For the better part of a three week stretch near the start of the season, most San Antonio Spurs games fell into one of two categories. Either, they lost big or they lost a big lead. Their last three contests have taken a slightly different route. The Silver and Black lost all three, but against expected Western Conference contenders, they managed to get within striking distance near the end.
Losing big early
On November 5, the Spurs lost a 22-point lead while vying for a third straight win. Little did they know then, a 123-118 overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors would not only start a 12-game losing skid but a stretch that would see some wide margins. The next two contests saw 41 and 21 point defeats. Within two weeks, they'd suffer 36 and 25 point setbacks as well. In between, they'd blow a pair of 19 point advantages.
“Quick shots when we're on a run. And it's also just us missing shots and them making shots,” second-year guard Malaki Branham answered when asked how such games got away from the young Spurs.
Center Zach Collins went further.
“It's those two-minute stretches where we're playing really good basketball. It's a four point game, five point game and all of a sudden it balloons to 15, 18 points. It's hard to pinpoint one thing. I would say it's an accumulation of doing the details, the little things that we know matter at the end of the game. We have to realize plays in the first and second quarter, they mount up to how we play in the second half, what situations we're in in the second half.”
Spurs' last three games
Lost in Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's in-game plea to stop booing Kawhi Leonard the night before Thanksgiving was a performance that qualified among the Spurs best in three weeks. They rallied from a double digit deficit and outscored the Los Angeles Clippers in the fourth quarter to make a 109-102 outcome competitive.
“We definitely let a couple of games earlier in this rough patch go that we should have won,” Collins continued. “And then when you get up against a really good team and it's tough to win, it adds up and it looks a lot worse than we feel it is. We feel like we're playing better so we've just got to build on that. This is great experience for us, playing against these great teams and we're going to figure out how to close.”
In facing the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets after the Clippers, the Spurs just wrapped a stretch that included the last two NBA champions and a squad that features four likely Hall of Famers in Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
“They're veteran teams. The players have been in multiple playoff games. They just know how to close out games and stuff like that. So, us just being in the fourth quarter and just learning how to win those games or win four-minute spans, it's definitely good for us,” Branham said.
The Nuggets entered Sunday night's fourth quarter against the Spurs with a 23-point lead. On other nights, no real dent would've been made on that deficit. The now 3-14 Spurs cut it to single digits before ultimately falling 132-120. It came on the heels of a six point loss in San Francisco in which the Spurs were within three with 21 seconds remaining
Collins sees the light at the end of a tunnel that grows longer by the day.
“I know everyone's tired of hearing it but that's part of being a young team. We're figuring it out.”