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Spurs were bolstered by a rookie scoring leader in their blowout loss to Dallas 116-142

Short-handed Spurs did not cower to the favorites throughout until the inevitable closing flourish by Dallas

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks
Malaki Branham continued to be one of the brightest lights during the Rodeo Road Trip month
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After a floor condensation delay that spanned 18 minutes, the Dallas Mavericks kicked off the second half of the season by keeping the San Antonio Spurs winless for their Rodeo Road Trip 142-116. Though they never seriously threatened to wrestle back the lead held by the Mavericks, the Spurs headed into the fourth down only nine before a barrage of Dallas threes did them in.

In its 15th straight loss, San Antonio again received sustained bursts of playmaking from Keldon Johnson (22 points. 8 rebounds, and 7 assists) and impressive offensive production by Malaki Branham (23 points and 5 assists). All five starters scored in double digits, while Charles Bassey chipped in 16 points backing up the impacted Spurs frontline.

Luka Doncic (28 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (23 points and 6 assists) found a healthy mix of finding their own offensive bliss and setting up eager teammates in the victory along with 58 points from the bench.

A back-and-forth first quarter saw Dallas’ stars Doncic and Irving symbiotic in their ample scoring opportunities and ball-dominant approaches, while the Spurs countered with their ball movement, but fell behind due to 40% shotmaking. The Mavs left the quarter up eight after a late run spearheaded by Doncic.

The teams continued to light up the scoreboard with impunity throughout the second. Dallas threatened to run away with the game on several occasions, but the callow Spurs refused to relent. The Mavericks walked a direct line to the free throw stripe and snagged their 20th attempt before the break. Despite a pair of buckets by Keita Bates-Diop, it was a Doncic three and a knifing layup by Irving that allowed the home team to keep an 11 point lead at the half.

The teams traded buckets liberally throughout the third period with the Spurs’ Blake Wesley making the most of his extended minutes. Late in the frame Doncic again made a personal push to help the Mavericks maintain their comfortable advantage.

As if a light switch turned on for the hosts, Irving took the proverbial baton from Doncic and Dallas mounted a 12-3 run at the start of the fourth to shove away the pesky San Antonio squad with Justin Holliday and Tim Hardaway Jr. being the beneficiaries from the freewheeling ball movement.

Bill Land noted that “they’re getting whatever they want this quarter” after a Christian Wood and-1. With the game no longer in the balance, Bassey feasted in the paint, while San Antonio played mostly mistake-free ball. The Mavericks were bolstered by a 12 shot advantage (36 points) in made threes despite both teams hitting on more than half their field goals.

Game Notes

  • If and when the full complement of Spurs and Mavs players get inducted into the Hall of Fame on April 1, I’m looking forward to the numerous NBA TV replays of their memorable playoff series in the 2000s (with 2014 Round 1 thrown in for extra measure).
  • Malaki Branham confidently brought the ball up for many of the opening possessions in each half. He found a streaking Johnson for a transition lay-up halfway through the first. The way he fearlessly probed the defense no matter who guarded him was cool to see, and the two silky jumpers he made in the second brought visions of young Klay Thompson.
  • Keldon Johnson is learning that little hitch move where, with the defender wedged on his backside, he budges them away from himself to create space on the way to a dribble-drive. He unfortunately was called for an offensive foul for being a little too aggressive with that move.
  • The transition defense for the Spurs continued to be suboptimal - an alley-oop to Dwight Powell, breakaway dunk by Josh Green, and highlight dunk again by Powell in the first alone.
  • Though this clearly qualifies as the ‘small victories’ category entry, but given San Antonio’s horrid point differential for the season, Dallas not gaining its first double digit lead until well into the second frame was noteworthy.
  • For many of his minutes, Blake Wesley played with a reckless confidence befitting much older players. His inspired play late in the third period, capped off by a tricky move on Doncic that resulted in a dunk, and resembled a young Corey Brewer with the frenzied two-way play.
  • Powell took a manhandling this evening from the tandem of Johnson (gored by basketball) and Zach Collins (headbutt) - he definitely earned his game check.
  • I remain hopeful for a closing lineup sometime in March and April that includes Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan, Johnson, Branham, and whichever impactful big is operating well that particular evening - mainly to see if they can hold their own against their Western Conference opponents.
  • San Antonio tried running the vaunted Hammer play coming out of the break, but it resulted in a turnover. Miss you Manu!

Play of the Game

A half ball fake by Johnson allowed him the time to find an open Charles Bassey deep in the paint for a power dunk in the first period!

Next game: at the Utah Jazz on Saturday

The Spurs take on All-Star Lauri Markkanen and the Utah Jazz Saturday night at 8:00 PM CDT.