After an exciting, entertaining and even (any more E’s?) first half, the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks were all knotted up at 59 apiece before the Mavs exploded from three-point land in the second half, hitting 20-36 for the game to take a 130-120 victory in the regular season finale.
Keldon Johnson led six Spurs in double figures with 24 points (but only hit 1-6 from three), while Luka Doncic led the Mavericks with 26 points before leaving late in the third quarter with an apparent calf strain. Dorian Finney-Smith and Theo Pinson played a big role Dallas’ second half explosion, hitting a combined 8-9 from three.
- Coming into the game, it was looking like this would be another battle of the benches, as Luka Doncic was set to miss the game after receiving his 16th technical of the season (an automatic suspension), and most assumed Gregg Popovich would continue resting/protecting his starters ahead of the play-in tournament. However, that ended up not being the case after Doncic’s technical was successfully appealed and rescinded, and Pop made everyone available except Lonnie Walker (back). That included the return of Dejounte Murray, who returned after five games off due to an upper respiratory illness.
- Tim Haraway Jr was one Mav who was out for this game, and he may have been lucky he didn’t get the rare bench technical early in the game. After every Mavs make, he’d take several steps out onto the court, getting uncomfortably close to the Spurs as they inbounded, and at one point he even impeded a ref on his way back up the court. Soon after that he remained in his seat, so either he had simply settled into the game, or the refs told him to stay in the proverbial “bench box” and off the court.
- The Mavs went on an early 8-0 run for an 11-4 lead, but the Spurs woke up and responded with 7-0 run to tie things back up, and it was mostly back and forth from there, with the Spurs getting the last bucket of the quarter off a steal to go up 29-28. Overall there were 13 lead changes and two ties in the first quarter alone. Things continued that way in the second, with both teams taking four-point leads at times but never able to build on them. There were eight more lead changes before the teams settled for a 59-59 tie at the half.
- If there was one thing to critique about the Spurs’ first quarter performance, they weren’t doing a good job of rotating when they double-teamed Doncic. He’s a premiere passer and will find the open man no matter how awkward the angle, and the Spurs often weren’t alert enough to handle it. A good way to deal with him is the same way they delt with Nikola Jokic in Denver: defend him one-on-one and accept whatever points he gets out of it, but cover everyone else and limit his assists. The Spurs appeared to have made the adjustment when Doncic reentered in the second quarter, and after he had four assists in the first quarter, he had none in the second (although he did have 11 of his 18 first-half points).
- Murray looked like a player who was reconditioning after an extended absence with an illness that reportedly caused him to lose 8 pounds (as thin as he already is, it’s telling that he still looked even smaller). He was a step slower than usual, his passes were just a little off, and his decision making wasn’t quite as sharp. His first half stat line reflected as much, with just 6 points on 2-8 shooting, 1 rebound, 4 assists and 2 turnovers. He looked a little better as the game wore on, and it’s probably a good thing he was able to come back for a game and get his feet beneath him again before the play-in.
- The Mavs hit 3 threes early in the third quarter to take a six-point lead after the Spurs reverted back to swarming Doncic and leaving shooters open, prompting a Pop timeout. (He also wanted to complain to refs after Doncic appeared to get away with a push to Josh Primo’s privates, which is the second time in three games row he’s taken a shot there.) They continued to hit their shots afterwards while the Spurs struggled to get any good looks, getting the lead as high as 20 before the quarter ended with the Spurs down 97-82.
- Doncic left the game late in the third quarter after he appeared to be holding his calf on a non-contact play. Hopefully he’s ok to go for the playoffs; it would be a shame if he wasn’t considering this ended up being a meaningless game thanks to the Warriors blowing out the Pelicans, preventing the Mavs from stealing the third seed, and as previously mentioned, Doncic originally wasn’t even going to play in this game after receiving his 16th technical of the season. Hopefully the Mavs don’t regret appealing it. It reminds me of 2011 when Manu Ginobili sprained his elbow in the regular season finale while the Spurs were fighting for best overall record, and while he only missed Game 1 against the Grizzlies, he was by far the best Spur that year, and him being absent, then hobbled played a big role in their first round upset.
- The Spurs went on an 11-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to get back within 9, but even without Doncic, the Mavs continued to hit their threes and do just enough to hold the Spurs at bay. The Spurs managed to get as close as six, but perhaps deterred by Doncic’s exit, Pop still emptied his bench early to avoid any injuries.
For the Mavericks fans’ perspective, visit Mavs Money Ball.
The Spurs will now head to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans in the 9 vs. 10 Play-in game. The loser’s season will be done, and the winner will go on to face the loser of the 7 vs. 8 game for a chance to make the playoffs as the 8th seed. Tipoff will be at 8:30 PM CT on ESPN.