The Spurs returned from the All-Star break hoping to end their 14-game losing streak against the Dallas Mavericks, but they had no such luck. After a relatively competitive game in which the Spurs remained within striking distance for the first three quarters, the Mavs exploded from three in the fourth quarter, hitting nine of their 22 makes, and turned a nine-point lead into a 142-116 blowout.
Malaki Branham led the Spurs with 23 efficient points, plus 5 assists, and Keldon Johnson scored 22 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Luka Doncic led eight Mavs in double figures with 28 points, 11 of which came from the free throw line.
- As someone who works 7-4 and has a 30-mile commute, I’ve come to appreciate the Spurs moving their tipoff times back from their usual 7:30 to 7:00 this season. So of course, they go to Dallas, it’s a 7:30 tipoff, and there’s a 25-minute delay due to condensation on the court as from the Dallas Stars’ ice hockey rink. Not that the Spurs never had that problem back when they had the Rampage, and of course they’ve had their share of delays over the years due to animal invasions. (Am I getting bored waiting for tipoff? Probably. I’m also kind of braindead since I spent the last three days on jury duty, so bear with me here.)
- With Tre Jones still out and Jeremy Sochan sitting with a sore quad — according to Pop. Sochan wanted to play, but his rule is if you can’t practice, you can’t play — Devonte’ Graham got his first start of the season. In fact, include Devin Vassell still being out and everyone still getting used to Zach Collins being the new regular starter after Jakob Poeltl was traded, and Keldon Johnson was the only regular starter out there (when looking at the entirety of the season). The other two starters were recent regulars, Keita Bates-Diop and Branham.
- Luka Doncic picked up technical number 13 for the season in the first quarter, which puts him three away from getting suspended for a game (and then for every new one after that). They currently sit in the sixth seed but only two games ahead of the 11th seeded Jazz. The trade for Kyrie Irving was a win-now move, and those two need all the time they can get to together to mesh, so Doncic can’t afford to waist any games due to his incessant whining, especially early in the game when nothing is on the line. That being said, like a lot of stars, the whining worked. He ended up with 10 free throws in the first half: two more than the Spurs team as a whole.
- The extended All-Star break had zero impact on Branham. He picked up right where he left off with 14 points on 5-8 shooting in the first half and 23 overall for the game. He may move back to the bench once Vassell returns, but like Sochan, his extended streak of this rapid improvement shows it is no fluke.
- ESPN apparently didn’t start taking stats on Johnson until sometime in the second quarter. The box score was blank for him as if he wasn’t even playing for the first quarter, then at halftime it read that he had 3 points, 4 assists and 0 rebounds. In reality, he had a very solid 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in the first half. (As of the posting of this article after the game ended, it still wasn’t fixed, and all his stats other than minutes were sans the first quarter.)
- Blake Wesley has really struggled as he returns from injury, and he continued to look lost in the first half while seemingly losing the ball every time he touched it, but he had a little spurt in the third quarter that reminds us of why he’s an exciting prospect. First, on the Spurs’ side of the court, he inbounded the ball off of Doncic’s shoulder as he was looking the other way for an open the dunk. Then, on the next possession he answered a Mavs three with one of his own, and finally he stole the inbound pass from Doncic off that basket and ultimately scored a free throw out of it (after Gregg Popovich successfully challenged a charge call on him since Tim Hardaway Jr. was in the restricted area).
- Wesley also should have gotten two free throws at the end of the third quarter after he drove the length of the court in six seconds before getting fouled on his way up for a layup with no call. Pop got a technical for his troubles, and what could have been just a seven-point Mavs lead to begin the fourth quarter became the dreaded double-digits, and we all know what that means. (Not that the Spurs have won any games entering the fourth down, either, and it’s not likely that would have prevented the Mavs from going on their tear in the fourth, but it as still a momentum killer.)
- Pop said before the All-Star break that he was tired of his team’s poor defense and that they were out of excuses, but the extended rest didn’t change anything. The effort was there, and the rotation was better for much of the night, but the Spurs are simply out talented on most nights. It was still a high scoring affair before the fourth quarter, but the Mavs exploded from three in the fourth, specifically Justin Holiday and always from an open corver, and what had been a tight game throughout quickly became such a huge blowout that Gorgui Dieng and Charles Bassey were sharing the court.
For the Mavericks fans’ perspective, visit Mavs Moneyball.
The Spurs will conclude the Rodeo Road Trip with a mini-series in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz, beginning on Saturday. Tip-off will be at 8:00 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.