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Spurs’ lack of range exposed in loss to streaking Wizards

The Spurs had a strong start but couldn’t keep up with an opponent that stifled them with a zone defense and rained threes on them.

NBA: Washington Wizards at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs are back on a losing streak, as they couldn’t keep up with the red-hot Wizards at home. A strong start was followed by moments in which the offense went through some droughts and the defense was characteristically shaky, leading to a 127-106 loss that was at times entertaining and at times frustrating.

The Wizards looked like the road-weary team they are in the first quarter, lacking the energy to keep up with a Spurs squad that was ready to go from the tip-off. With Kyle Kuzma guarding Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan was defended by smaller players and he attacked them aggressively on his way to a 15-point first quarter to lead an offense that was getting whatever it wanted. Washington was hitting some threes to stay in it but seemed to be overcomplicating things when they were on the attack, as they had success when they relied on their two-man game instead of trying to run more complicated sets. As the second units checked in, the Spurs' lack of depth at guard and wing due to absences had them looking shaky for a while, but they still won the first period by six points.

After the first 12 minutes, the Wizards started to find their rhythm on both ends. A zone gave the Spurs’ fits on one end and increasing the pace off misses allowed them to get some easy buckets. The tide changed quickly and in less than two minutes the visitors took the lead, and as time passed they built on it until it reached double-digits. Fortunately. there was a prompt response from a San Antonio team that lacked cohesiveness but not conviction. Tre Jones, Keldon Johnson and Zach Collins, who was fantastic during his first stint when Jakob Poeltl was in foul trouble, all stepped up to bring some much-needed scoring to the table. At the end of the half, the Wizards’ lead was eight, but only because of an and-one near the buzzer by Bradley Beal.

All the effort San Antonio exerted to close the gap before the break turned out to be for nothing, as a bad start put the Wizards back in the driver's seat. It didn’t help that the officials made an egregious mistake in awarding a foul that Keldon Johnson committed to Jeremy Sochan, getting him in foul trouble just as he was starting to attack as he did in the first quarter. Without that weapon and once again facing a zone later in the period, the Spurs’ offense sputtered at times and they managed to stay relatively close thanks to the Wizards’ sloppiness, a quiet Bradley Beal and a good stint by Keldon Johnson. The Silver and Black were only down 11 going into the final period, but it seemed like Washington was in control and it would only take them one more run to secure the win.

Alas, that’s exactly what happened. Despite Zach Collins’ efforts on offense, San Antonio just couldn’t keep up. The Wizards’ role players, particularly Deni Avdija, kept their team afloat on the offensive end right up until Beal and Porzingis were ready to take over late, validating the decision of Wes Unseld Jr. of running offense early even when the stars could get buckets consistently. A couple of Monte Morris threes, an area in which the visitors had a huge edge all night, sealed the fate of the Spurs. After a good start that fizzled out, the Silver and Black couldn’t maintain the energy level needed to make up for the talent deficit and the wing depth they so desperately lacked and lost their sixth straight.

Game notes

  • Sochan getting called for a foul he didn’t commit didn’t change the result in all likelihood, but it was sad to see him be forced to exit the game just as he looked ready to continue the fantastic work he did in the first quarter. Still, a great performance for the rookie, who finished with 17 points and five assists while guarding multiple positions.
  • Doug McDermott had a bad game judging by the box score, but it’s always a joy to watch him cut. Sometimes his off-ball movement doesn’t result in a bucket, but he bails out a teammate who picked up his dribble too soon — something that happens too often — or he draws attention from a defender, which helps get an open shot elsewhere. Just veteran things that stand out on a young team.
  • It was entertaining to watch the Wizards play like the Spurs on offense for long stretches. They had Porzingis facilitating from the high post and a worked on lot of dribble hand-offs and cuts, leading to 32 assists in 48 makes to San Antonio’s 26 in 42 makes. The game was sloppy at times, but it’s always fun to watch the ball move.
  • Zach Collins had a standout performance, finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Without him stepping up when Poeltl was in foul trouble, the Spurs wouldn’t have kept it close. It’s always good to see Collins make progress.
  • Keldon Johnson did his thing, scoring 26 points and logging four boards and four assists. He also got the Wizards to put Kuzma on him, which opened up things for Sochan on offense early. Sometimes Johnson’s stat lines can feel a little empty, but that’s to no fault of his own. He has to take a lot of shots and play a lot of minutes for this team and to his credit, he always gives it his all.
  • The lack of outside shooting was glaring in this one, as the Wizards had 16 three-pointers to the Spurs’ seven in just one more attempt. Josh Richardson and Devin Vassell are sorely missed in that area. The upside of the absences is that the rookies get to play more, but there will be nights in which their lack of range is exposed.

Play of the night

This is the only bucket Sochan scored in the second half, but it encapsulates what has been so impressive about his offense recently. He’s aggressive because he recognizes he has a mismatch but is patient in how he exploits it. His progress is real, which is extremely encouraging for the Spurs.

Next game: Vs. Sacramento Kings on Wednesday

After facing the streaking Wizards at home, the Spurs will face the Kings, which beat the Timberwolves in overtime on Monday and remain one of the best teams in the West.