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Spurs melt down late in embarrassing loss to depleted Warriors

The Spurs had the opportunity to get a much-needed win against a Warriors team missing its stars, but once again struggled to close the game out.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs’ issues in the fourth quarter continued on Tuesday, leading to one of the worst losses of the season. San Antonio led by as many as 16 points in the final period before completely collapsing and letting a Warriors team missing four starters and other rotation players come back to get a 124-120 win.

With so many Warriors players out, including Stephen Curry, the risk that the Spurs would get overconfident was there from the start. Early on it seemed like it was going to hurt them, as their defense was allowing a few too many drives that were making life easier for their shorthanded opponent. They were getting whatever they wanted on the other end, as the Warriors understandably looked a little lost, but without getting stops it was impossible to make a run. Some better effort on defense and some small adjustments like the use of a zone finally allowed the Silver and Black to slow Golden State down to get ahead, but unfortunately they couldn’t really build significantly on their lead. As the benches checked in, the game became sloppy, which benefited the inferior team. The Spurs were ahead at the end of the first frame, but not by a comfortable margin.

The tendency to not execute sharply and make mistakes on the defensive end continued in the second quarter. The Warriors deserve plenty of credit for moving the ball well despite not having their main offensive threats, but the Spurs were not doing themselves any favors by allowing offensive boards and leaving guys open when they had to rotate. Still, the offense was still doing well, as the outside shots were falling, so San Antonio managed to stay in control. Then as the minutes passed, Dejounte Murray decided to look for his shot more and Gregg Popovich tried going without a traditional big man to counter the visitors’ quickness and athleticism. Those two factors allowed the Silver and Black to close strong and carry a nine-point lead into the break.

Small ball would end up being what defined the second half, as both Jakob Poeltl and Jock Landale were ruled out for the night after getting hit in the head, and Steve Kerr was happy to play without a center. Yet not much changed for the Spurs on the boards or on defense. They continued to struggle to secure possession after misses and the mistakes on switches piled on. Still, after a dreadful start in which the Warriors erased the deficit, San Antonio responded and remained in control. Good offensive performances by Murray and Lonnie Walker IV in the frame gave them a boost and, for stretches, the defense matched Golden State’s physicality. A few good minutes were enough to give the Spurs a comfortable lead going into the final period, but not an insurmountable one, unfortunately.

Fourth quarter collapses are nothing new, and this one had some familiar elements to it, but also a couple of factors beyond San Antonio’s control. First, not having Poeltl to screen took away the pick and roll as an option. Second, the officials missed a travelling violation from Jordan Poole late that had an impact on the result. Neither fact should excuse how poorly the Spurs played late, though. The guards kept turning the ball over and a hungrier, relentless Golden State team out-competed San Antonio. After letting their opponent take the lead, there were some good possessions from Murray that gave everyone hope that the meltdown could be avoided, but ultimately, that last effort wasn’t enough. It’s a painful loss that simply should not have happened and that doesn’t have any silver linings for anyone who isn’t already looking at lottery odds.

Game notes

  • Doug McDermott sprained his ankle in the first half, but gave it a go after the break. He was not as effective as he had been early on. Hopefully, the sprain is not serious enough to keep him off the court going forward.
  • Poeltl and Landale both stayed in the locker room after the break. It’s not clear if they suffered concussions, but it’s possible. If they enter the concussion protocol, will be interesting to see if that moves up the date of Zach Collins’ debut. Pop didn’t play Thaddeus Young at all and will probably avoid doing it in the future, especially so close to the trade deadline, and Drew Eubanks shouldn’t get big minutes.
  • The struggles on the boards and the turnovers late were killers, but the defense in general was terrible for most of the night. Too many botched switches and late rotations that allowed Golden State to score 20 three-pointers.
  • Josh Primo got almost 20 minutes of playing time and seems to have claimed that ninth spot in the rotation. It’s possible his days in Austin are over. He played well, but was overshadowed by the Warriors rookies, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, who combined for 39 points in 27 shots.

Play of the game

What a sequence by Lonnie. It’s taken him a while, but he’s finally figuring out how to use his athleticism on both ends.

SVP awards

3rd (1 point) - Dejounte Murray | 27 points, nine rebounds, nine assists

Murray led the Spurs in scoring, almost logged a triple-double and made some tough buckets in the fourth. He also coughed up the ball three times in the last frame (six times for the game) and waited too long to take over. Normally, this stat line would get first place, but with Murray establishing himself as the leader and star of the team, expectations are higher now. When the team collapses like it did and he plays a significant part in that collapse, he takes the blame, no matter how impressive his numbers look.

2nd place (2 points) - Devin Vassell | 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals

Both bench wings played well, but Vassell’s accuracy from outside and help on the boards gives him an edge over Lonnie. Both moved the ball well and made plays on defense, but Vassell gave the team more of what it needed. He did miss all his three three-pointers in the fourth quarter, but unlike Murray and White, he’s not a veteran who should be expected to deliver in the clutch. It’s unfortunate that Vassell wasn’t voted in for the Rising Stars game, because he’s having a nice season.

1st place (3 points) - Keldon Johnson | 21 points, three rebounds, four assists

Johnson wasn’t good in the fourth, but he gets the top spot almost by default. He was really solid for most of the game, raining threes, attacking the rim and moving the ball. He wasn’t great on defense, but no one on the team was, and while his work on the boards was lacking, so was everyone else’s. The efficient scoring is what gets him the top spot.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 83pts

2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 48pts

3rd - Derrick White - 46pts

4th - Devin Vassell - 34pts

5th - Keldon Johnson - 31pts

6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 19pts

7th - Doug McDermott - 14pts

8th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts

9th - Thaddeus Young - 9pts

10th - Keita Bates-Diop - 5pts

11th - Jock Landale - 4pts

12th - Josh Primo - 3pts

13th - Drew Eubanks & Tre Jones - 2pts

Next game: vs. Heat on Thursday

The Spurs needed this win, because their schedule is rough. The Heat are one of the best teams in the East, and will be eager to break their current losing streak. Hopefully, facing a better opponent will give San Antonio the motivation to play well for the full 48 minutes.