The Spurs played as close to a perfect first half as possible and followed it up with a solid performance in the third quarter to secure a 146-125 blowout win over the Bucks. San Antonio is now only one win or a Pelicans’ loss away from securing a place in the play-in tournament.
The game started like any other. The Spurs looked focused after a painful loss to the Trail Blazers and were getting good production from Dejounte Murray on offense, but the Bucks hit a few three-pointers to set the pace. There were some encouraging signs that suggested San Antonio could do well early on, like a sense of urgency to push the ball and early foul trouble for Giannis Antetokounmpo, but nothing that suggested this was going to be a record-setting night against an elite opponent. Until the benches checked in, it looked like just another high scoring affair, the type that is common in the modern NBA. And then the barrage started.
In the last three minutes of the first quarter, the Spurs put together a 14-5 run in large part thanks to the effort of the bench vets. Rudy Gay and Patty Mills were on fire from the second they entered the game and their great play extended into the second quarter. It was concerning to imagine a rested Antetokounmpo going against the often erratic San Antonio bench, but the Silver and Black dominated those minutes. The Bucks were playing really well but simply couldn’t keep up as Mills and Gay poured in points. When DeMar DeRozan checked back in with five minutes to go in the half, the Spurs were up by 23. They would go into the break having scored 87 points, the most in a first half in franchise history.
Even a few days back, most Spurs fans would have considered a 23-point lead at the half to be safe, but the Celtics’ comeback is too fresh in everyone’s minds to allow for such arrogance. It didn’t help that the Bucks looked poised at the beginning of the third quarter, even as the San Antonio starters, with the young guys leading the way, kept them at arm’s length. It seemed almost inevitable that at some point a run was going to come to turn a comfortable game into a close one. To Milwaukee’s credit, they did as much as they could to actually make it so, at one point cutting the deficit to 14 late in the period, but the bench once again responded with some Mills three-pointers to hold them off.
It was at the end of that third quarter that it became clear that this wasn’t going to be a collapse or even another nail-biter. San Antonio cruised to an easier win that anyone could have anticipated that leaves them one step away from securing a play-in participation.
- The Bucks allow a ton of threes by design, especially from the wings and the top of the arc, so the Spurs hitting a few more than normal was expected. But 12 first-half threes is just insane for San Antonio, no matter the opponent. To give you an idea of how unlikely that was, the Spurs had failed to reach double-digit makes from beyond the arc in the previous four games. In the end, they finished with “just” 17 makes, which is their third highest mark of the season.
- Patty Mills and Rudy Gay played a huge part in the Spurs raining fire from outside to get that huge lead that would end up being the difference. Mills’ recent struggle have been well documented and Gay has his detractors, but it was good to have a reminder that it was those guys plus Jakob Poeltl (more on him in a second) that were winning the Spurs games early in the season. The team is just much better when the bench vets are playing well. Let’s hope this game won’t be an outlier, but a return to normalcy.
- Poelt almost had a triple double, which is insane. Jakob was key on both ends, contesting everything on defense and screening, diving and keeping the ball moving on offense. He also helped stop the Bucks’ attempt at a comeback. Pop sent him and Dejounte Murray in when Milwaukee was cutting the lead in the third and their presence stabilized the defense while their work on the pick and roll provided a couple of easy buckets. Fantastic game from Jak.
- Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV combined for 60 points. That’s impressive enough, but what really should encourage Spurs fans thinking about the future is how fearless they looked. Johnson attacked Giannis like he was just any other forward, Murray cooked Donte DiVincenzo and played great defense and Lonnie made big shots. Devin Vassell, for his part, didn't hesitate to let it fly, hitting a couple of threes. The young core showed how good they can be.
- You know the whole team played well when DeRozan doesn’t have to carry the offense, which is what happened on Monday. Yes, he finished with a team-high 23 points, but also had only three assists to five turnovers. DeMar deserved a quiet (for his standards) offensive night in a win and his teammates made sure he got one.
- Bryn Forbes made his return to San Antonio and finished the game with eight points and two assists. It’s a shame that he was asked to do to much for the Spurs, which made him a target for fans looking for someone to blame for last season’s struggles. Hopefully, he’ll have a long career as a bench shooter, which is what he was always supposed to be, because he worked hard to get to where he is.
Next game: @Nets on Wednesday
The Spurs could clinch a spot in the play-in tournament with a win over the Nets. Brooklyn will be on a SEGABABA, so there should be a chance even with the disparity in star talent.