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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Mavericks

San Antonio is still figuring out how to finish tight contests.

Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs engaged in another tightly contested matchup on Wednesday night as they went blow for blow with the Dallas Mavericks in a game that went down to the wire. And while the good guys fought until the final buzzer, they once again fell short at the last second.

Dejounte Murray and Derrick White combined and pestered Luka Doncic, forcing him into errant passes and a couple of airballs. But Jalen Brunson came to the rescue with 31 points in his second start of the season, and the Silver and Black sorely missed Jakob Poeltl.

Head coach Gregg Popovich and company have now slipped to 2-6 for the first time since 1996. That said, there’s still plenty of time to salvage their season. But to get back on track, the Spurs must first learn how to close out winnable games.

The Spurs already miss Jakob Poeltl

Jakob Poeltl entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols hours before San Antonio tipped off on Wednesday, putting the good guys at an immediate disadvantage. The Silver and Black were always going to miss his elite rim protection, screen setting, short roll passing, though it was the height disparity minus Poeltl that hurt the most.

While Kristaps Porzinigs and Maxi Kleber remained sidelined for Dallas, Jason Kidd turned to his seven-three behemoth and former Spur Boban Marjanovic to provide a boost off the bench against their divisional rival’s undersized frontcourt.Not only did Bobi record a season-high 17 points, but he played an integral role in helping the Mavericks outrebound San Antonio 56-40.

Head coach Gregg Popovich gave Drew Eubanks the starting nod. Though he eventually settled into the flow of the contest after a shaky few minutes right out of the gate, it was abundantly clear replacing Jakob wasn’t going to be an easy task.

Thaddeus Young performed admirably as a small-ball five, posting eight points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks in backup duties. Yet as we’ve seen with Nikola Jokic, Domantas Sabonis, and now Boban, the six-eight combo forward stands little chance defensively when matched up on seven-footers.

Despite some productive garbage time production from Jock Landale in a blowout loss at the hands of Indiana earlier this week, San Antonio’s second-tallest player never sniffed the hardwood. That should probably change going forward if opposing play-callers continue hunting mismatches in the post.

San Antonio could afford to shoot more threes

San Antonio has encountered a hot-and-cold relationship with the three-ball this season. They launched as many as 39 triples during an opening week battle with the reigning champions. They also attempted as few as 21 shots from beyond the arc against the Mavericks on Wednesday night.

Overall, the Spurs rank 28th in three-point volume (29.9 3PA). And while they sit in the middle of the pack in long-range efficiency, their league-leading 55.1% success rate from the corners, which is 7.1% better than the runner-up, suggests they should continue to find ways to incorporate the shortest trifecta in the game into their offense.

Pop talked about pushing the pace, recommitting to the defensive end, and taking more threes throughout his media availability across media, training camp, and the preseason. Although the Spurs have stuck to their first two promises, they still have plenty of work to do if they want to follow through on the latter.

The return of Doug McDermott after a three-game absence should help their cause, and the rest of the roster would do well to follow his example and let it fly when they’re open. Even if they see their three-point efficiency falter a bit, showing opponents you’re willing to shoot when wide-open can go a long way towards keeping the defense honest.

The Silver and Black are still learning how to win

As discussed several times in the past, inexperienced teams struggle to close out games. And considering this is the youngest roster of the Gregg Popovich era, it’s no wonder San Antonio hasn’t found much success down the stretch of close contests.

The Spurs almost exclusively relied on DeMar DeRozan to carry them past the finish line a season ago, and he regularly rose to the occasion, scoring the third-most clutch points in the NBA. But DeRozan is no longer a part of the organization, and he left gigantic shoes to fill.

Dejounte Murray has assumed the role of closer on a team devoid of a bonafide star. And so far, the sixth-year floor general has been up and down. He leads the team in fourth-quarter and crunchtime points by a mile. However, his combined 44.4% shooting in those scenarios is slightly below league average.

San Antonio has preached the importance of team-oriented basketball, and while Dejounte Murray is more than capable of getting a bucket from time to time, he shouldn’t have to do everything on his own when the game is on the line. The Spurs have already participated in a ton of tight tilts, and they desperately need someone to step up and lend Dejounte a helping hand if they want to avoid more agonizing losses.

Devin Vassell might have been a solid option for the Silver and Black, yet he received virtually zero touches or shots after securing a season-high 21 points with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter. It’s unclear why San Antonio went away from their second-year wing, though Pop, Vassell, and his teammates probably share the blame.