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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Hawks

The Spurs looked surprisingly spry in the first half before falling apart in the second.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich recently said he wishes the games were 36 minutes long, obviously because his team has a knack for always having one bad quarter that spoils the rest of the game. That’s almost a good wish, it just needs to be added that they still play 48 minutes, but the stipulation is the Spurs worst quarter gets dropped, and the final score comes from their three best (or least-worse) quarters, because you just never know which set of 12 minutes will be the bad one for this team.

Sometimes it’s the first quarter that dooms the Spurs, or it can be the second, third or fourth. Against the Hawks, it was third quarter that did them in after they played a surprisingly spunky, aggressive first half despite coming off a double-OT loss in Detroit the night before and not getting to Atlanta until 2:30 in the morning. Perhaps a big reason for the strong start was getting three starters back, after Tre Jones and Jeremy Sochan each returned from four-game absences, along with Keldon Johnson after het sat out the game in Detroit.

Everyone was energized: Sochan looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, shots were going in, and good defense was played. They held the Hawks’ star guard duo in check for most of the first half, with De’Andre Hunter being their only real source of offense. While the Spurs never really pulled away in the first half, they held a six-point lead and looked like the more engaged team until Trae Young finally got himself going on offense, helping the Hawks take a one-point halftime lead.

Then came the “bad” quarter of the game, where the Spurs came out of the lockeroom ice cold to start the third and looked more like the exhausted team that was expected from the outset, taking nearly half the quarter to make their first field goal while Young and Dejounte Murray were both clicking on offense, and once again one bad quarter was the end of the game for a Spurs team that hasn’t recovered from a double-digit deficit all season.

Of course, in this case Pop’s 36-minute idea still would have meant a loss — the Hawks outscored the Spurs by a total of four points across the first, second and fourth quarters — but it would have been a better game, and it would be interesting to go back and see how many more wins the Spurs would have under this rule. It may not be as many as we think, but they at least won’t have such an awful NET rating. Then again, a win in the draft would be just as nice.


  • Unlike Derrick White this year or very likely Jacob Poeltl next year (and countless other past examples), I felt no emotion seeing Dejounte Murray in another team’s uniform tonight. Maybe it’s all the smack talk he’s been doing since he left, or maybe it’s because he wasn’t overly engaging when he was a Spur and there isn’t anything overly memorable about his time here either on or off the court, but the fact that I felt nothing towards him means he’ll probably fade away into former Spurs obscurity with time, which admittedly feels weird to say about an All Star. Then again, maybe he knows that, and that’s why he’s talking about the Spurs so much: he doesn’t want us to forget about him, because it would be a lie to say he did nothing for the club.
  • While he would have been forgiven for being rusty, Sochan instead picked up this game right where he left off before pulling his back against the Kings last week. He was (initially) hitting threes, gracefully making his way into the paint for shots, and exploding for dunks on his way to 18 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Like everyone else, he came out of halftime cold, but it’s hard to know whether to blame that on the rust showing up on a delay after the initial adrenaline rush or if the offense as a whole going down took him down with it. Regardless, the fact that he came back from a four-game absence looking just as good as he did before is more proof that his improvement not some fluke or just an extended hot streak. It’s real, and it’s here to stay.
  • I’m beginning to wonder if the Spurs have future coaching aspirations for Gorgui Dieng. I know he’s a great veteran presence, the players love him, and they’re devoid of proven NBA talent at center now that Jakob Poeltl is gone, but Dieng certainly doesn’t look like he has enough left in the tank to be a regular contributor in the NBA anymore. The fact that the brought him back this season, he accepted being waived once to make a trade work, re-signed twice on 10-day contracts, then signed again for the remainder of the season tells me the Spurs not only value his presence, but they also don’t want him going anywhere, therefore they must have future plans for him. There are many other things the Spurs could have done with that open roster spot, such as give it to Charles Bassey, but Dieng still being around must have more meaning than just his presence on the bench or use as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency player.