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Undersized Spurs can’t compete in blowout loss to Pacers

The Spurs took their first beating of the season against the bigger, hungrier Pacers.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs got their first lopsided loss of the season in their visit to Indiana. The Pacers were merciless against an opponent that seemed to lack the required focus to make up for a massive size disadvantage and walloped San Antonio 131-118 by dominating the paint.

The Spurs struggled to get going early in this game, but an aggressive Dejounte Murray carried the offense, getting 14 points out of the team’s 33 for the quarter. On most nights, that would have been enough for San Antonio to not only keep pace but potentially win the frame. Unfortunately, on Monday they were facing a hungry Pacers team that was red hot from the outside and had a gigantic size difference inside. Indiana rained threes while the Spurs were struggling to come up with twos, and when the defense recovered well to the perimeter, the home team’s patient playmakers simply found one of their bigs open under the rim or guarded by a much smaller player. Asides from a couple of possessions in which a full-court press was effective, San Antonio just didn’t have answers on defense.

The main reason to remain optimistic about the Spurs ability to stick around after giving up 40 in the first quarter was the Pacers’ limited depth. Just like every single opponent the Silver & Black has faced so far this season, Indiana was missing key players, and it was fair to wonder if at some point it would come back to hurt them, Alas, Indiana’s second unit did well. There was a difference in energy and focus that didn’t stop once the starters checked out and staying big never became an issue for the Pacers, as the Spurs’ forwards, which in theory had a speed advantage, couldn’t use it to get to the rim and draw help. The lack of easy buckets, combined with too many turnovers, defanged San Antonio’s offense in a game in which high scoring was needed. After staying within striking distance for a while, the levees broke and the deficit at halftime was 22 points.

As the second half started, the question was whether the Spurs were going to come out energized or defeated. In the first few minutes they showed signs of fight, mostly led by Derrick White and some Keldon Johnson moments, but they could never get enough momentum to mount a serious comeback. The Pacers, coming off four straight close losses, were simply too motivated to let this game slip by while the Spurs, fresh of a victory against the reining champions, might have been a little too complacent. Indiana continued to execute and kept their starters in even after Pop had a bench unit out there, which killed any sense of suspense the game could have had. The Pacers coasted to a much-needed win, teaching the Spurs a lesson in the process: if you are not at your best every night, a blowout loss is always a possibility.

Game notes

  • While the Pacers started out hot from the outside, it was points in the paint that kept their offense humming. The Spurs couldn’t hurt them on drives and had a hard time finding Poeltl open in the paint. The opposite was true for Indiana, which got to the rim at will and always seemed to find Domantas Sabonis inside on pick and rolls.
  • Pop staggered the minutes of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White to keep at least one on the court at all times while the game was still competitive. It’s definitely something he should do, but it puts Tre Jones in a strange position. If he’s not there to handle the ball and try to put pressure on the defense on drives, why is he out there? He’s been making the most of his minutes by mostly cutting with purpose, but if he’s going to be a permanent part of the rotation, it would be interesting to see if he can handle a bigger offensive load.
  • The Pacers were comfortable putting Sabonis on Keldon Johnson while keeping Myles Turner, the better shot-blocker of the two, on Jakob Poeltl. They got the advantages of going big (offensive rebounds, rim protection) without suffering the downsides, since Keldon couldn’t hurt them on drives and wasn’t comfortable taking the jumpers the defense was giving him. Johnson will eventually be a matchup nightmare if he stays at power forward, but it will take him a while to get there.

Play of the game

Keldon did have one great moment. This dunk over Turner was nasty.

When he can catch the ball in motion, Johnson is a dangerous man.

SVP awards

As always, after every game, we’ll be picking the three best performers and giving them points that go towards a cumulative leaderboard. It’s harder to find deserving candidates in blowout losses, but there were still some valiant efforts.

3rd place (1 point) - Jock Landale | 10 points, one rebound and one assist in under six minutes

Landale played his third NBA stint of the season, once again in garbage time. The fact that he played when the game was fully out of reach would normally disqualify him from getting recognition in this section, but he was legitimately impressive in a game in which not many were even solid, so I’m slotting him here instead of the other potential pick, Devin Vassell.

Nothing suggests Jock will have a bigger role going forward, but the “Play Jock” contingent now has at least some highlights to point to when suggesting he deserves regular minutes.

2nd place (2 points) - Derrick White | 13 points, seven assists, two charges drawn

White was a mess on offense in the first half, but he looked energized to start the second, hitting a couple of threes and logging a few assists to kick start the would-be comeback that unfortunately never came. White has not been consistent as a scorer or creator so far this season, but his defense remains a big enough asset that he has earned the time to figure the rest out.

1st place (3 points) - Dejounte Murray | 16 points, six assists, three three-pointers made

Murray faded after the first quarter, but he was genuinely the only reason the Pacers had to wait until the second to break the game open. Dejounte was hitting threes and mid-range jumpers to bail out an offense that just couldn’t compete early on. He also dished out some assists in the second half, when he essentially became a non-factor as a scorer. In this game, that’s enough to get first place.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 12 points

2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 8 points

3rd - Derrick White and Keldon Johnson - 5 points

4th - Devin Vassell - 4 points

5th - Doug McDermott - 3 points

Next game: Vs. Mavericks on Wednesday

The Spurs will have an opportunity to avenge the close loss they suffered against their division rivals days ago. Let’s hope they come out focused for this one.