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What We Learned from the Spurs 2OT win over the Wizards

Dejounte Murray learns life as an All Star isn’t always easy.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There is a glamorous side to being an All Star, especially a new one. It gives a player some name recognition and a chance to play with the best in the game in what has now become a glorified offensive scrimmage. Threre’s the Hollywood treatment that young players in small markets don’t often get, and of course — rightly or not — it helps increase what a player’s maximum contract extension can be.

Of course, there’s also the downside, and that is that a player now officially has a target on his back. Dejounte Murray learned that the hard way in the Spurs’ first game back from the All-Star break, where he cruised through an easy first half with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, but then the Wizards made a halftime adjustment. They double-teamed and trapped Murray all over the court, and he wasn’t prepared to deal with it.

For the first five games of the Rodeo Road Trip, he had been averaging 1.4 turnovers per game. Last night against the Wizards, he had six, four of which came in the second half. He didn’t quite have the same confidence the rest of the game and seemed unsure of what to do with the ball at times. Perhaps the most telling moments that showed he still has plenty of room to grow is how he handled the final shots of regulation and the first overtime.

With game tied 130-130 and the Spurs in possession with 19.4 seconds left in regulation, Murray dribbled up the court and stood around at the top of the arc, with the Wizards laying off on defense to contain his inevitable drive to the basket — except, that’s not what he did at all. Instead, he launched an ill-advised three with six second left, the shot careened off the side of the rim and out of bounds, and the Wizards were able to advance the ball on a timeout and get the final shot with 1.1 second left. Fortunately, Kyle Kuzma, who had been hot all night, missed the shot.

Then, at the end of the first overtime, Murray again made the same poor decision. After saving just hit a heroic three to put the Spurs up by two with 25.6 left and the Wizards quickly countering to tie things up, they again laid off Murray on defense again for the final shot. Again, there was little-to-no ball movement or screen setting on the possession, just Murray dribbling around before going into the final shot. This time it was a slightly more advisable two, but he still shot it too early, airmailed it out of bounds, and again the Wizards were able to call timeout, advance the ball, and had 1.5 seconds to get a final shot up. They missed again, and the Spurs prevailed in the second OT without having to worry about hitting — or giving up — any game winners.

Of course, after all that has been said, one might think Murray had a bad game. On the contrary, outside of his turnover spurt in the second half and decision-making on those final two shots, he had a very good game. He finished the night with 31 points on an efficient 12-20 shooting, plus 13 rebounds and 14 assists. (And he had the triple-double by early in the fourth quarter, so it’s not like the 10 extra minutes got him there.)

That there is the stat line of an All Star, and the fact that it seems “meh” on the night is all the more proof that Murray is officially that good. And being the workhorse that he is, he will likely go into the offseason planning to improve as a three-point shooter and work on his decision-making and game management skills. Afterall, he is an All Star now, and he will be the player teams will be putting their best defender on and watching to take final move of the game. In the future, he’ll be ready for it.

Takeaways

  • Another reason Murray’s otherwise impressive triple-double didn’t shine as much as it could have is Jakob Poeltl and Keldon Johnson both had career nights. Keldon Johnson had a career-high 32 points, including 5-9 from three and 7-7 from the line — where the Spurs outscored the Wizards by 15 points. Poeltl also 28 points on an extremely efficient 12-15 from the field, and overall the Spurs had 74 points in the paint. Those two statistical advantages were a big reason the Spurs prevailed despite Washington — who is the worst three-point shooting team in the league — having a hot first half and hitting seven more threes on the night.
  • The Spurs were up 124-118 with just under three minutes left when Wizards head coach Wes Unseld decided to give Hack-a-Jak a try before the 2-minute mark (when it becomes illegal unless that player has the ball). They were able to send Poeltl to the line four times during that minute, where he went 4-8. The 50 percent shooting didn’t end up hurting the Spurs too much because he still doubled up the Wizards in scoring across those four possessions, but the problem was it took them out of offensive rhythm. The Spurs only scored one bucket during the rest of the regulation and couldn’t create a good shot, and Washington would go on a 10-2 run to force OT.
  • Maybe all Lonnie Walker needed was a completely defined role to thrive. He never really had that before now, spending most of his first season in the Austin, his second with inconsistent minutes, and his third split between starting and the bench. This season he has mostly come off the bench, but he has been sharing the sixth man role with Devin Vassell. Now that Derrick White gone and Vassell has moved to the starting lineup, Walker has thrived as the sixth man and main focal point off the bench. In the last four games, he has averaged 19.5 points and has been much more aggressive from the outset instead of disappearing for stretches. Are we now seeing something closer to the player we’ve been waiting for, or is this just a hot streak? Carrying it across a nine-day break certainly makes a case for the former, although we’ll still need to see a larger sample size. Still, he probably also knows it’s now or never if he wants his first non-rookie contract to be much more than the qualifying offer, so hopefully he can keep it up.