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Spurs fall to Mavericks in close but predictable fashion

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A late run made it close, but wasn’t quite enough.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Another game in the books, another tick on the wrong side of the ledger. More encouraging signs of progress, but an ever dwindling supply of optimism left to connect the dots of an always impending turnaround that is already late and may never come. One fewer opportunity left to make the most of a season that could slip from the team’s grasp at any moment.

The Spurs fell again on Thursday night in Dallas, 102-98, dropping a winnable game on the road against a better team. That’s the recipe for an expected loss, obviously, but regardless of expectations, this Spurs’ squad can’t afford to waste a single shot to keep pace in the playoff race.

There was no post-holiday malaise, far from it, in fact. The Spurs came right out of the gate with energy and put forth a concerted effort on both ends of the floor for almost the entire game. Aside from a few letdowns that resulted, of course, in the open threes that fueled the Mavericks’ offense, the team continued to show improved defensive focus.

Despite shooting 40% from deep, the Mavericks’ 102 points represents their 2nd lowest output of the season. Both of the home team’s stars struggled to score efficiently, with Luka Doncic tallying 24 points on 39% shooting in his first game back from injury and Kristaps Porzingis knocking down just 4 of his 15 attempts for 13 points. Both made timely buckets, but never got into the deadly rhythm that has given the Mavs the best offense in the league this year.

The Spurs weren’t nearly as effective on the other end of the floor. The disparity in three point shooting in particular hurt the Silver and Black. It’s hard to win a game when the other team makes twice as many threes, and that the Spurs were still able to make this game competitive despite going 8 for 27 from behind the arc is a good thing. That their three-point shooting continues to be such a weakness is not.

DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge both had good games, at least statistically. DeMar led the team with 21 points on 53% from the field and LaMarcus chipped in 17 points on 54% from the floor to go with 7 rebounds. Neither felt as impactful, though, as a trio of the team’s backups. Derrick White, Rudy Gay and Jakob Poeltl all helped turn the game at different points, fueling the mini-runs that helped the team stay in touch with a Mavericks attack that constantly felt like it was on the verge of putting the game out of reach.

Rudy went for 18 points, including 4 three pointers that accounted for half of the team’s total. Derrick made two threes as well on his way to 10 points and a team-leading 6 assists along with his typical excellent defense. The two were key components of the Spurs’ 13-0 run over the final three and half minutes that briefly put the outcome back in question.

Jakob continued to anchor the Spurs’ best defensive lineups, adding another pair of blocks on that end to go with his always imposing rim protection and made a couple of very nice passes on the other, though his 0 for 4 from the free throw line is especially painful in retrospect given the final score.

Also painful is the team’s apparently undying commitment to the same players, in the same spots, doing the same things over and over gain. There’s something oddly therapeutic about that sort of patient approach when the talent is visible but the results have not yet caught up to the potential. But it is very much the opposite of therapeutic when the results are exactly what should be expected given the strengths and weaknesses of the players in question.

Even ignoring the obvious possibilities for shaking up the rotation, when a player gets the ball on the perimeter with a defender on him and less than 5 seconds left on the shot clock multiple times a game, it’s a good sign the offense isn’t working. There are any number of theories about why the team isn’t scoring well, but regardless of which theory is actually correct, the fact that they are struggling can’t be denied. And yet, the Spurs continue to hope for better results without making any of the changes that might help them get there.

Game Notes

  • Mavericks’ Coach Rick Carlisle had some thoughts on post ups after the game, taking special aim at the idea that Porzingis should be posting up more.

Given the disparity in the two teams’ play styles, Carlisle’s comments could also function as a pretty popular critique of the Spurs’ preferred approach, though it’s highly unlikely they were intended that way.

  • The Spurs’ shooters were flat out terrible. Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli each went 0 for 4 from deep, a combined level of futility that would be hard to overcome even against a weaker opponent.
  • The Spurs’ transition attack kept them in the game. Their 22-8 advantage in fast break points represented the only area where the team clearly had the upper hand. Unfortunately, they gave away almost all of that advantage on the defensive boards, allowing the Mavericks to grab 13 offensive rebounds.
  • Dejounte Murray and Derrick White played another 3 minutes together in the 4th quarter. The Mavs knocked down a pair of threes on their first two possessions of that stint, but didn’t score again over the next 2 minutes. Unfortunately, neither did the Spurs, though the offense didn’t look any worse on those possessions than it did for most of the rest of the game.

Next game: Vs. Pistons on Saturday

The Spurs will be back home for a rematch against a Pistons’ team that ran them out of the building in Detroit just four weeks ago. It ought to be a winnable game, but who knows at this point, right?