In hindsight, this was clearly a trap game. The Hornets were coming off two energizing wins after almost punting their season while the Spurs have made it a habit of underperfoming against inferior East opponents. We can’t really be shocked by Charlotte’s 125-116 overtime win, really, but we can still be a little disappointed about it.
Just to be clear, in the grand scheme of things, this loss is not a big deal. The Spurs will have time to make up for it, especially considering their easy remaining schedule. The way they lost the game, however, was a little annoying mostly because so many of the issues felt familiar, right from the start. The offense was too slow and robotic, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozangiving too much credit to the 22th ranked defense in the league, prodding instead of attacking. It allowed Charlotte to send double teams and help defenders their way and forced San Antonio to survive on jumpers. Fortunately first Bryn Forbes and then Marco Belinelli got hot, so the Spurs could keep up with a Hornets team that was pushing the pace and attacking the rim more consistently.
The bench did a better job of moving the ball and picking apart the defense, as it usually does. Rudy Gay took advantage of a properly spaced floor to isolate in the middle of the court and attack when other options were denied and managed to overwhelm some overmatched Hornet defenders. His aggressiveness seemed to rub off on DeRozan, who started going to the rim more often and more decisively in the second quarter. With the outside shots falling and now at least one of the stars in attack mode, the Spurs managed to drop 36 points in the frame to take control of the game. Yet the well-coached Hornets didn’t go away. They used all their half court trickery to get good shots despite Kemba Walker’s struggles to stay within reach.
After a close first half, both teams had moments in which they looked primed to run away with the win. The Spurs started the third quarter better, looking sharper on offense. They quickly got a 10-point lead and had their bench ready to check in and extend it. Unfortunately Walker came alive and with some help from Dwayne Bacon managed to keep the Hornets in it. Charlotte would have it’s own moment of dominance in the fourth quarter, when they got an eight-point lead with 7:19 to go. This time it was DeRozan’s turn to play the hero, going off for seven straight points en route to a 12-point quarter. The game largely remained close after that. Amid the chaos typical of the final minutes of tight matchups both teams had opportunities to secure the win, but couldn’t.
Overtime belonged to the Hornets, and specifically Kemba. He outscored the Spurs all by himself, getting 11 points to San Antonio’s 10 to continue to build his resume as a clutch assassin. There was simply nothing the Spurs could do to contain him and they had no answers on offense, either. By the end it was hard to deny that the Hornets deserved the win.
So, are there big takeways from this loss? Not really. It’s just strange how these matchups with Eastern teams seem to bring out the worst of San Antonio. The offense gets stagnant, the defense makes silly mistakes and typically reliable players look lost.
Fortunately, there won’t be any trips East on the Western Conference playoffs, so the Spurs should be fine. Let’s just move on and focus on Manu’s big night.