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Spurs fall to Raptors in VanVleet’s return

San Antonio couldn’t hang with the visitors in the second half.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich will have to wait at least two more days to take sole possession of the record for most regular season wins, as the Spurs fell 104-119 to the visiting Raptors. Despite 27 points from Keldon Johnson and 25 from Dejounte Murray, the Spurs’ offense couldn’t keep pace with a Raptors team that entered the game on a three game skid but found its groove with Fred VanVleet back on the court. VanVleet paced the Raptors with 26 points, while Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes chipped in 20 each.

The Spurs struggled to match up with the Raptors right from the beginning. The silver and black’s preferred defender for larger wings is Keldon Johnson, but with both Siakam and Barnes on the floor, the Spurs frequently found themselves at a significant height and/or weight disadvantage down low. Unfortunately, the Spurs were largely unable to exploit that disparity on the perimeter as the Raptors focused on cutting off penetration and the home team’s shooters failed to find their mark.

Still, the outcome was in doubt for much of the contest. In the first half, the Spurs weathered the Raptors’ transition attacks and aggressive drives, countering with Dejounte’s patient forays to the rim and Keldon’s on-going impression of an unstoppable force. Neither team was able to do much from behind the arc, as they combined for a dismal 3/16 from three point range in the first 12 minutes. VanVleet’s return clearly buoyed a Raptor’s offense that had struggled in his absence over the last 5 games, but the Spurs continued to hang in, finishing the first quarter down 5 but tying it up early in the second.

After a little back and forth that left the Raptors with a small advantage, the Spurs found their rhythm late in the half. Drives that had been cut off outside the paint made it just a little farther, kick outs and swing passes began to fly and suddenly the Raptors’ defense was on its heels. With Dejounte and Keldon both feeling it, the Spurs went on a 14-6 run to enter halftime with a 61-58 lead.

As it has for much of the season, the 3rd quarter proved to be the decisive period, and both teams seemed intent on seizing the advantage. The two squads traded runs to end up tied again at 69 when an inadvertent collision between Dejounte and Khem Birch forced both players out of the game. Dejounte had to head to the locker room to get treated for a cut on his forehead while Birch, who lost a tooth on the play, also left the game but did not return. The game opened up after that, with both teams flying up and down the court. The Raptors appeared to have the upper-hand in that type of game, especially with Dejounte out, and built a small cushion. But then Josh Richardson pinned a gimme layup against the backboard and Lonnie found Keldon in transition for a thunderous dunk that brought the crowd to its feet and seemed guaranteed to give the Spurs all the momentum in the building.

For some reason, though, the pendulum swung the other way. After Richardson caught a technical for complaining about a foul call, Gary Trent Jr. made the free throw and then hit a three, which was followed by a Lonnie miss and then a Raptors’ possession where they pulled down 3 straight offensive rebounds before Thad Young finally made a bucket to give the Raptors a 10 point lead. Dejounte checked back in shortly thereafter, but it was already too late because the Raptors’ defense had already dialed up the intensity to a level the Spurs couldn’t match. The good guys cut the lead to 5 early in the 4th, but the Raptors quickly pushed it back out to double digits and with a little over 2 minutes to go in the game, Popovich pulled the plug.

Game Notes

  • The silver lining of this loss, if there is one, is that the Spurs only get the Raptors’ protected first round pick this year if the Raptors make the playoffs. They’re not in any great danger of falling out of the picture, but every win they get makes it a little more likely the Spurs will get the pick.
  • Dejounte uses his spin move in a fascinating way. It’s rarely at full tilt the way Tony Parker used to whirl by his defender(s) on his way to the basket. Dejounte’s is often more of a half spin, where his side is to the defender and he catches his man expecting a drive, but spins the opposite direction instead. He spins into jumpers, that high release shot he takes directly over his man, or, if there’s a lane, straight into a drive to the basket.
  • Jakob Poeltl had a forgettable game. His 11 points and 12 rebounds was alright, but he also threw one of the worst inbounds passes of all time. On a sideline out of bounds play, he threw it towards the back court at head height as Dejounte was running away from him to create space for a lob over the top of his man. Dalano Banton got the easiest steal and dunk of his career. Envious, I guess, of Jakob’s accomplishment, Devin Vassell tried to outdo him, throwing an inbounds pass to Jakob as the big man headed towards the sideline with Thad Young right on his hip between Devin and Jakob. Fortunately, Thad was only able to deflect the ball out of bounds. Yuck.

Play of the Game

Spurs Valuable Player (SVP)

3rd place (1 point): Lonnie Walker IV | 26mins, 13 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds

Lonnie started off the night aggressive and seemed on his way to another high scoring outing with 11 points in the 1st half. He disappeared for most of the 2nd half though, along with most of the rest of the Spurs offense. While the Raptors deserve a lot of credit for that, it has also been the story of Lonnie’s career so far.

2nd place (2 points): Dejounte Murray | 34mins, 25 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds

Dejounte could easily have gotten 1st place (again). This level of production is almost expected, which is a testament to just how impressive he has been this year. 12 assists vs just 2 turnovers on a 25 point night that was just 1 rebound away from a triple-double is just what he does now.

1st place (3 points): Keldon Johnson | 35mins, 27 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block

Keldon was even more of a wrecking ball in this game than usual. The Spurs drive and kick attack has stuttered a lot this year, often never really finding its flow, but in those minutes where all 5 guys on the court are in sync, Keldon becomes a monster. He’s just so good at attacking the catch and once he’s got a running start into the lane it seems like he can finish over, around, or through just about any contact that comes his way.

Overall Leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 101pts

2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 59pts

3rd - Derrick White- 51pts

4th - Keldon Johson - 48pts

5th - Devin Vassell- 42pts

6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 31pts

7th - Doug McDermott - 16pts

8th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts

9th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts

10th - Tre Jones - 7pts

11th - Keita Bates-Diop - 6pts

12th - Jock Landale - 4pts

13th - Josh Primo & Josh Richardson - 3pts

14th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

15th - Devontae Cacok - 1pt

Next Game: Vs Utah on Friday

Gregg Popovich’s next chance to break the record will be against the Utah Jazz in the Spurs third game of their seven game home-stand.