For one half of play, it was a competitive game. For the other, it wasn’t. If you think you’ve heard that narrative before, welcome to the San Antonio Spurs’ 2023-24 season. It already didn’t look promising after Victor Wembanyama was a late scratch and Luka Doncic was back after missing the Mavericks’ game the previous night with a quad contusion, but if this team has proven anything this season, it’s that it doesn’t matter who’s on the court; the narrative is almost always the same.
The first quarter remained even for the first nine minutes, tied at 24-24 with both teams attacking the other’s defensive weakness. For the Spurs, it was taking advantage of Dallas’ lack of rim protection, while the Mavs took advantage of the Spurs’ poor defensive rotation, propensity to bite on ball fakes, and a lack of boxing out. Of course, with a player like Doncic, that would eventually be advantage: Mavs. He scored 17 of his 39 points in the first quarter alone, which the Mavs would finish on a 16-5 run the take a 40-29 lead.
One bright spot from the first quarter was Jeremy Socham, who had seven points, and that carried into the second quarter, as he scored eight more to help the Spurs take advantage of Doncic’s rest time. They hitting their first four threes to get back within two, 50-52, with seven minutes left in the half, but once Doncic came back in, he instantly led the Mavs on 7-0 run. Fortunately, the Spurs’ red-hot shooting kept them in it, hitting 7-11 from three in the quarter, and they got as close as a point but couldn’t quite get over the hump, heading into halftime down 72-66.
Not bad, but then of course comes the third quarter, and Dallas quickly spread the lead back to double digits with a 7-2 start. Gregg Popovich quickly called a timeout to try and prevent another one of his team’s signature meltdowns, but it didn’t help, as the Mavs’ run stretched out to 16-2 in its entirety and the lead ballooned to 20. Either to see if what he can do defensively against Doncic or as a slight wave of the white flag, Sidy Cissoko got some third quarter burn, as did Blake Wesley, but it didn’t help as Doncic continued to make it rain. Without going back and looking, this may have been the Spurs’ worst third quarter yet, as they were outscored 45-20 and found themselves down 86-117 heading into what would be 12 minutes of extended garbage time.
Credit to the Spurs’ third unit, they didn’t fold, with many players making their case for more playing time. After the Mavs lead maxed out to 41 with 7 minutes left, the group of Cissoko, Wesley, Julian Champagnie, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Devonte’ Graham led the “charge” back, getting as “close” as 23 before Jason Kidd re-inserted his second unit, likely to “punish” his third string for not playing hard enough. Mamu led that group with 14 points before the game came to a merciful end at 119-144.
- There was starting lineup chaos before the game even began. First, Pop made a change by moving Keldon Johnson to the bench for Champagnie (no, not Tre Jones), likely as a means to make sure either Johnson, Devin Vassell or Wembanyama are always on the floor. Then, just before the game began, it was announced that Wemby would be out after stepping on a ball boy’s foot during shootaround, which moved Zach Collins to the starting lineup. Wemby appeared okay and wasn’t limping as he continued shooting for another minute before heading to the locker room. He reportedly wanted to play but was told to sit for precautionary reasons. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go on Tuesday.
- One place the Spurs really missed Wemby was rebounding. Despite hitting 10-23 threes in the first half, they found themselves down because the Mavs were killing them on the offensive glass, with 17 points off 7 offensive rebounds (or 2.4 points per rebound, which is an absurd stat). The Spurs were better in the second half, only allowing six more second-chance points, although that may have had something to do with the Mavs’ inability to miss.
- Despite getting some unnecessary wrath from conspiracy-minded Spurs fans after the last game (in which everyone, not just him, struggled to find Wemby far too often), Sochan laughed it off and had a nice game. He led the team with an efficient 23 points, including a career high four three-pointers, as well as nine rebounds and 4 assists. He is much better off when he has a defined role (as is often the case with role players), so hopefully he can find a level of consistency soon.
Play of the Game
Take note, Spurs: this is how you find the cutter. Now if they can just apply this to Wemby (when he’s available)...
Up Next: Tuesday vs. Utah Jazz
As the team with the fewest games against teams with losing records in the league, the Spurs should welcome three straight, beginning with the Jazz at home the day after Christmas. Tip-off will be at 7:00 PM CT on Bally Sports.
I hope all you Pounders have a Happy Holidays!