Another day, another close-but-no-cigar outing for the San Antonio Spurs against a should-be playoff team, this time in the form of a 109-108 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The Spurs rode a red-hot Devin Vassell to a 10-point lead in the third quarter, but once again fourth quarter mistakes and the lack of a game-closing formula cost them down the stretch.
Vassell’s career-high 21 points all came in the first three quarters, and Dejounte Murray again put up an almost triple-double with 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. Jalen Brunson had a season high 31 points for the Mavs, and Luka Doncic had 23 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists.
- Drew Eubanks got the start in place of Jakob Poeltl, who is out due to health and safety protocols. He was fine for the most part, considering the Mavs lack a star big man with Kristaps Porzingiz out, although he missed two early layups, and Dwight Powell got two of his three first quarter dunks on alley-oops over Eubanks, although neither were his fault as he was stuck playing 2-on-1 and had to choose between Doncic and Powell.
- Gregg Popovich appears to be shaking up the bench rotation a bit. With Eubanks starting, Thaddeus Young got first dibs at backup center and had a positive impact with 6 points, layup, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks in the first half. Tre Jones also entered the game ahead of Bryn Forbes (who entered in the second quarter), presumably for defensive purposes, and it appears always having either Dejounte Murray or Derrick White on the floor is another point of emphasis. The second unit delivered in the first quarter, outscoring their Mavs counterparts 10-2 and tying the game up at 26 a piece after the Mavs had led by as much as seven.
- Of all people to make the Spurs really miss Poeltl, it was Spurs fan favorite Boban Marjanovic tonight. Eubanks was unsurprisingly no match for his length, and he helped kickstart a 12-0 run to start the second quarter to get the Mavs out by double digits. Forget how loveable he is; even if he’s the third string center, if nothing else you want him on your team just so he can’t go up against yours, especially when it’s short its starting center. For the night he had 17 points on 8-10 shooting.
- Vassell was the hot hand for the Spurs in the first half, with 14 points on 6-7 shooting (2-3 from three) in the first half and almost single handedly brought the Spurs back from their slow start to the second quarter. Murray also showed a little iso-ability to hit a buzzer-beater three at the end half to get the Spurs back within a point, 58-59. Together, Murray and Derrick White combined for 22 points on 8-14 shooting in the first half, along with Murray’s 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
- Eubanks made up for some of his defensive struggles in the third quarter when he met Tim Hardaway Jr. at the apex of a would-be high flying dunk for the clean block. He looked more comfortable in his role in the second half, catching a couple of passes in the pick-and-roll for some easy buckets.
- After struggling coming out of the locker room for much of the season, the Spurs came out strong in the third, and Vassell was still hot and helped get his team up by double digits with another 7 points, but late mistakes immediately got the Mavs back into the game. The Spurs stopped getting the ball to Vassell on offense and were once again flustered by the presence of Boban on both ends. (Young certainly doesn’t have the size to guard him, so maybe it wouldn’t have hurt to give Jock Landale a try? Probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but still.) The refs also missed a blatant travel by Doncic that led to a three for Hardaway, which kickstarted a 9-2 Mavs run to end the third quarter and get them back within two, 83-81.
- The Spurs continued to struggle with mistakes in the fourth quarter, and Jalen Brunson went into Spurs-killer mode, scoring seven straight points to get the Mavs up by 5 with three minutes left. The Spurs again appeared to forget that Vassell was their hot hand, as he only got one shot in the fourth quarter after his amazing first three quarters. They resorted back to taking turns in iso sets instead of moving the ball, but they hung in there, leading to wild finish. . .
- The Spurs still kept hanging tight with Murray continuing to fight his way to the bucket, but another well contested Brunson make put the Mavs up by three with 21 second left. White got a lay-up to get the Spurs within one with 13 seconds left, Brunson made his free throws, and Murray was fouled on the inbound pass but missed one free throw. Frank Ntilikina hit both free throws with 10 seconds left, Lonnie Walker hit a three to get the Spurs within one with just over 4 seconds left, and Brunson missed his first free throw on accident and the rim on an intentional miss on the second, giving the Spurs the ball on the side with 2.7 seconds left. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get a final shot up, and that was the ball game.
- Outside of the Pacers loss, the Spurs have been really close in all their losses, and just a few fewer mistakes would make the difference. They also need to work on continuing to run the offense in the fourth quarter, not get bogged down by hero ball, make free throws, and don’t settle for too many threes in an attempt to get everything back at once. Once they put it all together, they will start winning games. The question is, will it be too-little, too-late?
For the Mavs fans’ perspective, visit Mavs Money Ball.
The Spurs headed right back out on the road for their second and final matchup with the Orlando Magic of the season. Tip-off will be at 6:00PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.