Well, that was fun. After looking lost for most of the first half, the Spurs pulled off a dramatic comeback against the Mavericks in the final two quarters to steal a much-needed win. The bench played a huge role in securing the 105-101 victory that allows San Antonio to put more separation in the standings with a fellow playoff contender.
With Marco Belinelli and Rudy Gay back in the active roster, there was hope that the Spurs were going to regain the dominant form they had showed in December. Unfortunately the disappearance of injury concerns did nothing to stave off another familiar problem. Complacency had been an issue in the past for San Antonio and it seemed to return with a vengeance against the Mavericks. We’ve seen it before, so we know it manifests itself on this team by bringing passivity on defense and a lack of fluidity on offense. The players settle for playing well but below their potential, thinking their collective talent will be enough to get them wins on nights in which the motivation to go all out is scarce.
We could see it happen in the first half, like we have in several past losses. The ball didn’t move when the starters were playing. It did when the bench players checked in but there was a robotic feel to everything the Spurs did on offense. Even when they got an advantage there was some hesitance to shoot or to make the next pass with purpose. Defensively the constant fouling was the biggest symptom that they were not doing the early work to throw opponents off their rhythm. The Mavericks didn’t do anything special to cause the Spurs all sorts of problems — they just executed, looking for a mismatch or a late rotation that would give them an edge. It was enough for them to post an offensive rating of 121 at the break and lead by 11.
Things could have been worse had Patty Mills not provided a spark in the second quarter. His aggressiveness on defense awoke the rest of the team out of its slumber for long enough to show them that a potential comeback was possible. The change in attitude was palpable after the break for the starters. Even after LaMarcus Aldridge got called for his fourth foul early in the third the Spurs refused to stop being physical. They started going at Luka Doncic to get some easy points while making the engine of the Mavericks’ attack spend energy on defense. Rudy Gay muscled his way into some buckets and Bryn Forbes hit some opportunistic shots to cut the deficit while the bench’s energy prevented Dallas from making a new run before the final quarter.
By then the Spurs were looking wide awake and ready to compete. After hanging around, they decided to make their move. They quickly erased the Mavs’ lead and built one of their own, taking control of the game. Dallas could have folded then and there but refused to, which made the ending all the more dramatic. DeMar DeRozan, who had been extremely quiet up until the final period came alive, pouring in eight points in the frame. LaMarcus Aldridge, limited by foul trouble all night, pitched in four of his own to go with some terrific late-game defense. Yet the bench was not about to let the stars take credit for the comeback after working so hard to make it possible. It was fitting that a Davis Bertans three broke the parity with 1:41 to go and a pair of Belinelli free throws iced the game.
Normally a win like this one, in which the Spurs get into a 19-point hole and barely escape with a victory over an inferior opponent, wouldn’t be one to cling to while trying to be optimistic about the future. Yet there was something special about how the team responded to adversity.
The bench, as it has more often than not this season, was the first to fight through it, but by the end everyone was playing with a true sense of urgency. It’s as if something snapped into place for a team that had become undone in similar situations earlier in the year.
We’ve been waiting for the Spurs to finally figure out that they can’t coast their way into wins, especially on the road, for months now. This might have been the night in which, hopefully, they finally did.
- DeRozan and Aldridge were non-factors for big parts of the game. In the first three quarters they had combined for 10 points on 12 shots. DeRozan was extremely passive while Aldridge was mired by foul trouble. Then in the final period they made their mark. DeRozan had eight points and five assists in that period alone and Aldridge anchored the defense while the Spurs closed the game. They deserve credit for coming through when needed.
- Having Gay and Belinelli back was huge. Not only did they combine for 31 points in a game in which the stars didn’t have it but also their mere presence allowed Pop to navigate Aldridge’s foul trouble better and to use more familiar lineups.
- In 10 minutes sharing the court, the Mills, Belinelli, Bertans, Poeltl quartet was +12. Those guys won the game for the Spurs. Every single on of them played well individually, too.
- Derrick White didn’t have it on offense against the Mavs and he at times struggled on defense too, as he couldn’t really bother the bigger Luka Doncic much. It’s fine. He’s virtually a rookie. He gets to have a bad night every now and then. Fortunately Bryn Forbes (12 points, five rebounds, three assists) had a good night and could absorb some of White’s minutes.
- Is it fun for you to watch Dirk Nowitzki like this? Part of me wishes he had retired when he was a genuinely useful rotation player. But the rush of nostalgia that comes with every jumper can be exhilarating, if only for a moment. I’m genuinely torn. Let me know what you think in the comments.
- Doncic is great. It’s hard to believe three teams passed on him (counting the Hawks). That draft class was strong, but Doncic was clearly special. The Mavs are going to get really good, really quickly with him leading the way.
Up next: @Timberwolves on Friday
The Wolves are coming off a disastrous 42-points loss. They are a very good at home, though, so the Spurs will need to be ready for a fight.