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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Hawks

A memorable second half wasn't enough to overcome a first half to forget.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Atlanta Hawks Jordan Godfree-USA TODAY Sports

There’s an old saying that you learn more from your losses than you do your wins. Whoever first said that didn’t account for games like the one the San Antonio Spurs played against the Atlanta Hawks. From the moment Victor Wembanyama was slow to jump for the tip-off, you could tell it was going to be one of those games where nothing goes right. They didn’t score until the 8:30 mark of the first quarter and everything snowballed from there. The holiday season may be behind us, but the best way to describe the next 20:30 of game time is that it was like in Elf, when Buddy and his brother get into the snowball fight and Buddy just destroys a group of kids with snowballs.

In games like this, Coach Gregg Popovich has had a knack of putting in young players who don’t get many minutes and somehow, those players are able to claw their way into the game. That’s exactly what happened as he chose to start the second half with Blake Wesley, Dominic Barlow, and Cedi Osman in place of Wembanyama, Tre Jones, and Devin Vassell, the Spurs started to show signs of life. The pressure Blake is able to put on the ball disrupted the Hawks flow, and when those three plus Keldon Johnson came into the game, there was a different feeling to the contest.

It may have still been a 30-point game, but the moment Wembanyama dunked to make it 28, whatever lid was on the rims in Atlanta fell off. As he put it recently, Wembanyama wants his dunks to be traumatizing to the opponent, and he might’ve achieved that goal with this one. From then until the 3:21 mark in the fourth quarter, the Spurs outscored the Hawks 43-21 and cut the once 35-point lead to six.

Unfortunately, that’s where the magic ran out. A steal in the backcourt gave Keldon the choice of attempting a layup or making a pass to Sochan for one that would’ve cut it to four. He chose to attack the rim, but his layup was just short. A bugaboo this team, and just about every young team in NBA history, is closing out a game. Everybody wants to make a play to help the team walk away with a win, but that can cloud judgement – not to mention makes those plays even harder to execute. The more repetitions the team gets in these circumstances, the better they’ll become.

It’ll help a lot more if they don’t have to come back from the deficits they’ve faced these past two games.

Takeaways:

  • It’s a make-or-miss league. Being able to create good shots is only the start of a quality possession. If the player doesn’t make the shot at the end, it’s a moot point. You can hang your hat on the process being correct and take lessons away from those possessions, but that won’t translate to wins until they’re able to put points on the board. The Spurs were creating good looks, but the team finished 6-21 from the field (2-11 from three) in the first quarter, which found them down 19 going into the second.
  • Dejounte Murray trade talk is going to get louder and louder. Given the amount of point guard talk surrounding the Spurs this season, it’s not surprising that there was going to be chatter about the team trading for one. And with the rumors swirling about the Hawks listening to offers on Dejounte, it’s not surprising he’d be mentioned as a target for them to go after. We can go into great length discussing whether it’d be smart or not, but that’s for a different article.
  • When Trae Young is rolling, he’s as good as it gets. He gets under the skin of both fans and opponents. He baits the smallest of contact and sells it like he’s Billy Mays. He’ll hit shots from the logo, then run a perfect pick-and-roll that ends with an alley-oop. When all of that is happening at once, you’re in for a long night (day in this case). I mentioned the snowball fight in Elf earlier because the Buddy of this story was Trae Young, and no, I’m not making an elf-related joke because Trae is one of the smallest players in the league. He was running on all cylinders, hitting step-back logo three-pointers, throwing lobs, and drawing fouls, continuing to push the Hawks further and further in front of the Spurs. He ended the first half with 29 points to the Spurs at 34.
  • Dominic Barlow is earning more and more minutes. Shots might not fall, passes might get deflected, and players might score on you. There are plenty of things that happen in a basketball game that might not turn out the way you hoped. The one thing that always will, though, is the energy you bring with you onto the court. Barlow is still figuring it out on both sides of the ball, but what he does have figured out is that every minute he’s in the game, he needs to give it his all. He’s one of 43 20-and-under players in the league, and when he does something like this, you see there’s more to his game than you previously thought.
  • Blake Wesley is earning more and more minutes. The aura of the game changed at the start of the third when Blake, Barlow, and Cedi stepped onto the court instead of the normal starters. Wesley, another under-20 talent, hit a floater on the first possession of the half, then immediately picked Trae up full court and using his length and quickness, he irritated Trae to the point it caused an eight-second violation. The next Hawks possession, the Spurs forced a shot clock violation. The offensive rhythm the Hawks had went right out the window. They didn’t make their first field goal of the third until the 7:49 mark and could only manage 18 points in the quarter.