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Spurs falter in the fourth quarter in loss to the Wizards

San Antonio and Washington played a close game for three quarters but the Spurs simply couldn’t get enough stops in the end.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs put up a decent fight in their visit to Washington despite missing key players. Keldon Johnson dropped 30 points and pulled down 10 rebounds but San Antonio ended up losing to the Wizards 136-124 in a matchup that didn’t feature a lot of defense but was often close and mostly fun.

It didn’t take more than a glance at the court at tip-off to notice the Wizards had a size advantage on the shorthanded Spurs and they made sure to try to use it. Kristaps Porzingis was dominating on both ends, pacing the Wizards in scoring and blocking shots in the paint. San Antonio’s bigs were doing what they could to counter on the other end, with Sandro Mamukelashvili having a few good offensive possessions, but the lack of rim protection was apparent. As a result the Spurs had to collapse into the paint on drives or help after switches allowing Washington to move the ball to find open looks. Not much changed when the second units checked in to end the first quarter, as it took the subs a while to settle in. After one, the home team was up seven.

The threes started to fall to start the second quarter for San Antonio, which helped immensely. Doug McDermott in particular carried the scoring for the bench in those early minutes and the visitors closed the gap quickly. The Wizards eventually responded with some long shots of their own and as the starters checked back in, Washington once again pulled away, this time reaching double digits in their lead. The Spurs needed to make a push or risk getting in too big a hole to climb out of in the second half and fortunately they showed the mettle to do so, The energy on defense improved, they continued to attack the rim fearlessly and they ran whenever they could. The Wizards made some tough shots that helped them survive the onslaught, but their lead was reduced to just four at the break.

The second half didn’t start auspiciously, as the Spurs left some shooters open and paid for it in the initial possessions, but a couple of threes from the surprisingly accurate Keita Bates-Diop and some fastbreak points soon helped them make up for those original mistakes. The big issue that San Antonio couldn’t resolve was how to guard Porzingis. The big man feasted on switches, attacking smaller players to get to the line. After Julian Champagnie got targeted a few times Pop changed strategies and started sending double teams, which worked better, and along with some threes and easy looks on the other end San Antonio managed to get ahead for the first time since the first quarter. It was a close game all the way through the third with the teams exchanging small leads, ending with Washington up just one going into the final period.

As was the case for most of the night, the long ball was the determining factor in the fourth. The Wizards hit three in the first three minutes to establish their perimeter offense and then their guards found ways to get into the paint to feed Daniel Gafford. The Spurs’ second unit tried to put up a fight but was simply outplayed and when the starters checked back in to close the matchup San Antonio was down by double digits once again. There was no comeback, as Washington kept its foot on the pedal like the team looking for a play-in spot that they are while the Spurs eventually accepted a defeat that only makes it more likely that they’ll get the best odds possible at the top pick in the draft. As far as losses go, this one wasn’t bad, as it at least came after a competitive game.

Game notes

  • Johnson dropped 30 points mostly by driving to the basket constantly but he also maintained his March trend of shooting the three well by connecting on three of his five attempts. A couple of those came late when the game was out of reach, but it’s important for Keldon to see some long shots go in.
  • Speaking of three-point shooting, Keita Bates-Diop finished the game with four made threes, a career-high. Doug McDermott had three of his own, so the forwards really helped in the shooting department.
  • The guards, on the other hand, shot 3-for-18 from beyond the arc. Not everything was bad, since Tre Jones logged 12 assists, Blake Wesley had eight and Devonte’ Graham six. Malaki Branham had 15 points and made most of his twos, as well. The Spurs need more perimeter scoring from that group, but sometimes the shots just won’t fall so it’s good to see they still try to make an impact on offense.
  • The two-way guys played well. Champagnie got targetted on defense at times but made all of his twos and had a couple of blocks while Dominick Barlow continues to show potential as a small ball center. Neither had a standout performance but they didn’t look out of place.
  • Mamu put together another solid stat line, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists, but it’s clear he’s not a rim protector. This game against a Wizards team that plays two bigs together would have been a good chance for the Spurs to mitigate some of the height deficit but playing Mamu and Gorgui Dieng together, but that would have meant giving up a huge edge in athleticism. The center spot is a big question mark for San Antonio right now on most nights.

Play of the night

It’s always great to see the Spurs sharing the ball.

Next game: at Boston Celtics on Sunday

The Spurs will finish a four-game road trip with a visit to one of the top teams in the league. Penciling in a loss seems sensible so let’s just hope for another fun, close game.