The San Antonio Spurs fell to 5-3 Wednesday night after losing 101-99 to their Texas neighbour Houston Rockets. James Harden dropped a triple double finishing with 24 points, 15 assists, & 12 rebounds and Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 34 points. This would mark the 3rd home loss of the Spurs’ season after going 40-1 at the AT&T Center last season. The Spurs are now currently 5th in the competitive Western Conference and have had significant defensive struggles so far. Heading into the season, many analysts ranked the Spurs as a top 3 team and the only Western Conference squad capable of taking down the powerhouse Warriors.
The major transition for the team heading into this season was being without their general, leader, heart, and soul Tim Duncan. The Big Fundamental, considered the greatest power forward of all time, decided to hang it up and call it a career. A sure hall of famer, his list of accomplishments is endless highlighted by 5 Championships and 3 Finals MVPs. However, perhaps his greatest accomplishment was continuing to produce and lead his team to championship contention at such an old age. Duncan was still selected as an all-star by coaches in 2015 (38 years old) when he averaged 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game. This past season, the Spurs finished with a franchise best 67-15 record with Tim Duncan continuing to anchor his team on the defensive end. Duncan may not have averaged stellar numbers like before, but his defense and leadership was the glue to the team. Unfortunately, the Spurs lost to Oklahoma City in the 2nd round and the Tim Duncan era officially ended in San Antonio. Longtime teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have already stated that it is weird not having Tim around. No one misses him more than Head Coach Gregg Poppovich who stated he continues to text Tim even though he has retired.
After missing out on Kevin Durant in free agency, the Spurs immediately bulked up their front court to replace Duncan by adding veterans Pau Gasol and David Lee. Gasol, a 2x NBA Champion, was coming off a solid season averaging 16.5 points and 11 rebounds on the year of his 36th birthday. David Lee was looking for a change of scenery to revitalize his career after battling injuries in Golden State 2 seasons ago. It seemed like the perfect fit for both of these players and the Spurs. Playing alongside all-star big man LaMarcus Aldridge and two-way superstar Kawhi Leonard immediately had the Spurs with the deadliest front court in the league (on paper). Let’s also forget the whole “Spurs are old” quote because they’ve been old for the last 10 years.
The opening game ended perfectly for the San Antonio Spurs. With all the hype on the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs absolutely dominated them en route to a 29 point victory. LaMarcus Aldridge could not be stopped in the paint, some kid named Jonathan Simmons put on a highlight reel, and Kawhi Leonard not only scored 35 points but also made life difficult for Curry/Durant. At that point, the Spurs had laid down the foundation for not only how to beat the Warriors but how to move forward and contend after losing your franchise player. Now they have struggled in recent games, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. A team who has always ranked at the top of defensive efficiency does not have the same threatening rim protection as before. The back-to-back reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard needs help. He is a reliable lock-down player but defense is all about helping in the paint, knowing when to double team, and not falling asleep on the picks and switches. To put it simply, Aldridge Gasol and Lee need to step it up on the defensive end if San Antonio wishes to keep their title hopes alive.
It is way too early in the season to panic. Led by the most successful coach currently in the NBA, the Spurs should still finish close to the top of league standings come April. The team still has 2 All-NBA players in the starting line-up and a surrounding cast of veterans to keep them together throughout the season. It is unlikely that the Spurs are going to make a big trade so the changes are going to have to come internally. They are not the same without Tim Duncan but they certainly have the talent and experience to contend for another championship. This all starts on the defensive end, which has made the foundation in San Antonio so great over these past years. The Spurs will look to bounce back tonight when they host the visiting Detroit Pistons, live at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.