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Spurs backcourt shines in decisive win over Wizards

Derrick White and Dejounte Murray combined for 46 points to lead the Spurs to their first winning streak of the season.

NBA: Washington Wizards at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs have their first win streak of the season. After falling behind by double digits in the second half, the Silver and Black kept their composure to come back and beat the Wizards 119-99, in large part thanks to a great performance by the Dejounte Murray-Derrick White backcourt.

For a few minutes in the first quarter, it seemed like Monday’s was going to be a high-octane matchup, as the Spurs, fresh off snapping a six-game losing streak, were playing with energy and trying to get on the break, while the Wizards were answering with buckets of their own. Unfortunately, the starting period quickly became a sloppy mess, for the most part. San Antonio was having its usual problems scoring in the half court, but the defense, as it has for most of the season, came to the rescue. The whole team was doing a fantastic job of contesting shots at the rim, collapsing into the paint after the visitors got there on drives. Outside shots weren’t falling for the Wizards, so they simply couldn’t punish the Spurs for it and had an anemic offense of their own as a result. The score after one seemed from another era, as both teams only mustered 20 points.

Washington looked a little sharper to start the second period, but the threes were still not falling and, early on, getting buckets was not an easy task. The Spurs kept pace but couldn’t take advantage of their opponent’s struggles and eventually got a little too lax on defense. Drives by the Wizards were starting to turn into points and with Washington cleaning up their turnover issues and hitting shots, the opportunities to run were scarce. Fortunately the pick and roll became the Spurs’ bread and butter as they tried to stay in it, with Jakob Poeltl doing a good job of finishing plays in the paint. A couple of threes falling also helped, but despite some timely buckets by San Antonio’s shooters, the Wizards still won the quarter and carried a six-point lead to the break.

The threes finally started falling for Washington early in the second half, which seemed to spell doom for San Antonio, as the visitors quickly took a double-digit lead. On past nights, the Spurs simply lacked the firepower to respond when opponents got hot, but on Monday Derrick White was feeling it from outside and hit three long bombs of his own on his way to an 18-point quarter. Dejounte Murray was there to provide a steady hand and the defense remained stingy at the rim, which allowed the Spurs to flip the script and actually be on the right side of a third-quarter run, for once. Bradley Beal threatened to spoil the fun with some tough makes, but once he went to rest Washington couldn’t find scoring. San Antonio went from trailing by 10 to leading by six at the end of the quarter.

The Spurs’ struggles in the clutch are well-documented and they were facing the team with the best record in close games, so it was imperative to create some separation and maintain it, which is not something the Silver and Black have excelled at this year. On Monday, it wasn’t a problem. San Antonio found scoring from unusual places while the starters rested, as Thaddeus Young decided to school Montrezl Harrell in the post and Bryn Forbes canned some jumpers and floaters to stretch the lead to 12 at several points. When Murray and White checked back in, they didn’t take the foot off the pedal while the Wizards couldn’t get Beal going again. In the end, the Spurs got to empty their bench in the last couple of minutes as they secured their second win in a row for a first time this season, in an impressive manner.

Game notes

  • Before the game, our own Bruno Passos asked Gregg Popovich about the backup center position. Here’s Pop answer:

Young’s performance against the Wizards will hopefully make him reconsider his stance. I doubt we see a complete rework of the rotation any time soon, but at the very least it’s good to know that when the usual backups aren’t playing well, Pop is capable of adjusting, like he did on Monday by giving Young 12 minutes in the second half after having him on the bench for the first two quarters.

  • This is a small thing that will not matter as soon as Doug McDermott returns, but Keldon Johnson started off guarding Kyle Kuzma while Keita Baites-Diop guarded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Something similar happened against the Hawks, when Keldon guarded John Collins while KBD guarded Kevin Heurter. Wouldn’t it make sense to have Bates-Diop, a bigger player and, on paper, a defensive specialist on the tougher, more physical assignment? Pop seems to disagree and the results haven’t been bad, but it feels like a strange decision.
  • The Spurs had 72 points in the paint, a massive number. They also had 17 fastbreak points to the Wizards’ zero. The recipe for success for San Antonio is to run, score inside and manage to keep both the three-point battle and the free throw battle somewhat close. They did it against Washington.
  • Josh Primo got minutes for the second game in a row, and this time he did something with them. Primo hit a couple of three-pointers and didn’t look out of place despite passing up a shot and getting pushed inside by the bigger Beal on one play. His development seems to be right on track.

Play of the night

A microcosm of the night: great rim protection resulting in some quick points from an aggressive Derrick White.

SVP Awards

3rd place (1 point) - Thaddeus Young | 10 points, three rebounds, two assists

Jakob Poeltl had a double-double and two blocks by feasting in the pick and roll and doing the dirty work on defense, so he could easily take this spot. But we’ve come to expect that type of solid performance from Jak. Watching Young remember that he has an effective, if unorthodox, post game was a welcomed surprise. Young also made some plays on defense and dished out a beautiful assist to White on a cut, but his scoring against Harrell is what stood out the most. The second unit could really benefit from an aggressive Young.

2nd place (2 points) - Dejounte Murray | 22 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists

The near triple-double stat lines from Murray are becoming common now. He’s consistently producing and seems more comfortable than ever as a creator and scorer. The only reason Murray doesn’t get first place honors this time is because he wasn’t as disruptive as usual on defense (zero steals and blocks) and someone else had a similarly impressive night. Which brings us to...

1st place (3 points) | Derrick White | 24 points, five rebounds, five assists

This is the Derrick White the Spurs were hoping to get this season: decisive, confident in his outside shot and productive in all other areas. So far, his defense had been great but he seemed to be playing at half speed on offense and his shot was off. Against the Wizards that all changed. If the threes keep falling and he continues to put pressure on the defense with drives like he did on Monday, White will give the Spurs a much better chance to win this season and a backcourt to build around going forward.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 34pts

2nd - Devin Vassell - 20pts

3rd - Keldon Johnson - 15pts

4th - Derrick White - 13 pts

5th - Jakob Poeltl and Thaddeus Young - 9 pts each

6th - Doug McDermott - 5pts

7th - Bryn Forbes - 4pts

8th - Drew Eubanks & Lonnie Walker IV - 2pts each

9th - Jock Landale- 1pt

Next game: at Trail Blazers on Thursday

The Spurs will have a day off and then they’ll visit Damian Lillard’s Trail Blazers. Can they make it three in a row? If the backcourt somehow outplays Portland’s like it did Washington’s, there’s a chance.