As it’s been the case for the entire season, the Spurs didn’t have their full squad for the second game of a back-to-back, but this time they faced an opponent that was as shorthanded as they were.
The visiting Mavericks, missing both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, had as little cohesion as the home team but still managed to escape the AT&T Center with a 137-128 overtime win in a matchup that had everything except stars.
The game started as expected, with a lot of issues with execution for both squads, a high pace and a bunch of fouls caused by some bad defense. It was clear that it was going to take some time for both teams to find their rhythm but not having shot blockers on the court made it easier for offenses to simply target the paint. For the Mavericks, Josh Green was leading the way while San Antonio was trusting Keldon Johnson to get some buckets off drives. As the second units checked in, both coaches tried different combinations, with some getting better results than others but none excelling. After a hard-fought 12 minutes, San Antonio was up one.
Simply because they are more familiar with dealing with the chaos of improvised lineups, it seemed like the Spurs were going to have the upper hand when the coaches had to go deeper into their bench, but it didn’t turn out to be the case. McKinley Wright IV became an engine for the Mavs’ offense and Davis Bertans and JaVale McGee gave Jason Kidd some decent minutes. It was extremely hard for either team to string together enough possessions of good play to get a big lead no matter who was on the floor but there were fun stretches understandably followed by some sloppiness. Ties and lead changes were plentiful, which in a way made a matchup that was missing its marquee stars more entertaining than it probably should have been.
The back and forth continued in the second half for a while, with Langford and Johnson being active on offense for the Spurs and Green and Wood responding for the Mavericks. It was clear that an adjustment was going to be needed for either squad to get an edge, and Pop made it. San Antonio started trapping on pick and rolls to pressure the inexperienced Dallas ball handlers and it worked, as the home team went to the final period up six after leading by as many as eight. Unfortunately Jason Kidd adjusted by putting shooters around Christian Wood, making it harder for the Spurs to make the right decisions on the fly. Pop once again countered that by going small and more mobile but Kidd started to go to Wood and Powell inside as they slipped the screens. It was an intense strategic back and forth that lasted for most of two quarters.
It was only fitting that a game that featured a slow but interesting start, a fun if sloppy second act and a chess match between coaches had a ridiculous ending to top things off. San Antonio led all the way up to 1:52 left in regulation and by as many as nine before the Mavs tied it with a three. It was close after that before Jaden Hardy missed one free throw that would have given his team a three-point lead with 3.4 seconds to go. Pop didn’t go for the win and Keldon Johnson was fouled on a layup attempt with 1.8 left. He missed the first one, had one of the worst attempts at purposefully missing the second ever and committed a blatant ane violation. Dallas only had to inbound to win, but Maxi Kleber threw the pass out of bounds. The Spurs once again went for the tie and this time Keldon Johnson got it. It was pure comedy.
Mavs inbound the ball and the game is practically over.— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) March 16, 2023
The Mavericks dominated the overtime period, which is for the best for both teams. The Spurs get another close loss that helps their lottery odds while giving their young players some crunch-time experience while Dallas got a win that helps them in the standings. All’s well that ends well.
- Keldon Johnson had 27 points and eight rebounds. He aggressively looked for his shot which is what the Spurs needed. Even after all this time, it’s surprising to see Keldon drive, don’t actually get to the rim and still finish over the top of his defender or through contact. He’s far from a perfect player, but Johnson is really unique and fun to watch.
- Pop going for the tie twice — assuming that was the plan — seems silly considering the Spurs shouldn’t be too concerned with fighting tooth and nail for wins, but it does give the players a good way to acclimate themselves to stressful situations. It was also good to see Johnson tie it after that bad sequence at the line.
- With Collins out for this one and Bassey out for the season, it was interesting to see how Pop handled the center rotation. Mamu started, Barlow had some minutes as the sole big, and Dieng got some playing time as well. There are options, which is good.
- There might not be enough time left in the season for Blake Wesley to develop the type of confidence that Malaki Branham now has after a slow start, but the rookie out of Notre Dame is showing progress. At some point the game will slow down for him and stat lines like the 11-6-4 with three steals he had on Wednesday should become more common.
- Speaking of guards, now that Tre Jones is healthy, the Spurs have a nice rotation. Both rookies as well as Graham and Jones had solid games.
- Romeo Langford is either everywhere or he disappears on offense. He’s similar to Keita Bates-Diop from previous seasons in that regard. He either needs to move more or hone a corner three in a hurry because his stout defense won’t be enough to keep him in San Antonio past this season if roster spots become scarce.
Play of the night
Nice play from Pop, good pass from Branham, strong finish from Keldon.
Next game: vs. Grizzlies on Friday
The Grizzlies are dealing with Ja Morant-related internal drama, but they are still a really good team. Hopefully the Spurs will have everyone available for that matchup.