As has been the case in many San Antonio Spurs losses this season, the 103-109 setback against the Dallas Mavericks in their Rodeo Road Trip homecoming featured a defining stretch of play where the Spurs looked completely helpless while their opponent went on a game-defining run. This time, that run was basically the entire first quarter, where the Spurs were outscored 36-20 and spent the rest of the game catching up.
They eventually rallied back, briefly snatching a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter before the Mavs put the game away with a 12-0 clutch-time run, but it left the outstanding question as to whether the outcome would have been different had the first quarter gone differently. (It especially sticks in the mind as the Memphis Grizzlies continue to lose, but the Spurs can’t take advantage of the overabundance of chances they are being given to rise back into postseason contention.)
Granted, the Spurs entered the game at a severe disadvantage with LaMarcus Aldridge out nursing a sore shoulder, but Gregg Popovich’s answer to that issue — starting super small with Trey Lyles at center guarding the 7’3” Kristaps Porzingis — had him taking some blame for the loss afterwards.
Pop shoulders some of the blame for this one: "I think the game plan I came out with was poor, and they took advantage of it in the first quarter." #Spurs— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) February 27, 2020
While he didn’t specifically name the decision in question — as opposed to starting Jakob Poeltl, which has been his usual response when Aldridge misses games — it’s hard to imagine it isn’t at least part of it.
It’s worth noting the Spurs made their second half comeback with Poeltl on the bench (alongside both of their two G-League call ups in big men Luka Samanic and Drew Eubanks, for that matter), so maybe going small was the answer to the comeback, but having someone on the floor who could prevent Porzingis from going off early in the first place could have prevented the Mavs from getting a huge lead out of the gates.
Regardless, a loss is a loss, and it became an even more expected one once it was announced Aldridge was out, but it’s refreshing to see Pop take some of the blame, whether his team really stood a chance Wednesday night or not. He’s gotten a little mouthy at times this season (teasingly and otherwise) when questioned about some of his decision making (only to soon give the people what the want, like regular minutes for Lonnie Walker IV), so it’s something.
I’m not on the “it’s time for Pop to retire” hype-wagon, but if nothing else, this season has definitely been a learning experience for him. He is human, after all, and even the best of the best coaches have down years.