Despite having several opportunities to steal a game they shouldn’t have had a chance of winning, the Spurs logged another home loss. The Silver and Black couldn’t take advantage of the Hawks’ mistakes late in the game and fell 134-129 in double overtime.
Slow starts are expected on SEGABABAs, which is why it wasn’t surprising that the Spurs’ perimeter defense struggled early on. Unfortunately, that was a recipe for disaster against a Hawks team that has crafty pick and roll ball handlers who took advantage of the ease with which they were allowed past the first line of defense to attack the paint, draw help and find Clint Capela all alone under the rim. Throughout the entire first half, Atlanta used simple ball screens or hand-offs to get inside and punish the Spurs, with close shots or offensive boards. On the other end, San Antonio relied mostly on jumpers and the work of DeMar DeRozan, who carried the offense on his back for long stretches, to not fall fatally behind.
Some hot shooting from beyond the arc by Derrick White and a few mid-range jumpers from Dejounte Murray eventually provided a good complement to DeRozan’s shot creation and kept the Spurs in it, mostly because the Hawks were careless with the ball and were not hitting threes in the first half. Capela was still feasting inside even as the minutes pass, but some better work on the glass and the avoidance of turnovers helped stop the bleeding for San Antonio. Meanwhile, in its second stint Atlanta’s bench couldn’t really put together a run like it did to end the first quarter. All those factors conspired to allow the Spurs to stay in striking distance even after a rather mediocre half.
A key adjustment in the way the Spurs defended the pick and roll threatened to end the Hawks’ control of the game in the second half. Gregg Popovich had Jakob Poeltl stay closer to Capela instead of stopping the ball handler, taking away Atlanta’s preferred weapon. It was a good tweak, but it didn’t stop the Hawks’ offense, which started the hit the outside shots that were not going in in the first half, from dropping 30 points in the third frame. This time, however, the Spurs managed to match that offensive output by once again relying on an unstoppable DeRozan and a red-hot Derrick White, who had the best scoring game of his career in large part because of his prolific outside shooting.
The Hawks only carried a small lead to the final period, but managed to keep it for almost its entirety by always getting a timely bucket. They seemed well on their way to a relatively easy win until they started to make mistakes that allowed San Antonio to extend the game. The first came with just over 18 seconds to go in regulation, when Kevin Heurter turned the ball over with his team up four points, resulting in Murray cutting the lead to one after getting an And-1 on the ensuing play. Then Trae Young, who had been very quiet until that point, had a rare miss at the line, allowing DeRozan to tie it up in the final play of the first 48 minutes.
Atlanta had the last shot in the first overtime, but Young, who had warmed up at that point, made a rare error by holding on to the ball for too long after being double team, not giving Bogdan Bogdanovic enough time to hit the game-winner.
The second overtime would be the last chance the Spurs would get to steal the game, but Young made sure that wouldn’t happen by taking over and scoring eight points on his own. Even then, somehow San Antonio refused to go away, before a Danilo Gallinari three-pointer sealed the win for the visitors, who struggled more than they should have to close the game, but finally got it done.
- Derrick White went 7-for-13 from beyond the arc. He’s been letting it fly, which is a must on a starting lineup that has no other reliable outside threat. He also did a good job on defense, even though both him and Dejounte Murray (16 points, nine rebounds) had their hands full on that end with Young and Bogdanovic.
- DeRozan got whatever he wanted for most of the game and balanced out his scoring with his playmaking, finishing with 36 points and nine assists. Sometimes his teammates stand around too much watching him work, but that’s not something he can control. DeMar is asked to create and he does just that.
- One of the players who suffers the most from a DeMar-centric offense is Keldon Johnson. who did not crack double digits for the fifth time in the past eight games. Johnson needs ball movement to find seams to attack and there hasn’t been enough lately.
- Jakob Poeltl had another double-double and made two of his three free throws, which is huge for his confidence. He also defended relatively well, even though Capela had a fantastic game. There’s just not much he can do when the guards don’t recover quickly enough after screens.
- The bench was not great, with the exception of Rudy Gay, who had some huge buckets.Patty Mills and to a lesser extent Devin Vassell were pests on defense at times, but their offense was lacking. Vassell gets a pass because he’s a rookie who plays limited minutes, but Mills going 1-for-10 from the field was a huge blow to the Spurs’ chances.
Next game: Vs. Pacers on Saturday
The Spurs will host the Pacers in the second to last game of the long homestand. It looks like a winnable one, but everything has been hard for the Silver and Black lately, so let’s not pencil in any Ws just yet.