The Spurs could end up regretting their late stumble against the Blazers

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Kawhi Leonard was terrific, but the Spurs missed an opportunity on Wednesday. (AP)
Kawhi Leonard was terrific, but the Spurs missed an opportunity on Wednesday. (AP)

It’s been a good few weeks for the San Antonio Spurs, who suddenly have a very good chance of besting the Golden State Warriors for homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Saturday’s rest-ravaged win over Golden State and Monday’s victory vs. the Atlanta Hawks put San Antonio in the No. 1 spot in the West via tiebreaker, and the Warriors’ continued poor form (despite Tuesday’s narrow win) continues to open up an opportunity for the Spurs. A win on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers would have drawn San Antonio back into a tie and put tremendous pressure on Golden State to respond.

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Instead, a few key mistakes late in a 110-106 loss have put the Spurs one game back and in need of more help from a struggling Warriors squad that could be finding its way out of its slump. Another month of regular season invites more chances to gain ground, but this result could be one that the Spurs come to regret when the playoff bracket is set.

In fairness, the Spurs were playing from behind and arguably shouldn’t have had a chance to force overtime on the final possession. Down 106-102 with just 14 seconds left, San Antonio cut the lead to one point on a Patty Mills three-pointer with eight ticks on the clock. Damian Lillard hit two free throws at the other end to push the margin back up to three, but that still left the Spurs with 5.2 seconds to tie.

Unfortunately for them, a poor inbounds pass from Manu Ginobili to Patty Mills ruined whatever plans they had out of the timeout. Mills did well to tip the ball back towards the basket and to Ginobili, but Jusuf Nurkic managed to foul Manu in the ensuing chaos to send him to the line for two free throws. Ginobili would have to make the first and intentionally miss the second to give the Spurs any chance.

He couldn’t do either. Manu missed the first and got a bizarre bounce on the second that led to an unintentional make. Take a look at the full sequence here:


Lillard made two more free throws to seal the win, and the Spurs headed to the locker room knowing they’d missed an opportunity to keep the pressure on the Warriors.

The night certainly seemed to set up well for the Spurs. First, they saw the return of star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, cleared to play after missing two games with minor heart arrhythmia. Second, the Blazers were in town on the second night of a road back-to-back after scoring just 77 points in a 23-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.

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However, the Spurs could not take advantage. The offense was mostly fine — they shot 47.7 percent from the field and 11-of-26 from deep with five players in double figures. Kawhi Leonard was especially terrific, scoring 34 points (12-of-21 FG) with nine rebounds, six assists, three steals, and two blocks.


But the San Antonio backcourt struggled to contain Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Blazers guards combined for 62 points on 20-of-38 shooting with just three turnovers, stats that point to how comfortable they looked against their defenders. The Spurs’ backcourt weaknesses have convinced several pundits that they will face problems in the playoffs regardless of their seed, and this game certainly didn’t do much to argue the opposite.


Of course, seeding does matter. The Spurs are good enough to adjust to playing a conference finals without homecourt advantage, but their path to that point would be much tougher if they enter the playoffs at No. 2:

Those matchups are obviously not yet settled — Portland is just two games behind Denver and could very well overtake them — but it’s likely that the No. 2 seed will face more experienced and more formidable opponents in its half of the bracket. The Spurs are far from locked into their seed, and the Durant-less Warriors certainly don’t inspire much confidence these days. But deserving a spot and getting it are different matters. Sometimes one or two unlucky bounces weeks before the playoffs decide more than they rightfully should.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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