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Spurs come up short in a thrilling game against the Mavericks

The Spurs bounced back admirably following a blowout loss against the Pacers but ended up on the wrong side of a one-point game.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

After suffering a blowout loss to the Pacers on Monday, the Spurs bounced back with a good effort tonight against the Mavericks. Even though they eventually lost 109-108, the team showed good effort in what will likely go down as one of the more thrilling games of the season.

The Spurs were active to start the game, with every player constantly moving on offense, which created a nice flow to their attack. Lots of off-ball screens were set to open up driving lanes, and Drew Eubanks was especially involved in pick and rolls and dives to the basket. On the other side, Dallas predictably relied heavily on Luka Doncic to score and facilitate. The Wonder-kid created multiple open looks for his team, most of which fortunately didn’t drop.

With the two teams playing opposing styles of basketball, the juxtaposition between them was stark; as soon as Doncic hit the bench, Dallas lost its offensive rhythm, and San Antonio’s bench outscored the Mavericks’ second unit 10-0 early in the contest. However, the momentum soon flipped when the good guys stopped moving off the ball. The Spurs began forcing up contested shots early in possessions, allowing Dallas to build a double-digit lead even with Doncic not playing.

San Antonio got back in the game soon after thanks to Dejounte Murray and Devin Vassell. Murray showed off his isolation scoring by taking a defender off the dribble and hitting a mid-ranger, while Vassell converted on an open three to spark the team. Murray also knocked down a triple with mere seconds remaining in the first half, giving the Spurs momentum as they headed into the third quarter down by just one.

Having already scored 14 points on 6/7 shooting, Vassell continued his outstanding play in the second half. The 21-year-old made shots from all over the floor, which included more threes and even a contested floater. Vassell’s hot hand allowed San Antonio to build a 10 point lead, but the good guys inexplicably stopped looking for him on offense midway through the period. As a result, Dallas managed to claw their way back into the game, and the Spurs’ lead was dwindled down to two going into the fourth.

As crunch time approached, both teams began running more isolation plays. Murray controlled the ball for much of San Antonio’s possessions, and he responded with a few tough finishes around the basket. At the other end, Dallas’ scoring surprisingly came from Jalen Brunson, who at one point went on a 7-0 run by himself.

With ten seconds remaining and the Spurs down by four, Lonnie Walker IV hit a three to make things interesting — Brunson was then fouled, and after he missed his first free throw, he intentionally missed his second as well, but the ball failed to hit the rim, which gave the Spurs one final chance to tie the game. Unfortunately, the good guys failed to get a good shot off after being forced to inbound from their own end, resulting in a nail-biting 109-108 loss to Dallas.

Games notes

  • With Jakob Poeltl unavailable after he entered healthy and safety protocols, the Spurs really struggled to contain Dallas’ bigs whenever Eubanks was off the court. Thaddeus Young got some extra minutes as the team’s small-ball five, but he didn’t provide much resistance to either Dwight Powell or Boban Marjanovic, who both scored at will and grabbed numerous offensive boards. Jock Landale registered a surprising DNP, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t suit up for the next few games while Poeltl remains sidelined.
  • Dejounte Murray’s usage in crunch time has increased now that DeMar DeRozan is gone, and he performed admirably in this game. The 25-year-old converted on a couple of nice layups and also made a pinpoint pass in a tight space to Keldon Johnson that allowed the latter to score an easy basket. The Spurs will undoubtedly miss DeRozan’s late-game heroics at times, but that shouldn’t be too big of a concern given that San Antonio can create good looks as a team and Murray’s still improving as an isolation scorer.
  • Sean Elliott made a good point on the broadcast when he said that the Spurs should’ve continued looking to get the ball to Vassell when he was hot, much like what Dallas did with Brunson at the end of the game. With the way Vassell was playing in the third quarter, it’s possible he could’ve scored a few more baskets and the game might’ve had a different result. Hopefully Pop reminds the team to ride the hot hand in the future, and this could be a learning experience for everyone involved.

Play of the game

The Spurs hosted a block party in the second half tonight, and none were more spectacular than Eubanks’ rejection of Tim Hardaway Jr.

SVP awards

Murray and Vassell were obvious selections tonight and there were a few candidates I considered for third place. Ultimately, I decided to give some love to Eubanks, who’s making his first appearance on this list.

3rd place (1 point): Drew Eubanks - 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks

Eubanks didn’t have his most efficient game (4/10 from the field, 2/4 at the line), but I was impressed by his hustle and intensity. The big man seemed to be involved in every play both on offense and defense, and while he didn’t have the greatest success shutting down the opposing centres, Eubanks did enough to make life difficult and blocked a few shots in the process.

2nd place (2 points): Dejounte Murray - 23 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists

Murray wasn’t very noticeable in the first half but turned it on when needed. His buzzer-beating three at the end of the second quarter really gave the Spurs a momentum boost heading into the third, and he delivered when called upon in crunch time. Murray has continued to expand his scoring and passing game, and it’ll be fascinating to see just how high his offensive ceiling really is.

1st place (3 points): Devin Vassell - 21 points, 9/12 from the field, 3/6 from three

It seems like I share a special connection with Vassell since he’s been the first star in both games I’ve covered this season. Jokes aside, it’s encouraging to see the sophomore gain more confidence by taking defenders off the dribble and creating scoring chances himself. Like every young player, Vassell has struggled with his consistency this season, but those growing pains are good experiences to have and will help him become a better player down the road.

Season leaderboard (Top 5):

1st - Dejounte Murray - 14pts

2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 8pts

3rd - Devin Vassell - 7pts

4th - Derrick White & Keldon Johnson - 5pts each

5th - Doug McDermott - 3pts

Next game: at Orlando on Friday

After two consecutive losses, the Spurs need to take advantage of a rebuilding Orlando team and come out with a win on the road.