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Spurs’ struggles continue in blowout loss to the Hawks

The Spurs kept it close for a half, but simply didn’t have any answers for the Hawks’ superstar or enough firepower to compete in the final two periods.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs still can’t find their way. San Antonio couldn’t contain Trae Young and a lack of easy points hampered their offense despite the team finally showing signs of life from beyond the arc in a 124 - 106 loss to the streaking Hawks. The Silver and Black have now dropped the last six and remain near the bottom of the West standings.

It was a fun start of the game, as both teams went back and forth, looking for early scoring opportunities. The Spurs were playing with the same energy they showed late in their close loss to the Suns, doing a fantastic job of protecting the rim and hitting a few threes. Their activity level was making up for some small mistakes on defense while Dejounte Murray was doing a fantastic job on the other end to pace the offense. Their lively play was enough to get them an early lead that lasted until late in the period, when the Hawks’ bench outplayed San Antonio’s second unit. The score was even after one, with Atlanta looking better heading into the second frame after absorbing the Silver and Black’s first punch.

The defense didn’t have the same bite in the second quarter for the Spurs, which was predictable. The fierceness they showed before was simply unsustainable and the Hawks have the tools to hurt any team. Had the offense also lagged behind, Atlanta would have taken over, but a surprisingly great stretch by Bryn Forbes provided the firepower needed for San Antonio to stay within striking distance until the starters for both teams returned. Unfortunately, once they did, the Spurs’ half court struggles became impossible to hide, as only Dejounte Murray was able to create good looks. The Hawks simply waited for the shots to stop falling and closed out the half stronger, going into the break with a seven-point lead.

The circumstances that had kept the Spurs in it, namely an exceptional defensive start and the play of Bryn Forbes to complement Murray, were going to be hard to replicate, so Atlanta potentially running away with it was a distinct possibility. Just how thoroughly the Hawks would dominate the third quarter was harder to anticipate. Trae Young simply picked apart San Antonio’s defense, both from outside and on drives that resulted in lobs for Clint Capella or open looks for the shooters. The Silver and Black didn’t have any answers on offense either, since the visitors continued to do a great job of avoiding fouls and turnovers that could lead to transition buckets. The Spurs were simply outclassed.

There was a mini-run with Young resting and the red-hot Forbes hitting some shots, but the Spurs wouldn’t get within 10 in the entire fourth quarter. The Hawks’ star checked back in and essentially ended any potential comeback. With five minutes left and down 21, Gregg Popovich emptied his bench, giving us some Jock Landale minutes. A short while later, Atlanta extended its win streak to six while the Spurs saw their losing one grow to that same number.

Game notes

  • Devin Vassell exited the game in the third quarter after suffering a quadriceps contusion. Hopefully he’ll be back soon, because despite struggling against the Hawks, he’s been one of the biggest bright spots on an otherwise gloomy season.
  • Landale returned to action after missing several games while being in the health and safety protocols. He had one nice dunk off a pick and roll but didn’t stand out in garbage time. Zach Collins, meanwhile, appears to be on pace to return after Christmas. With the backup center role in flux, it’s good to see that Pop will have options.
  • The Spurs hit 12 threes against the Hawks after making only 16 in the past three games combined. Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and Bryn Forbes made nine of them while Derrick White, Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker IV shot a combined 3-for-14. Forbes is a fringe rotation player and the guys who are supposed to be good shooters struggled, so it’s hard to be bullish about the outside shooting going forward, but at least for one night, it wasn’t a huge weakness.
  • Trae Young always kills the Spurs. He’s a superstar, so that’s not too surprising, but considering the Spurs have great defensive guards, you’d think they’d have a better shot than most at containing him. Alas, he just destroys San Antonio no matter who guards him. Maybe it’s time to get weird and throw a box-and-1 defense his way next time.

Play of the game

The actual play of the game is this outrageous John Collins alley-oop dunk, but in the spirit of keeping this space Spurs-centric, let’s go with this angry Jakob Poeltl slam.

SVP awards

3rd place (1 point) - Jakob Poeltl | 15 points, 10 rebounds, 3-for-4 from the line

Keldon Johnson has a case for this spot, but Poeltl gets the nod for his work on the boards and his bounceback performance from the line. After missing five of his six attempts in the previous game, Jak hit three of his four freebies against the Hawks. Let’s hope this is a turning point for him from the line.

2nd place (2 points) - Dejounte Murray | 22 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals

Murray was fantastic in the first half, essentially taking care of creating for himself and others when no one else seemed able to. He hit his threes, found Poeltl in the pick and roll and, as always, helped out on the boards. Unfortunately, he faded a little in the second half and didn’t get a single free throw attempt, which is unacceptable for a player with his usage. Still, another great performance by Murray.

1st (3 points) - Bryn Forbes | 23 points, 6-for-7 on two-pointers

Forbes led the Spurs in scoring, getting 23 points in a single game after having a total of 77 in the 15 prior games in which he appeared. His jumper was on, and not only from beyond the arc. Forbes missed only one two-pointer, punishing the Hawks for simply running him off the line with some mid-range makes. It’s possible Forbes doesn’t get many minutes in the next game, but on Wednesday, he was one of the main reasons why the Spurs kept it close for as long as they did.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 29pts

2nd - Devin Vassell - 20pts

3rd - Keldon Johnson - 14pts

4th - Jakob Poeltl - 9 points

5th - Thaddeus Young & Derrick White - 8pts each

6th - Doug McDermott - 5pts

6th - Bryn Forbes - 4pts

7th - Drew Eubanks & Lonnie Walker IV - 2pts each

8th - Jock Landale- 1pt

Next game: vs. the Celtics on Friday

Ime Udoka returns to San Antonio with his Celtics, which won three of their last four games, all in Boston. Hopefully they’ll struggle more on the road, because the Spurs need a win to improve morale.