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Missed free throws come back to haunt Spurs in OT loss to the Lakers

The Spurs once again played well against a contender, but simply couldn’t close the game out, in what is becoming a pattern.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs had their second win of the season within their grasp late in the fourth quarter against the visiting Lakers, but couldn’t close it out. Standout performances from several players weren’t enough, as they faded in overtime and allowed the visitors to escape San Antonio with a 125-121 victory.

Despite not having LeBron James available, the Lakers still had an advantage in size and athleticism inside and made the most of it early. On offense, their bigs were getting lobs and on the other end, they were stifling the Spurs at the rim. To make matters worse, San Antonio was squandering some opportunities in transition. Overall, both starting units looked a little sloppy and lacking energy and movement. Once the benches checks in, however, the Silver and Black thrived thanks to having younger legs that were wreaking havoc on defense and either attacking the paint when Anthony Davis was at center or finding open outside looks that were turning into three-pointers. It was close after the first period despite the Lakers carving out an eight-point lead midway through.

Just as the start the game, the beginning of the second quarter saw both teams struggle with execution. The Spurs were coughing the ball up a little too often while the Lakers slowly started to get their footing as the minutes passed. A more organized Los Angeles offense made some hay out of the temporarily disheveled San Antonio defense en route to another small lead. Davis started to take over after being a decoy for a few possessions and everything was looking good for the visitors, but their outside shooting woes prevented them from running away with. The Spurs, meanwhile, kept it close by simply hitting their open looks and getting away with some questionable decisions that somehow didn’t result in turnovers.

The third period was defined by two things: first, the Spurs were hitting threes while the Lakers couldn’t buy one, and second, Gregg Popovich made a crucial defensive adjustment. After getting burned on some lobs early on, San Antonio started to defend pick and rolls with two players. Everyone stayed home on shooters while Jakob Poeltl didn’t help too aggressively on drives, instead staying close to his man. Russell Westbrook got some easy layups as a result, but the shooters didn’t get many touches and once Rajon Rondo checked in, the Lakers’ offense stalled. With San Antonio playing with supreme confidence and Lonnie Walker catching fire for a stretch, it looked like the Silver and Black, carrying a 12-point lead into the final frame, was going to get a big home win.

Alas, the Lakers refused to go away. Davis provided a big scoring punch while the defense upped the intensity against a Spurs offense that struggled to create good looks. The lead slowly disappeared before San Antonio, led by Dejounte Murray, regained its composure. The score stayed close the rest of the way, and there were several plays that could have decided the outcome, including some huge offensive rebounds by the Silver and Black. Unfortunately, clutch free throws rimmed out, Murray missed the potential game-winner, and despite a great team performance that saw seldom used players like Keita Bates-Diop provide good minutes, the Spurs couldn’t get the win in regulation.

The Lakers, led by former MVP Russell Westbrook and four-time All-NBA first team member Anthony Davis, were simply too much for the starless Spurs in overtime. The offense couldn’t get going and the interior defense couldn’t keep opponents from the paint and the offensive boards. It’s a tough loss but one that will surely teach San Antonio’s young core some valuable lessons about closing games.

Game notes

  • Doug McDermott left the game at the end of the third quarter with knee soreness and didn’t return. Pop opted to go with Bates-Diop over Keldon Johnson for most of crunch time and all of overtime. It was understandable, as the bench forward was having a good night, but perhaps Johnson would have helped on offense late in the game.
  • Thaddeus Young and Bryn Forbes both had short stints, but didn’t play in the second half. Drew Eubanks didn’t get much run after the break, either. The Spurs went with the guys that were performing well, which means some of them logged big minutes. Pop is clearly still trying to figure out the rotation.
  • The Spurs had 29 fastbreak points and actually outscored their opponent from deep. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t enough on this one, but when they can get out in transition and the shooters are hot, San Antonio can put points up in a hurry. The 10 missed free throws are likely the reason this one slipped away, which is a little frustrating.

Play of the game

This play has two things that defined this game: Rajon Rondo hurting the Lakers and the Spurs doing a fantastic job of getting out in transition and finding open guys.

SVP awards

Spurs vs. Bucks

Before announcing the three best players of the game against the Lakers, here are the top three performers from the Bucks game, courtesy of reader #8 in the Rafters, who volunteered his picks after we failed to provide them following that game.

3rd (1 point) - Jakob Poeltl | 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists.

2nd (2 points) - Keldon Johnson | 20 points, three assists.

1st (3 points) - Doug McDermott | 25 points, seven three-pointers.

Now, let’s get to the Lakers game

Spurs vs. Lakers

3rd (1 point) - Lonnie Walker IV | 21 points in 10 shots, five made three-pointers, six assists.

It was close between Walker and the equally deserving Devin Vassell (19 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals), but Walker gets the edge because of efficiency and buckets created for others. Both young wings did fantastic and it’s exciting to know that they’ll be coming off the bench with their complementary skill sets throughout the season to provide scoring and defense.

2nd (2 points) - Jakob Poeltl | 27 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks.

Another tough choice between Poeltl and Dejounte Murray, who will get top honors this game. Poeltl did great work against the Lakers bigs and showed more aggressiveness off the pick and roll than we are used to from him, finishing strong with dunks on several occasions. Jak didn’t dish out any assists, but his work on the boards, on defense and, surprisingly, as a finisher more than made up for it.

1st (3 points) - Dejounte Murray | 21 points, 12 rebounds, 15 assists, two steals, two blocks.

Let’s get the bad out of the way quickly. Murray at times over dribbled, was not efficient as a scorer (24 shots to get 21 points) and, just like Poeltl, missed some clutch free throws. Asides from that, he was fantastic in pretty much every other aspect of the game. He pushed to pace to find open guys, took care of the ball, hit some good shots, helped out on the boards against a bigger team and did a phenomenal job on defense, for the most part. It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t get the W to go with his triple-double but something tells me he’ll get a few more opportunities this season.

Season leaderboard

1st - Jakob Poeltl - 6 points.

2nd - Keldon Johnson - 5 points

3rd - Derrick White, Devin Vassell, Doug McDermott, Dejounte Murray - 3 points

Next game: @Mavericks on Thursday

The Spurs will visit the Mavericks next. Kristaps Porzingis might miss the game after leaving early due to back tightness in their Tuesday win against the Rockets, but Luka Doncic will be there to test the mettle of San Antonio’s defense.