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Young Spurs can’t complete the comeback in fun, close loss to the Warriors

The shorthanded Spurs fought until the last seconds but couldn’t prevail and are now locked into the 10th spot in the West.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

With a play-in spot already secured and the chances of climbing to ninth looking slim, the Spurs held out several players against a Warriors team missing its biggest stars. It was hard to imagine a fun game happening in those circumstances, but that’s exactly what fans got in what ended up being a 100-94 win for Golden State.

The start wasn’t particularly auspicious. With so many big absences , it wasn’t a surprise that the first stretch of the game featured a lot of energy but not a lot of polish. The starters had good moments, but lacking shot creators made things hard on offense. The home team was happy to let Draymond Green take shots while the Warriors tried to take away easy looks at the rim, with some good cuts by both squads providing clean buckets in the half court. As the benches checked in, the more depleted Spurs were the ones to struggle, despite some Lonnie Walker IV heroics. Golden State didn’t really took over the game in that stretch, but they got ahead and held a two-point lead after a predictably low scoring opening period.

The offensive issues only intensified in the second 12 minutes for a Spurs team that couldn’t consistently slice through the defense off the dribble and had to settle for a lot of late-clock bailout three-point attempts. The Warriors made some mistakes on the other end, but their ball movement was better and they simply had more familiarity and experience on the court, which made them more cohesive overall. A 10-2 run early in the period allowed them to carve up a double-digit lead against an opponent that simply couldn’t manufacture easy buckets, and they expanded on it to at one point be ahead by 15 points. San Antonio kept fighting and went to the break down 11, but it was clear that someone needed to step up on offense.

Lonnie Walker IV answered the call, after a quick timeout by Gregg Popovich that saw all of the starters minus Tre Jones pulled from the game. He scored 11 straight points when no one else seemed able to get going and kept San Antonio in it when the score came dangerously close to getting out of hand. The Warriors were still very much in control despite Lonnie’s flurry, but couldn’t put the Spurs away despite at one leading by 17 in the frame, and paid for it. A good closing stretch that culminated with a buzzer-beating three from Josh Primo helped the Silver and Black cut the deficit to just seven points heading into a final quarter that would be as chaotic as it was fun.

At first the Warriors looked ready to go on a run, as they regained a double-digit lead a few minutes in, but the Spurs responded with threes by rookies Joe Wieskamp and Josh Primo, who heated up quickly and got another couple of buckets to continue to propel the comeback by making it a one-possession game. San Antonio would never actually regain the lead, but also refused to go away, with Tre Jones picking up with Primo had left off and hitting a three and a floater to keep his squad withing striking distance. Unfortunately the offense went cold after that, as Jones forced some shots and the deep bench guys that Pop had around him couldn’t get enough stops. In the end it was a fun, close loss that keeps the Spurs locked at 10th.

Game notes

  • Pop played some interesting lineups, even when the game was on the line. There are two ways to interpret that. He either wanted the young guys to figure things out without having Walker and Richardson as crutches, or he was not all that interested in getting a win that would potentially hurt their lottery odds. Either way, it was fun to see the Primo and Jones try to lead the team, for the most part.
  • Some of the guys on the bubble in terms of contracts for next season didn’t do themselves any favors. Jock Landale (non-guaranteed) helped on the boards but missed nine out of his 10 shots. Joe Wieskamp and Devontae Cacok (free agents) didn’t really have a positive impact despite getting over 20 minutes of playing time each. Keita Bates-Diop (non-guaranteed) did well in most areas, but missed his two three-pointers, and the long ball is the reason why he hasn’t found a home yet. Hopefully they’ll all do better against the Mavericks, if they get a shot at playing time.
  • Zach Collins is also in a non-guaranteed contract, but he’s probably done enough already to earn his stay next season, and was solid on this one. It will be interesting to see what the Spurs do about Romeo Langford, who has a guaranteed deal but has barely played and has not looked great when he has suited up, including on Saturday's game.

Play of the night

Lonnie is so fun to watch.

SVP awards

3rd place (1 point) - Josh Primo | 14 points, three assists, three three-pointers made

Primo sometimes looks his age when he throws a pass to the third row or struggles with his handle, but the fact that he already has a reliable outside shot and looks comfortable on the court when the games are close is a huge indicator that he could be ready for big minutes as soon as next season.

2nd place (2 points) - Tre Jones | 14 points, four rebounds, seven assists

Jones produces when he gets minutes, and should be a solid backup for years to come. In this one, he struggled with some traps and the responsibility to run the offense alone, along with forcing things late, but that simply shouldn’t be his job, so it’s not too concerning. His floater is elite, he rarely makes mistakes and he always plays hard, so even when he’s not at his best, he tends to be a positive. Now he just needs to work on the outside shot.

1st place (3 points) - Lonnie Walker IV | 24 points on 15 shots, five rebounds

With all the absences, it was almost inevitable for Lonnie to have a big scoring game, but the efficiency in which he did it is what’s a little surprising. Walker hit a couple of threes, got himself to the line and was generally in attack mode instead of settling for mid-range shots, like he used to. The improvement in shot selection has been a huge part of Lonnie’s late-season surge, and it’s good to see that he stuck to it even when he was the first option.

Overall Leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 121pts

2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 68pts

3rd - Keldon Johnson - 65pts

4th - Devin Vassell - 53pts

5th - Derrick White - 51pts

6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 40pts

7th - Doug McDermott - 16pts

8th - Tre Jones - 14pts

9th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts

10th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts

11th - Jock Landale - 10pts

12th - Josh Richardson - 8pts

13th - Keita Bates-Diop - 6pts

14th - Josh Primo - 4pts

14th - Josh Primo & Zach Collins - 3pts

15th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

16th - Devontae Cacok & Joe Wieskamp - 1pt

Next game: At Mavericks on Sunday

The Spurs will close out the regular season with a visit to their in-state rival. Considering San Antonio has nothing to gain from a win, we might see a lot of absences, but Pop might decide that keeping his main guys in rhythm is more important than an extra day of rest.