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Spurs close regular season with loss against Mavericks

What could have been a good final matchup was ruined by an unfortunate Luka Doncic injury. Now, the play-in awaits the Spurs.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs finished the regular season with a 130-120 loss against the Mavericks that secured them the ninth best odd in the lottery, for now. It was a fun matchup in the first half and most of the third period, before an injury to Dallas superstar Luka Doncic unfortunately zapped the fourth quarter of any excitement.

The injury left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths, but for a while, the game was entertaining. Both teams played with surprising discipline for stretches early, executing their game plans, despite it being the last game of the regular season. The Mavericks used Jalen Brunson to test the mettle of rookie Josh Primo, which helped them since San Antonio was committed to keeping Doncic off the paint. Neither team looked all that comfortable on offense, but some good shots from Devin Vassell were keeping the Spurs in it while Josh Powell was wreaking havoc near the rim for Dallas. It wasn’t the best played quarter and the scoring was low, but it was unexpectedly intense at times.

It was going to be interesting to see how the Spurs’ second unit fared against a Mavericks bench that has been among the best in the league after the All-Star break, especially without Lonnie Walker IV. But Gregg Popovich threw in a mix of starters and subs that held on well and got contributions from most of its members. Despite the offenses heating up, the score stayed close, as both teams had good stretches in which they took care of the ball and hit threes, but then got sloppy on both ends. At times San Antonio out-hustled Dallas, but the consistency needed to carve up a lead just wasn’t there and Doncic was always ready to answer whenever the Silver and Black looked to seize the momentum. A very hard-fought half fittingly ended knotted up.

The Mavericks finally looked like the superior team in the third quarter, as Doncic had a masterful stretch to fuel a run that would put his team in the drive seat. He got 8 points and 5 assists in the frame, completely taking over the game and giving his teammates the confidence they needed to make a barrage of threes. The closest thing the Spurs have to a player who can put together a performance like that is Dejounte Murray, but in his return after missing five games, he simply wasn’t sharp. It seemed like the competitive part of the night was over when Dallas got ahead by 18, but the thing the Mavs probably feared the most happened in the final minutes of the frame: Doncic got injured. A calf strain would sideline him for the rest of the game, opening the door for a comeback.

The Spurs did go on a run, as the Mavericks were clearly shaken by the Luka news and started to realize the game was meaningless, but San Antonio never truly threatened to get a win that would not benefit them in any way. First Jason Kidd started to give his deep bench some playing time, and then Gregg Popovich followed suit with almost five minutes to go and San Antonio only down eight. A glorified pickup game was likely always going to be how this matchup ended, but the Doncic injury made the last few minutes feel even more like a chore than they would have been under better circumstances. In the end the Mavericks got a win that won’t get them the third seed, the Spurs improved their lottery odds, and both teams seemed almost relieved once the buzzer sounded.

Game notes

  • The craziest thing about Doncic’s injury is that he wasn’t supposed to play this game. He had gotten suspended by the league for reaching 16 technical fouls before getting one rescinded. The basketball gods have a twisted sense of humor. Also, while Jason Kidd should have probably limited his minutes, sometimes these things happen. Remember when Manu Ginobili broke his arm against the Suns in the last game of the season in 2011? If you managed to suppress that memory, sorry to remind you, but it happened under a coach that is renowned for being careful with stars’ health. I’ll take most opportunities to criticize Kidd, but I’m not sure he’s to blame here.
  • As far as the health of Spurs’ players go, they escaped unscathed. Dejounte Murray was a little rusty in his return, but he still made plays and looked mostly like himself, which is a huge relief. Lonnie Walker IV sat out to rest his back, so hopefully he will be in good shape for the play-in game.
  • Zach Collins prevented at least three highlight dunks. Marquese Chriss probably hates him. In general Collins’ defense has been a bit lacking, which is understandable after essentially sitting out two seasons, but it’s good to see that he’s not afraid to jump and be physical protecting the rim.
  • The Spurs officially ended the regular season with a positive point differential despite winning just 34 games, with is hilarious. Hopefully it means that they are not the typical 10th seed and have a shot at making the actual playoffs, but it might just be a statistical aberration. Who knows.

Play of the night

Josh Primo had a quiet night, but this high-arching floater from behind the backboard was gorgeous.

SVP awards

3rd place (1 point) - Devin Vassell | 15 point, four rebounds, three assists.

Vassell’s shotmaking really helped the Spurs early on and he did his best when matched up with Doncic on defense. In the second half his impact waned (which is not new with Vassell), to the point that Tre Jones or Jakob Poeltl could have taken this spot. But his 13 first-half points, when the game was close, get him the nod.

2nd place (2 points) - Josh Richardson | 18 points, four made three-pointers.

Richardson is reliable, which is such a good trait to have on a young team which normally is characterized by its inconsistency. He hits his threes, plays good defense and offers some secondary ball-handling, but more than that, he can be counted on. Sometimes you just need veterans that will be steady, and Richardson has offered that since being traded to San Antonio.

1st place (3 points) - Keldon Johnson | 24 points, six rebounds, three assists, four steals.

Johnson forced things on offense at times, which is not something that has led to good results this season, but the production is there, so he gets the top spot. The threes weren’t falling, but he still got his 20+ points for the ninth straight game by getting himself to the line. He also contributed on the boards and got four steals, which is a category in which he normally struggles to make a mark. Great last stretch of the season for Johnson.

Final regular season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 121pts

2nd - Jakob Poeltl & Keldon Johnson- 68pts

3rd - Devin Vassell - 54pts

4th - Derrick White - 51pts

5th - Lonnie Walker IV - 40pts

6th - Doug McDermott - 16pts

7th - Tre Jones - 14pts

8th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts

9th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts

10th - Jock Landale & Josh Richardson- 10pts

11th - Keita Bates-Diop - 6pts

12th - Josh Primo - 4pts

13th - Zach Collins - 3pts

14th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

15th - Devontae Cacok & Joe Wieskamp - 1pt

Next game: at Pelicans on Wednesday

The Spurs will travel to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans in the first play-in game. Their postseason future hangs in the balance, so they will surely be ready to compete for the full 48 minutes.