The Spurs were pegged to lose even before opening tip yesterday. It was bad enough that they continued to miss the services of two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard due to injury. The absence of leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge certainly made the situation worse, and against the loaded Rockets on the road, untenable. And considering the handicaps they faced, the wonder was that they actually stayed within striking distance until about a third into the final quarter.
Granted, the Spurs were a lock to compete until the final buzzer. They’ve been wired to do so under head coach Gregg Popovich, who knows the importance of adhering to the same work ethic that netted them five championships regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard. That said, the sheer firepower of their Texas neighbors was simply too much to overcome on strength of will alone. It’s why, for all their relentlessness, their only lead came off the first basket in the first minute of the contest. And it’s why, halfway through the opening canto, they were already staring at a double-digit deficit they then failed to bridge the rest of the way.
In the aftermath, it was telling that the Spurs found themselves out of their conference’s Top Eight for the first time in their 2017-2018 campaign. The Rockets handed them their fifth setback in six outings, an unprecedented stretch of failure harking back to the days when franchise legend Tim Duncan was still playing college hoops. And for the first time through the same period, the possibility of missing the playoffs looms.
For the Spurs, the good news is that Leonard may well be returning to the court anytime soon. They need him, not just to stay in the hunt for a postseason spot in the crowded West, but to actually do something with it. The bad news is that they’re running out of games. Only 15 are left in their calendar, typically not enough for a player, even a very, very good one, to regain his sea legs. Then again, they’re mentored by arguably the best, and if there’s anything they will do as sure as the sun will shine, it’s keep fighting.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.