Well, this has been one of the wildest weeks of Spurs basketball I’ve ever watched. Just two nights after blowing a 29-point lead and losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime, the Spurs returned and completely flipped the script against the Atlanta Hawks. After losing the first half 83-61 and getting down by as much as 24 early in the third quarter, the Spurs woke up on both ends and outscored the Hawks 65-33 in the second half for an improbable 126-118 win.
Both teams were getting whatever they wanted early on offense, especially in the paint, and the Spurs stayed within a point or two of the Hawks for most of the first quarter. However, three straight threes, two from Bogdan Bogdanovic, in the final few minutes were enough to give the Hawks some cushioning, and the Spurs entered the second quarter down 40-35.
Down Jeremy Sochan, Devonte’ Graham, Doug McDermott and Charles Bassey, the Spurs’ depleted bench unit continued to struggle on the defensive end to start the second quarter, making mistakes such as leaving Bodanovic open or double-teaming Dejounte Murray on the perimeter (which likely was not something Gregg Popovich had in the game plan). He called timeout after the Hawks reached their first double-digit lead of 52-42 after less than four minutes. Then, just as the Spurs started fighting back, Quin Snyder called timeout, and the Hawks went on a 10-0 run to take a 67-50 lead. The Spurs would hardly get any closer the rest of the half, giving up 83 points (fourth most in franchise history for a half and the most since 2002) and entered halftime down 83-61.
It seemed like they were dead in the water, but Devin Vassell, who tied Keldon Johnson for a team high with 13 points in the first half and appears to be completely back to form, scored the Spurs’ first eight points of the third quarter, and a 10-2 run got them back within 14 and forced another Hawks timeout. Three straight threes from Vassell and Johnson then got them back within two, 95-93, and overall those two combined for 26 of the Spurs 39 points in the quarter. The Spurs had a couple of chances to come all the way back and take the lead all in one quarter but couldn’t convert before Trae Young, who was held to just 9 points for the game, got a shot in at the buzzer and kept the Hawks up 103-100 heading into the fourth quarter. (Yes, that was only three quarters of points.)
After three straight quarters of at least one team being super-hot, everything slowed down and both teams tightened up on defense in the fourth. Murray decided he would try to take over against his old club and managed to force a few of shots over the rim and keep their lead around six points, but then, it was all Spurs. Five straight points from Blake Wesley gave them the lead back, all as part of a 16-0 run that got the Spurs lead out to 10 with just under two minutes left. Zach Collins was also huge in the second half with 15 of his 19 points, and the Spurs remained disciplined down the stretch to avoid blowing another win. What a difference (checks clock) 44 hours makes.
- One question coming into the game was how Spurs fans would receive Murray after some of his controversial comments about the organization since leaving, but there ended up being no need to worry as he received a warm welcome following his pregame tribute video. In his earlier media appearance, he also somewhat walked back some of his previous comments, saying he was speaking out of emotion at the time and does not believe it will take the Spurs “15 years” to return to relevancy. Also, while he didn’t really answer directly regarding his comment about the Spurs playing “mind games” with him, he did say he sees Pop as a father figure and thanked him and the organization for believing in him.
Spurs video tribute to Dejounte with fans greeting him warmly afterward. pic.twitter.com/IaXfXdId7I— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) March 19, 2023
- Quin Snyder is a killjoy. Spurs two-way player Julian Champagnie was having himself quite a first half with eight points and seemed on his way to 11 just before the halftime buzzer when we got an impressive layup over John Collins and a chance for the and-one. Unfortunately, despite being up by 22, Snyder challenged the call, video review showed Champagnie had cleared out space with his off hand, and the call was changed to an offensive foul. Come on, Quin. Let the kid have his moment. (Then again, maybe he’s psychic and saw the comeback coming, so I guess we can’t blame him too much.)
- Keldon Johnson is tough as nails. He took some hard hits in the fourth quarter, including a (John) Collins hip to the groin on a layup attempt (which somehow wasn’t called a foul). He stayed in the fetal position on the floor and was just starting to get back up when the Spurs got a steal on the other end despite being in a 4-on-5 situation. He received the outlet pass for the layup before keeling back over. Later, he made a tough layup over Collins again, this time with the big man then landing on his neck. He was visibly in pain but kept playing through it all to help his team secure the victory. (Don’t be surprised if he sits the next game.)
Play of the Game
There are plenty of options to choose from, but we’ll give it to Keldon. He and Vassell were great all night (which is a good recipe for success), but when he hit that three in the third to bring the Spurs within two, everyone knew the Spurs had a shot, wich was a far cry from just eight minutes earlier.
Up Next: Tuesday at New Orleans Pelicans
The Spurs have ended their longest homestand of the season and are headed back on the road to take on a Pelicans team that was on cloud nine early in the season but has struggled their way back to the bottom of that middle-of-the-West pack with Zion Williamson and may miss the play-in entirely.