The Spurs had one of their best performances of the season in LaMarcus Aldridge’s return to action. San Antonio fought hard to stay close with a very talented Mavericks team for three quarters before taking control of the game in the last period to come away with a shockingly solid 119-109 win.
After getting used to the Spurs either looking great or awful for long stretches, with no in-between, it was a little surprising to see them hang around throughout the first half. The Mavericks are simply more talented, so they had the upper hand most of the time, but they just couldn’t shake off a scrappier than usual San Antonio team. Every time they’d go on a mini run, there was a quick answer. Luka Doncic would slice the defense up with drives, but Marco Belinelli would then knock down a few threes to match him. Kristaps Porzingis would block a shot to fire up his teammates, but then Derrick White would force a turnover on the other end. There was nothing Dallas could do to truly create separation.
It was such a close game that even the adjustments the coaches were making seemed to balance each other out. After resting both Porzingis and Doncic at the same time the last time the two teams met and going with Maxi Kleber as the back up center, Carlisle played Boban Marjanovic alongside Doncic instead when Porzingis was on the bench, which gave the Mavs an edge inside on offense. Yet the Spurs seemed ready for it. Drew Eubanks forced Boban to foul a couple of times by simply beating him down the floor while Patty Mills and especially DeMar DeRozan took advantage of Marjanovic’s tendency to stay as close to the rim as possible to get uncontested jumpers off.
Early in the third it looked like the Mavericks were going to finally break through, as they quickly got a lead that was five points at the break to 13. It was the type of adversity that often led the Spurs to momentarily unravel this season. Not this time. San Antonio quickly responded with a couple of threes to stop the momentum and both teams went back to trading buckets. Role players were very important during that stretch, as Doncic had to go to the bench with foul trouble while DeRozan went on distributor mode. Trey Lyles was big for the Spurs while Delon Wright and Tim Hardaway Jr. led the charge for Dallas. In the end, San Antonio managed to shave a few more points off the deficit and trailed only by two going into the fourth.
It’s amazing how small things can play big roles in determining the outcome of close games. Carlisle wanted to sub Porzingis out for Marjanovic late in the fourth quarter but couldn’t because there were no stoppages. Because of that Boban started the fourth quarter and had to battle LaMarcus Aldridge for a few minutes at a key juncture. That matchup gave the Spurs the boost they needed. Aldridge stripped Boban a couple of times, which halted Dallas’ offense, while the Spurs went on a Rudy Gay-fueled run. When Marjanovic checked out, San Antonio had a seven-point lead. From then on they would never trail again. The bad execution we’ve come to expect fortunately didn’t rear its ugly head and the effort remained consistent until the final buzzer.
The Spurs have beaten better opponents than this top-heavy, defensively challenged Mavericks team, but this still remains one of their most impressive wins of the season. Everyone who played contributed on their own way, the energy was consistent and the focus razor sharp.
By now we all know better than to read too much into any specific performance, but if — and it’s admittedly a big if —the Spurs can somehow manage to continue to play like this, they might survive the absences of some key players to at least remain in the playoff race for a while longer.
- Aldridge’s return was huge for San Antonio. Not only during that stretch that changed the game early in the fourth but also later, when he started making his mark on offense. It turns out good center play is hugely important.
- DeMar DeRozan logged just 13 points but had 12 assists. I personally think DeRozan is at his best when he more aggressively looks for his shot, but on a night in which everyone seemed to be sinking jumpers he probably made the right choice by distributing instead of going for points himself.
- It’s crazy how much better the Spurs are when their forwards are contributing on both ends, like they did on Tuesday. Lyles looked much more comfortable in his natural position and flanking two stars instead of one. Gay realized that the Mavericks had no one who could actually guard him. They combined for 31 points and Lyles made some timely threes and some impressive hustle plays.
- Aldridge wasn’t the only Spur returning after missing some games. Marco Belinelli was back in action and looked sharp early, scoring 13 of his 16 points in the first half. The other shooters were good as well, with Mills making the two threes he attempted and not missing at all in five shots while Bryn Forbes hit two of his five outside looks.
- Derrick White clearly likes starting at point guard and also seems to love going against Doncic. White had 14 points, seven rebounds, nine assists, two steals and four blocks on the night and he did a decent job containing the Mavericks’ superstar.
- Speaking of Doncic, he would be my favorite non-Spur to watch if he could just stop complaining constantly about calls. He does it in the most passive-aggressive ways possible, too. It’s understandable to a degree because he does get fouled a lot, but at some point he’ll have to learn to pick his battles.
- Keldon Johnson got 13 minutes in Lonnie Walker IV’s absence and once again had some good moments. He completely put the clamps on Doncic in one possession and generally looked fearless. He’ll be fun to watch next year.
Next game: Vs. the Nuggets on Friday
The Spurs will have a couple of days off, which should help Aldridge get back to full health and might potentially allow Walker to heal. They’ll need all hands on deck if they hope to beat the inconsistent but supremely talented Nuggets at home.