The Spurs have now lost 13 games in a row. Despite playing well on offense and having a standout performance from Jeremy Sochan, they couldn’t prevail against the Hawks. Trae Young took over in the second half to lead Atlanta to a 137-135 win in an entertaining game that simply slipped away late for the Silver and Black.
From the start, it was clear the rested Spurs were going to put up a fight. Victor Wembanyama was questionable to suit up due to hip tightness but seemed fully healthy and ready to dominate early in the game. The big man was everywhere on both ends to lead the Spurs to a great first few minutes. San Antonio got a quick double-digit lead, as the Hawks struggled to find shot creation on offense. Trae Young could get past Jeremy Sochan, but he couldn’t score inside and no one else could do much against a defense that was surprisingly disciplined in the half-court in the first quarter. As the benches checked in, the Spurs only got more comfortable, hitting outside shots with ease and getting good rim protection from a very active Charles Bassey. After one, the home team was up by nine.
The only issue in the first quarter was turnovers and it unfortunately continued in the second frame. A couple of empty possessions by the Spurs and consecutive makes by the Hawks quickly resulted in the lead shrinking to five. San Antonio recovered quickly, but then had one of those offensive droughts that have been common all season. They paid for it, as the visitors, who now had the hot hand from beyond the arc, erased the deficit. Fortunately the Silver and Black were once again ready to respond by being the beneficiary of bad transition defense and inattention in the half-court instead of suffering from it. Drives, cuts and fastbreaks resulted in buckets in the paint, and a brilliant stretch by Sochan playing off the ball gave the Spurs the firepower to hang with one of the best offenses in the league and go into the break leading by four.
After a couple of lazy passes to start the third, the possibility of a collapse seemed real, but Wembanyama hit a couple of jumpers and the Spurs continued to push the pace and take advantage of a defense that was abysmal all night to put points on the board. The bench hit some threes, with Devin Vassell coming alive and dropping 11 in the frame. Offense wasn’t an issue. On the other end, however, the Hawks realized they had a gigantic advantage in the pick-and-roll. After getting away with defending two point guards with two forwards in the first half, San Antonio started to suffer at the point of attack, especially on the pick-and-roll. Dejounte Murray did some damage, but Trae Young was the one who eviscerated the Spurs in the half court, dropping 20 in the frame and heating up for the final period.
As they did all night, the Spurs refused to go away. With Wembanyama at center and Vassell and Julian Champagnie hitting a couple of threes, they tried to hold on. For a while, it seemed like the losing streak could end on Thursday. Alas, Young had other plans. He continued to carve the defense up, looking for his shot when the big dropped on the pick and roll and hitting the dive man when the center played up. Pop even deployed a zone to throw him off but it didn’t work. Jeremy Sochan, who had the best game of his career, tried his best to outduel the star point guard but his efforts were wasted by a team that simply doesn’t know how to execute on the half court on either side of the floor when it counts. In the end, Young had 45 points and 14 assists and the Spurs were handed their 13th loss in a row.
- Jeremy Sochan was fantastic on Thursday, finishing with a career-high 33 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists. He looked his best when he was off the ball next to Tre Jones, but also managed to create for others late in the game. He was in charge of guarding Young, but can’t be blamed for failing to stop him, since it’s more of a system issue. He also could have tied the game after stealing an inbound pass but was called for a charge. Sochan was everywhere.
- Victor Wembanyama had a near perfect first half, scoring 12 of his total 21 points and making a difference on defense. In the last two quarters he didn’t get as many clean looks, as Clint Capela did a better job on defense and his teammates struggled to find him, and he couldn’t do much against a red-hot Young. Still. another really solid game from Wemby.
- Keldon Johnson had a similar game to Wembanyama. He was really good in the first half, not so much in the second. He still helped on the boards and did his best while having to defend a guard for much of the game, so Malaki Branham could hide on De’Andre Hunter. It was good to see his outside shot going in.
- Devin Vassell had what will hopefully be considered a standard Devin Vassell game soon: 25 points with four made threes, four assists, and four rebounds. He’s still coming off the bench but that doesn’t seem to affect his rhythm, so it might be tempting for Pop to make him a sixth man. The problem with that is Branham is not the type of 3-and-D ball handler the starters need.
- Zach Collins and Tre Jones had seven assists each and six other players logged at least two dimes for San Antonio. The Spurs had 34 assists as a team, the third most they’ve had this season. The ball was moving. Again, the offense was not the issue this time.
- Julian Champagnie picked the perfect game to get hot from outside. Doug McDermott wasn’t available and Cedi Osman and Branham were cold. Champagnie finished with five made threes, providing a much-needed scoring punch off the bench and looking like the player who seemed ready to break out during Summer League.
- Dejounte Murray had five steals. He’s still a ball hawk and the Spurs were too careless around him. Patty Mills didn’t play.
Play of the game
The game still moves too fast for Victor Wembanyama to read at times on defense but you can see the glimpses of dominance that someone with his physical profile could achieve on that end. Young thought Wemby was in no man’s land, frozen by the pass fake, but didn’t account for the ridiculous length of Victor’s arms.
Next game: at Pelicans on Friday
The Spurs will be on a SEGABABA in New Orleans on Friday. Pop said that Wembanyama might need the night off to nurse his hip injury, so we might not see the highly anticipated matchup between him and Zion Williamson.