Neither team will have much time to catch its breath, as both have Saturday night games: the Spurs against the Dallas Mavericks, and the Blazers at the New Orleans Pelicans. 

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Lillard powers Blazers past Spurs in triple OT

Damian Lillard poured in a career-high 43 points, including 16 in the extra frames.



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Lillard scores 43 as Blazers beat Spurs in 3 OT (Yahoo Sports)

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 19: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers prepares to shoot against the San Antonio Spurs during the game on December 19, 2014 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX. (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Damian Lillard scored a career-high 43 points, including 16 after regulation, and the Portland Trail Blazers handed the San Antonio Spurs their second straight defeat in triple overtime by rallying for a 129-119 victory Friday night.

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Trail Blazers vs. San Antonio Spurs: Live Score, Highlights and Reaction

The Portland Trail Blazers will look to win their fourth straight game when they travel to the AT&T Center to take on the San Antonio Spurs Friday night.

The Spurs, who have been resting players periodically and have been dealing with nagging injuries, will be short-handed once again against the Blazers. Tony Parker (hamstring), Kawhi Leonard (hand) and Patty Mills (shoulder) will all sit. Portland will also be missing a couple of key pieces, as Robin Lopez (hand) and Nicolas Batum (wrist/knee) are both out, per Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News.

You can catch this game on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET.

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