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Newcomer Devonte’ Graham shines in Spurs’ double OT loss to the Pistons

Graham had a fantastic debut for the Spurs but it wasn’t enough to propel San Antonio past a fesity Pistons team and snap a 10-game losing streak.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs and the Pistons, two of the worst teams in the league, had a marathon of a matchup in Detroit in which rookies shined, career highs were set and two overtimes were needed to determine a victor. It was ugly at times, as the combined 58 missed threes and 83 trips to the line would indicate, but for those willing to look past the expected unsightly moments, it was an entertaining affair in which the home team got a hard-fought 138-131 win.

It was a sloppy start for both squads, predictably. The two young backcourts had some struggles, but the Spurs seemed like the more mature team early on and had a clear advantage when it came down to energy. A couple of threes fell for San Antonio and the Pistons were looking more inept than they actually are, so the early double-digit lead felt like fool’s gold, as PJ Carlesimo kept mentioning in the broadcast, but it was still good to see the Spurs look like the better team even when the second unit, featuring Devonte’ Graham making his debut, checked in.

The Silver and Black led by nine after the first quarter and reached a max first-half lead of 16 points after a Malaki Branham three, but at some point, the Pistons were going to start to look like an NBA team, and they did. Corey Joseph brought some stability off the bench, Bojan Bogdanovic got them some buckets, and their defense upped the intensity enough to cause a drought for a Spurs team without great scorers. At first, the home team chipped away at the deficit, then with a couple of back-to-back threes they got firmly back in it and trailed by just one at the break.

After trading buckets for a while, the second half saw the teams trading places from what had happened earlier, as now the Spurs were the ones turning the ball over and allowing buckets inside. As the minutes passed and Detroit started to create some separation, Gregg Popovich relied more on his veterans and a confident Malaki Branham to execute and stay in it. Some good Devonte’ Graham plays narrowed the gap to one possession, but a bad end of the period allowed the Pistons to extend their buffer to eight heading into what was expected to be the final frame.

The home team held on to the lead for a while in large part thanks to the work of rookie Jalen Duren, but some Graham heroics and a determined Zach Collins got the Spurs within striking distance. Both teams had opportunities to close it out in regulation, but some missed shots caused by good defense and questionable decision-making from two squads that, on top of being among the worst in the league understandably looked a little out of sorts following active trade deadline day, prevented an early ending. To overtime they went, the two teams that probably should care the least about actually winning games.

The extra periods were simultaneously entertaining and ugly, as neither squad really executed all that well and the game was plagued with fouls and other interruptions, as it was throughout. But there was something fascinating about seeing two opponents that were exhausted and had incentives to lose give it their all, trading buckets and mistakes and trying to find an extra reserve of energy to close it out. In the end, the Pistons prevailed in the second overtime, extending San Antonio’s losing streak to 11.

Game notes

  • What a debut with the Spurs for Devonte’ Graham. The backup point guard finished the game with 31 points off the bench, hitting some really big shots. He also took some questionable ones, but that’s part of the Graham experience. The good performance probably helps his case for minutes going forward, as it came on a night in which Blake Wesley struggled greatly.
  • Both Malaki Branham and Zach Collins set career highs in points, finishing with 27 and 29, respectively. Collins had some big problems on defense and the glass, but his performance on offense was fantastic, as he showed off some pristine footwork near the basket. Branham was often the go-to guy for a team with a huge list of absences and handled the pressure as well as any rookie would.
  • Doug McDermott had to leave the floor in the second half and didn’t return, with the team citing Achilles tendon soreness as the reason. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him miss a couple of games mostly due to the Spurs being cautious. It’s almost impossible to imagine him playing on the SEGABABA tomorrow.
  • The number of players on the Spurs roster that are just one reliable three-point shot away from being keepers is insane. Romeo Langford is the most interesting case, but Keita Bates-Diop, who had a solid game, and Isaiah Roby, who definitely didn’t, are good examples. Stanley Johnson and the intriguing Dominick Barlow are also definitely on that list.

Play of the night

Let’s give some love to the newcomer. It’s great to see someone who is willing to pull up off the dribble from beyond the arc so effortlessly.

Next game: at Atlanta Hawks on Saturday

The Rodeo Road Trip continues with a visit to Dejounte Murray and the Hawks.