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For the first time since late January the Spurs on Monday began a game with a full complement of players. This time, against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, they were missing their head coach.
Gregg Popovich did not make the trip to Indianapolis because of a family medical situation. A club spokesperson said Popovich also will miss the team’s Tuesday night game in Minneapolis.
Assistant Coach Ettore Messina stepped into the head coaching role for a Spurs team that had won its previous eight games despite playing seven of those without Manu Ginobili.
Ginobili returned to action Saturday after missing a month following a testicular injury, only to find three starters – Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green – were not playing.
Despite having all hands on deck Messina, who joined Popovich’s coaching staff last season after one of the most successful coaching careers in European basketball history, was unable to find enough Spurs able to make shots in a 99-91 loss that snapped their eight-game win streak.
It’s just the second loss in the 12 games played since the Valentine’s weekend All-Star break and the first loss in Indianapolis in nine seasons.
There was no need to analyze what accounted for just the 10th loss of the season. Horrendous shooting was the culprit.
Oh, there were breakdowns in execution at both ends of the court after a fourth-quarter rally made a dramatic, comeback win a possibility. But the brick laying that preceded the final period ultimately proved too great a gap to bridge.
It is not hyperbolic to describe 35.4% shooting as brick laying. Missing 62-of-96 shots resulted in the lowest shooting percentage of the season. The previous low was 38.8% and the only reason the Spurs came out of that exercise in inaccuracy was the opposition. The Philadelphia 76ers entered that game having lost their first nine games of the season and they would lose 18 games before getting their first win. They are now 8-55, the worst record in the NBA.
Against a Pacers team battling for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference there was no way to get away with an even worse display of shooting.
At one point in the first quarter on Monday the Spurs missed 12 consecutive shots, including three layups. They missed 21-of-27 shots in the period and their 13 first-period points were low for any quarter this season.
Their second quarter was marginally better – 7-for-23 shooting, 30.4% – but their 32 first-half points also were a season low.
“We were getting good looks but we could not throw it in the ocean,” Messina told reporters in a post-game interview broadcast during the FoxSports Southwest post-game show. “It happens sometimes.”
It happened most often Monday from 3-point range, where the Spurs made a season-worst 4-of-28 shots. The woes even affected Kawhi Leonard, who entered the game the NBA’s most accurate long-range shooter, at 47.8%. He missed 6-of-7 3-point attempts.
Their early imprecision resulted in a 16-point deficit but the Spurs somehow managed to get within three points, 90-87, of the Pacers in the fourth quarter when Aldridge (23 points and 12 rebounds) scored a putback basket with two minutes remaining, plenty of time to complete what would have been a remarkable rally.
Instead, the Pacers got the offense they needed from longtime Spurs nemesis Monta Ellis (four points in the final 1:42) and All-Star Paul George, whose 3-point play with 15.7 second remaining put the game out of reach.
Wasted Monday was a 14-rebound game from Duncan that left him just two shy of becoming just the sixth player in league history with 15,000 career rebounds.
Duncan figures to join the exclusive club – Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone are the current members – in his next game. Whether or not that will manifest in Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves remains to be seen. Duncan logged nearly 28 minutes on Monday and sometimes sits out the second game of back-to-back sets.
The Spurs are 13-0 in the second game of back-to-back sets this season but may be without starting point guard Tony Parker in this one. He left Monday’s game in the fourth quarter after suffering a left toe contusion.
Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.