For much of the day, there was great anticipation leading up to tonight’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. Fresh out of the All-Star break, the San Antonio Spurs were healthy again (outside of Devin Vassell, who is still conditioning after recovering from COVID-19) and ready to take on a whale of a second half schedule to make a push for the playoffs.
Then, within an hour before tip-off, news dropped that the Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge have mutually agreed to part ways, whether it’s via trade or otherwise, and that he is no longer with the team. The first part of that news alone isn’t that surprising considering it was well known that the Spurs are listening to offers for him, but without an announcement of a trade, it was enough to catch one off-guard since the other assumption was they’d ride out the season with him if he wasn’t traded.
Such a distraction made it difficult to focus on the game at hand from the start, but despite being a bit rusty and the return of Derrick White and Rudy Gay meaning some reintegration time was required, the Spurs seemed up to the challenge — at least early on. While the first quarter is usually a weakness of the Spurs, they started the game hot, hitting 6-9 from three in first quarter while forcing six Mavs turnovers for a 32-27 lead.
However, things quickly averaged back to the mean as the three-point stroke abandoned the Spurs to start the second quarter, while Dallas started out on 13-4 run. It seemed like maybe the Spurs had some kind of deal with the basketball gods that they are only allowed one good quarter per half, and since they had used up all their good graces in the first quarter they weren’t allowed a good second. Fortunately, they recovered enough to regain a 59-52 lead at halftime, thanks in large part to DeMar DeRozan’s 14 points and 8 assists in the first half and some hot shooting from Gay and Lonnie Walker.
Still, despite the lead, it felt inevitable that the Mavericks, who have been trending up lately after a disappointing start to the season, would make a push. At the same time it was easy to see the Spurs weren’t quite themselves despite what the scoreboard said, having to reintegrate pieces that had been out and shuffle the rotations yet again.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened as the Mavs opened the second half with a 16-3 run before each team traded runs for a streaky third quarter. Dejounte Murray, who overall had a rough night with just 11 points on 5-15 shooting, briefly came out of his funk for a 5-0 run of his own to tie things back up. Then the Mavs respond with 7-0 run, which the Spurs then matched, and for the rest of the way they played relatively even for 87-86 Mavs lead heading into the fourth quarter (again mostly thanks to DeRozan).
Both teams struggled to score for most of fourth, but after the Spurs tied things up at 95 apiece, it was all Mavericks from there. In the blink of an eye they were up 112-99, and that was essentially the ball game as the Spurs appeared out of gas, getting badly outscored in the second half for the second game in a row.
This was definitely a “getting to know you again” type of game for the Silver and Black, and perhaps for Gregg Popovich as well. His decision to only play Walker for 18 minutes off the bench despite him being one of the few hot hands on the night (12 points on 5-8 shooting) seemed a bit odd, and despite the Mavericks’ length giving the Spurs issues all night, he had some tiny lineups out there when Poeltl needed rest. Granted, that type of team has been a problem for the Spurs for a while now, but it may not have hurt to give Luka Samanic more than just one minute of garbage time to help counter some of that length. (Not that he’d match up well with Kristaps Porzingis or Willie Cauley-Stain, but neither did Drew Eubanks, Trey Lyles or Gay, who combined for the back-up center minutes on the night.)
It was a strange night all around for the Spurs, from the sudden news about Aldridge to having to reintegrate everyone. Hopefully they can righten the ship again when they return home to face Orlando Magic, and in front of fans no less. It should be a big night, and hopefully the Spurs will rediscover their form for the long road ahead.
- White has always been the type of player who needs a game or two to get his feet back under him after a layoff, and it definitely showed tonight. He finished the game with just 6 points on 1-8 shooting, 1 assist, no rebounds, and two turnovers. After playing stretches of one, five, and two games so far this season while dealing with toe issues and COVID, hopefully he can stay on the court for good the rest of the way, and in a game or two he should get back to being the player he is capable of being.
- The referees faced a conundrum midway through the fourth quarter when Cauley-Stein intentionally shoved Jakob Poeltl into White as he was going up for a shot. Both Spurs landed hard on the floor (fortunately no one was hurt), and predictably a Flagrant 1 was assessed, but that wasn’t the confusing part. It took the refs five minutes to figure out who would shoot the free throws. They settled on White, who was on the receiving end of the rough play but never actually made contact with Cauley-Stein. It was definitely a unique situation that may or may not have been determined correctly, but Spurs fans will gladly accept White getting the two free throws (which he made) over Poeltl. (There was also debate over why it wasn’t a shooting foul, especially with White being the one who they said was fouled, but that’s because all flagrants result in two free throws plus the ball even if it’s on a shooting foul. Regardless, this play will probably go into film study for the officials for future reference.)
- I had to watch this game on NBA TV since League Pass was blacked out, and even though it was an NBA crew consisting of Matt Winer and Greg Anthony, plus a little bit of Steve Smith from the studio, you’d never guess this wasn’t Dallas’ crew. Despite supposedly being “neutral”, the commentary was almost entirely about the Mavericks, with the most notable thing they had to say about the Spurs coming from Anthony: “I haven’t watched the Spurs much this season, but they don’t have the pieces to make the playoffs without Aldridge”. Yeah, Greg, you definitely haven’t been watching. Of course, the Spurs will be better off if they can get some depth back for him, but if anything keeps them out of the postseason, it will be either the schedule or themselves. With all due respect to Aldridge, they had reached a point where they were playing better either without him or with him coming off the bench. While this game showed they need more big man depth, he’s replaceable at this point.