The Spurs’ returned from the All-Star break with a win, but one that is hard to get too excited about. Some of their weaknesses were exposed and the execution on both ends was at times disastrous in their visit to Washington, so the only positive takeaway is that their 157-153 victory counts the same as any other in the standings.
Maybe it was just a lack of urgency on the first game back, but it was clear from the jump that defense was not going to play a big part in the first half. The Wizards were hitting three-pointers that the Spurs conceded and took advantage of some mismatches after switches, while San Antonio was getting good looks in the paint in transition and with cuts. After mostly trading a lot of buckets and not many stops, the home team managed to carve out a small lead when the Silver and Black went with an all bench unit. Fortunately the subs tightened things up a bit after the first few possessions and Lonnie Walker IV provided a scoring punch that closed the gap.
The second quarter was similar to the first, with both teams simply scoring at will. The Spurs started the period stronger but they simply couldn’t contain the Wizards on the offensive end, as every time they went under a screen or left a questionable shooter alone to help, Washington made them pay with a three-pointer. Keldon Johnson got hot from outside to reduce the deficit from beyond the arc, and San Antonio continued to get to the line often against an undisciplined opponent, but once again, they couldn’t replicate their offensive success on the other end. The Spurs went into the break up four, but that meant little in a half in which both squads scored over 70 points.
While familiar issues on defense were revealed in the first half, the Spurs’ lack of a seconday playmaker was exposed in the third quarter. A strong start got San Antonio a double-digit lead, but after that the Wizards responded with an adjustment: they started trapping or doubling Dejounte Murray. Both Murray and the rest of the team looked absolutely lost during that stretch, and the turnovers piled up. After scoring 45 points in the second period, the Silver and Black only mustered 26 on the frame. They were lucky a few shots from the Wizards missed, or they could have gone into the fourth in a really precarious position instead of up one.
After a wobbly third quarter, the Spurs looked more poised on what shouldn’t have been the final period. It was clear that it was going to be a close game, but San Antonio was ahead by six before the Wizards started to intentionally foul Jakob Poeltl, and remained in control, up eight with 1:20 to go, after he went 4-for-8 in four trips to the line. Unfortunately everything came unstuck after that. The Spurs couldn’t get a stop and Murray turned the ball over to give the home team the quick bucket it needed. In the final seconds Kentavious Caldwell-Pop hit a bucket to tie things up, Murray missed the potential game-winner, and into overtime they went.
The Spurs had another chance to end the game, but once again a lack of execution and some poor decision-making hurt them. After hitting a big three to get the Spurs up two with 25 seconds left, Murray just couldn’t stop Raul Neto, who gave the entire team fits all night, from driving to the rim for an easy layup. Then just like he had done at the end of regulation, Dejounte took the would-be game-winner too early, missed, and gave Washington another shot at stealing it. Fortunately Devin Vassell deflected the pass on their first attempt and Corey Kispert missed a desperation three in their second.
In the second overtime the Spurs, at last, managed to put away an opponent that was missing its two best players. Poeltl hit once of his patented pop-a-shot attempts to get San Antonio up five with 28 seconds to go and this time the Silver and Black didn’t make any mistakes. Neto cut the lead to two with a clutch three, but Murray hit his free throws and the Brazilian point guard couldn’t get another bucket to add more suspense to the proceedings. Finally, the Spurs closed out a game that should have been over much earlier.
- It’s scary how rattled the Spurs looked when the Wizards decided to apply pressure to Murray. Both Dejounte and the team have to be prepared for it going forward, because it will keep happening. No Derrick White means there’s not a natural secondary ball handler on the court most of the time, so Murray will need to get the team into its sets early and the rest of the players will need to be ready to attack the 4-on-3s that will be there if Murray doesn’t turn the ball over.
- Once again, the bench, asides from Lonnie Walker IV, was a non-factor. The Spurs were missing Josh Primo, Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford, but getting just 19 points from Tomas Satoransky, Tre Jones, Zach Collins and Keita Bates-Diop in such a high-scoring game is simply not enough. Having to play most of the starters over 40 minutes in the first game of a back-to-back is also not ideal, so it’s likely some of them will get the night off on Saturday.
- Three-point shooting remains a huge deficiency, but at least on Friday the Spurs got to the line. The team that ranks last in the league in free throw attempts had 43 on Friday. The Wizards’ undisciplined defense and Wes Unseld Jr.’s decision to intentionally foul Poeltl helped, but a lot of San Antonio players played aggressively, Hopefully that will continue going forward.
Play of the night
If Walker keeps making highlight plays, the Spurs might just be tempted to retain him this summer solely for entertainment purposes.
Note: Dejounte Murray’s stat line suggest that he should be here, but the six turnovers and terrible clock management late keep him out of the podium. This season is a learning experience for Murray, so no one should be too hard on him, but star players are held to a higher standard, and Dejounte is clearly a star, so he’s judged accordingly.
3rd place (1 point) - Lonnie Walker IV | 23 points on 17 shots
The Spurs needed bench scoring from Walker and he delivered. Since the White trade, Lonnie seems confident and keeps carrying a second unit that doesn’t have much of an offensive punch. He took some questionable shots and had some wild drives, but it’s better for him to be too aggressive than not aggressive enough.
2nd place (2 points) - Jakob Poeltl | 28 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks
Poeltl was once again a beast. Efficient scoring, great offensive rebounding, stout defense — it was all there. He probably shouldn’t have played 41 minutes, since the Wizards were going small at times and they decided to intentionally foul him, but that’s on Pop and not Jakob. No matter what’s asked of him, the big man keeps producing at a high level.
1st place (3 points) - Keldon Johnson | 32 points, five made three-pointers, seven free throws
Johnson played more minutes than any other Spur, and the team outscored Washington by 16 points while he was on the court, on a four-point win. Johnson was valuable for many reasons, but mainly because he was the only Spur who could actually hit outside shots consistently, contributing five out of the team’s total 10, while also getting to the line. Keldon is turning into a perfect complementary scorer.
1st - Dejounte Murray - 93pts
2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 56pts
3rd - Derrick White- 51pts
4th - Keldon Johson - 42pts
5th - Devin Vassell- 38pts
6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 25pts
7th - Doug McDermott - 15pts
8th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts
9th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts
10th - Keita Bates-Diop - 5pts
11th - Jock Landale - 4pts
12th - Josh Primo - 3pts
13th - Drew Eubanks & Tre Jones - 2pts
14th - Devontae Cacok - 1pt
Next game: at Heat on Saturday
After a grueling double overtime game, the Spurs immediately traveled to Miami to face the Heat in the second to last game of the Rodeo Road Trip. The home team will also be on a SEGABABA after beating the Knicks on Friday in New York.