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Spurs’ defense shines in comfortable win over struggling Magic

It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but the Spurs took care of business against an inferior opponent to get their third win of the season.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Orlando Magic Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

It was a much closer game than the one from opening night, but the Spurs got the season sweep of the Magic with a comfortable 102-89 win on the road. San Antonio only trailed early in the first quarter before taking control and keeping enough separation from Orlando throughout the rest of the night to avoid any late-game surprises.

The Spurs seemed to have a clear game plan early on: play with pace and pack the paint, daring the Magic’s big to hurt them from beyond the arc. It worked well, as Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr., who came into the game averaging 40 and 38.7 percent from outside, respectively, didn’t have it going on jumpers early on. On the other end, San Antonio’s ball movement was confusing the inexperienced Magic enough to get them a few easy buckets to go with the tough pull-ups that the Spurs normally take and make. A timely 10-point run in the middle of the quarter gave the Silver and Black some separation.

The second quarter was even sloppier than a less-than-stellar first for both teams. Fortunately for the Spurs, the bench managed to maintain the lead and the Magic’s lack of firepower prevented them from making a run when San Antonio’s offense went cold. The Silver and Black played good defense throughout, so they deserve credit for holding their opponents to just 16 points for the period, but Orlando didn’t do itself any favors in the half court. Errant passes and wild forays to the rim were all too common for the home team. The Spurs weren’t much better, so they might have struggled to keep their double-digit lead against a different opponent, but on Friday that wasn’t a problem.

Despite playing poorly, the Magic need to be commended for their refusal to go away. Every time the Spurs got too comfortable, Orlando made a mini run. Fortunately they could never string together enough stops to truly erase the deficit and some mid-range jumpers from Dejounte Murray and impressive cuts by Devin Vassell were all San Antonio needed to get the lead back to double digits. No post presence also meant Thaddeus Young could easily survive at center, where he gave the team great minutes on both ends whenever Drew Eubanks struggled. Ideally the Spurs would have closed the game out in the third with a big run, but at least they managed to keep their opponent at arm’s length.

The fourth quarter featured more of the same. The Magic would hit a couple of threes and cut the lead, then the Spurs would answer. Whenever San Antonio didn’t make mistakes and forced Orlando to play in the half court, the home team’s offense struggled. In the end, managing the lead was all the Silver and Black needed to do to claim their third win of the year. It might not had been against an impressive opponent or in a dominant fashion, but this season and without Jakob Poeltl, just getting a W in the books is good enough.

Game notes

  • Young once again got more minutes than Eubanks and was simply better. It’s an interesting dynamic, because Young was getting spot minutes or none at all when Poeltl was healthy, but might have played himself into the backup center spot with his recent performances, displacing Eubanks. We’ll have to see what happens when Jak gets back.
  • The Spurs had mixed results using their full court press. The Magic were mostly ready for it, so the trapping didn’t work, which resulted in 4-on-3 situations that ended in open threes and layups. The strategy was effective earlier in the season, but if opponents have scouted it and know how to counter it, it might be time to use it less.
  • The Spurs took only 19 three-pointers on Friday. That’s not enough, but also isn’t surprising. Defenders are sticking to Doug McDermott on the screens the team uses to free him up, which is a problem. It also doesn’t help that Bryn Forbes is out of the rotation or that Keita Bates-Diop got some of Lonnie Walker IV’s minutes against Orlando. San Antonio made up for the lack of threes by getting to the line more than the Magic, but against a better offense, they could have struggled to keep up. Outside shooting remains an issue.

Play of the night

Keldon Johnson had a big dunk, but instead of highlighting an individual play, let’s go for teamwork.

Young’s pass is delivered perfectly, not only in the small window in which Vassell was open but also leading him to the rim. Vassell’s finish is even better, as he went to the cup with force after recognizing that there was no shot-blocker. Just great execution.

SVP awards

Like every game this season, we are handing out points to the top three performers of the night that count towards a season leaderboard.

3rd place (1 point) - Thaddeus Young | 12 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals, three blocks

Devin Vassell once again barely misses the cut despite being deserving, but Young earned this spot. Young did a good job of finishing inside even when Mo Bamba was trying to swat his attempts away and he was everywhere on defense. On a night in which Drew Eubanks wasn’t at his best, those 26 minutes the Spurs got from their veteran big man were simply huge.

2nd place (2 points) - Keldon Johnson | 20 points, nine rebounds

Johnson was just solid. He got 11 points in the first half and nine in the second, including a big dunk that came after an egregious non-call on a drive, in which Bamba clearly hit his head. Keldon complained, but kept his cool and took out his frustration on the rim. A show of maturity from the young forward, who also did well on the boards.

1st (3 points) - Dejounte Murray | 20 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals

With Poeltl sidelined, Murray is primed to take a big lead in SVP points. On Friday, he just hit shots when the team needed them, contributed on the boards as always and dished out some assists while also playing fantastic defense. Murray seems ready for the bigger role he’s gotten this season, so hopefully he’ll keep having good performances nightly.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 17 points

2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 8 points

3rd - Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson - 7 points

4th - Derrick White - 4 points

5th - Thaddeus Young and Doug McDermott - 3 points

Next game: at Thunder on Sunday

The Thunder are clearly tanking, but they beat the reeling Lakers recently, so they are capable of an upset. If the Spurs are focused, however, they should be able to string two wins together.