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Spurs look helpless against hot-shooting Pacers in blowout loss

The Spurs started out poorly and had no answer to the barrage of threes the Pacers rained down on them.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs lost by 40 points or more for the second time this season and are back below .500. San Antonio simply couldn’t find a way to stop an Indiana team that pounced early to create a lead and then expanded it by dropping three-pointer after three-pointer en route to a 152-111 win at home.

After a tough loss in the first game of a back-to-back to the Raptors, the Spurs’ struggles continued in their matchup with the Pacers. The two first offensive possessions resulted in turnovers and while both teams traded a couple of buckets in the initial minutes, Indiana slowly started taking control of the game behind a great performance by Tyrese Haliburton. The Spurs couldn’t stop him and even when a big forced a miss by helping on a drive, there was no one to box out. Making things worse, the fouls kept piling up for the Silver and Black, which led to an early free throw advantage for the home team, which was also hot from outside. As the minutes passed and the second unit checked in, the problems only got worse and at the end of the opening frame, the Pacers had scored 42 points and led by 16.

Gregg Popovich tried to shake things up by playing Wembanyama at center and going to him to start the second, to mixed results. On the other end, San Antonio went to the 3-2 zone they have been using sporadically all season but the Pacers were so hot from the outside that no adjustment would have cooled them down, in all likelihood. There was some terrible defense being played by the Silver and Black, especially in transition, but when a team hits 14 looks from beyond the arc in a half, including some contested ones, there’s not much anyone can do to stop things from turning into a blowout. Keldon Johnson tried his best with some aggressive drives, but with no stops on the other end to complement them, they didn’t have much of an effect. Indiana led by 25 at the break after dropping 86 first-half points.

For a comeback to be possible, San Antonio needed to strike quickly in the third quarter. The Spurs did make an effort for a few minutes, but it fell short. What followed was more complete domination. After absolutely destroying the opposing defense from outside, the Pacers just started attacking the rim more, with Benedict Mathurin and Obi Toppin leading the charge, just as Pop sent in his second unit. The subs fought as hard as they could, but Indiana’s lead only got bigger after the third, making the fourth quarter garbage time.

Game notes

  • The Spurs are still trying to figure out how to get Wembanyama touches, which makes Wemby look like he has terrible shot selection. Since he doesn’t get touches in a position to score, he ends up forcing drives or firing from bad spots, just to get a few shots up. Finding how to maximize him will take time.
  • Pop said in his post-game interview that Keldon Johnson and Zach Collins were the only two players who displayed some consistency and it’s hard to argue with him. The two combined for 30 points and were happy to mix it up in the paint. It just wasn’t enough for a team that played horrendous defense against a red-hot opponent and really missed Devin Vasell.
  • When the Point Sochan looks bad, it looks really bad. On Monday, there was a combination of early foul trouble, struggles on defense, and an inability to get a mismatch on the other end or run successful pick-and-rolls. Sochan right now looks better as a finisher than an initiator, but everyone knew that was going to be the case. Patience is required.
  • Doug McDermott had a really good game against his former team. He finished with 17 points and four assists, leading the team in scoring and filling the role of bench shooter well, as he has in past years.
  • Tre Jones had eight assists. He found some cutters with beautiful passes and ran the show well, but he struggled to score, missing his two outside shots and bricking a few floaters. A decent but forgettable performance by the Spurs’ backup point guard.
  • Cedi Osman didn’t make much noise in this one. Neither did Charles Bassey, who scored 10 points with no misses but struggled on defense. Julian Champagnie got some minutes to make a case for a spot in the rotation but couldn’t take advantage of it. The same applies to Graham, who in theory would be a good fit with the second unit but seems to be behind many others right now. It’s unlikely this game will change much when it comes to minutes distribution.

Play of the game

Wemby had two great three-point makes that could get this spot, but this play is too interesting to pass up.

Normally, defenses will “ice” side pick and rolls, with the big man dropping back while the main defender tries to force his man to the baseline. The most common counter is setting up a pick-and-pop opportunity for the screener. In this situation, the Pacers were more worried about a Zach Collins three than a Tre Jones drive, which proved to be a mistake. Jones read the floor, went baseline unimpeded and once the first defender rotated, he found Branham, who made a timely cut for an easy bucket. Simple but effective stuff.

Next game; @Knicks on Wednesday

The Spurs will travel to New York to visit the Knicks. According to Pop, is unlikely Vassell will be back by then, so expect the same starting lineup with Branham filling in at shooting guard.