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Spurs ride dominant third quarter to victory against the Pacers in Devin Vassell’s return

The Spurs’ young players led the team to its second win in a row, with both Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan having standout performances.

Indiana Pacers v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs are officially on a winning streak. After beating the Jazz on Tuesday, they rode a fantastic third quarter to a 110-99 victory against the Pacers in their first game back home after the Rodeo Road Trip. Jeremy Sochan had the first double-double of his young career while Devin Vassell and Tre Jones returned to action.

The start of the game was exactly what everyone should have expected from two of the worst defensive teams in the league who also happen to like to push the pace. Both Indiana and San Antonio were attacking early whenever possible, not only in transition but also in the half court. Buddy Hield led the charge for the visitors, as the plan of putting Jeremy Sochan on him didn’t seem to work early on, while Zach Collins’ passing kept the Spurs’ offense humming as the big man found open teammates on cuts and hand-offs. The Pacers were the ones to find a way to break the parity by hunting some of the mismatches the Silver and Black were conceding while doing a good job of disrupting San Antonio’s offense and led by eight after the first 12 minutes.

Indiana tried but couldn’t pull ahead in the second period, since the Spurs’ second unit, featuring an active Charles Bassey on both ends and some good buckets by Keita-Bates Diop, outworked and outexecuted an opposing bench that struggled to find answers. Once the Pacers’ starters returned the visitors once again showed that they were the most consistent team by creating separation for the second time on the night, but San Antonio’s core players were ready to make a push of their own this time. Collins continued his great play, Devin Vassell came alive as the minutes passed and Jeremy Sochan remained aggressive on offense despite not being particularly efficient. At the half, the Pacers were ahead by only two.

What followed was one of the Spurs’ best quarters of the season. From the start of the second half they played with more energy and resolve than the Pacers. Sochan in particular was everywhere, doing so much that after a steal and dunk he had to ask to be subbed out because he was exhausted. Then once the rookie went to the bench Devin Vassell decided to remind everyone why he was the team’s best player before his injury by dropping a quick 10 points in under three minutes. All the while, the defense was making life difficult for an Indiana team that seemed rattled by an opponent that, at least for a while, looked much better than their record would indicate. After outscoring the Pacers by 15 points in the frame, San Antonio went into the fourth quarter up 13.

The memories of the last matchup between the two teams, when the Spurs simply couldn’t manage a late lead, were probably on everyone’s minds as the home team started to slow down the pace to milk some clock. A few bad offensive possessions that resulted in turnovers or bad shots and were followed by a couple of threes by the Pacers didn’t help alleviate the creeping anxiety. Fortunately history didn’t repeat itself. Indiana didn’t fully commit to the full-court press that worked so well the last time until the last few minutes this time around and before that San Antonio made enough buckets to keep their opponent at arm's length to get on a winning streak for the first time since December.

Game notes

  • Mitch Johnson was the active head coach for this one, with both Gregg Popovich and Brett Brown out with non-COVID-related illnesses, and he looked like he belonged in the big chair. It was just one game but the young assistant was assertive and kept the team organized. He even made some interesting experiments that paid off, like giving Dominick Barlow some minutes. It’s not a surprise that he was reportedly on the Hawks’ shortlist for their coaching search.
  • Devin Vassell and Tre Jones returned to action and looked good off the bench. Vassell’s jumper took a while to warm up but once it did, it was as smooth as ever. Jones didn’t have great numbers but he moved the ball and played defense. Because apparently someone always has to be out for San Antonio when someone else returns, Doug McDermott left the game with a hand injury, but it seems like the main guys are finally getting healthy.
  • With Keldon Johnson out, there were a bunch of shots available and Sochan was eager to get them. The rookie was not afraid to call for the ball in the post but he also got points off hustle, like he normally does. The 22 points in 26 attempts are not ideal, but watching him be aggressive is always a positive. The same applies to fellow rookie Blake Wesley, who made some mistakes but also some good plays.
  • Zach Collins put together another strong performance, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two made threes. It’s good to see those outside shots go in because he needs to find his range to work on pick-and-pops in order to be a viable starting center. Charles Bassey had his moments off the bench as well. The bigs played well.
  • Devonte’ Graham logged 10 field goals. They were all threes and he made half of them. He was big in key moments and he also helped on the boards, moved the ball and even made a couple of defensive plays. Close to an ideal night for the veteran.

Play of the night

Jeremy Sochan is going to be very good, very soon.

Next game: vs. Houston Rockets on Saturday

The Spurs will host the Rockets in the first leg of a home-and-away series on Saturday. The second game will be a SEGABABA in Houston on Sunday. Those two would be great games to lose thinking about lottery odds, but a four-game winning streak would also be nice and seems possible.