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Devin Vassell shines but tired Spurs can’t keep up with the Magic

Vassell scored 23 points in a single quarter, but his offensive explosion wasn’t enough against a superior opponent.

San Antonio Spurs v Orlando Magic Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Spurs couldn’t complete a comeback against the Magic despite Devin Vassell’s standout performance. The wing scored 23 points in the third quarter alone but his production wasn’t enough to carry a tired San Antonio team, as the Silver and Black lost to the Magic 127-111 in the second game of the Rodeo Road Trip.

A good start is what the Spurs needed in the second game of a back-to-back after losing in Miami, but they couldn’t make it happen. The offense was stuck in mud, with the ball moving but not getting to any open man and no one able to create an advantage. On defense, there were problems in transition mostly due to crossmatching. San Antonio was playing hard, but not getting much going against a Magic team that played great defense for stretches but wasn’t sharp enough on offense to create separation. The low scoring continued as the benches checked in, but the Silver and Black looked more sprightly, with Blake Wesley leading the way. The second unit closed the small gap Orlando had managed to carve out, but the home team was leading by three after one thanks to the production from its frontcourt.

The issues for the starters continued in the second frame, as they struggled to make entry passes to Victor Wembanyama, who didn’t make things any better by making some questionable decisions. Once Wesley and a few other bench players checked in, the Spurs started to look better once again, helped by a zone defense that made life hard for Orlando. The problem is the Magic upped their intensity on defense and started causing turnovers that resulted in easy transition buckets or pushed the pace after missed threes to find mismatches and force San Antonio to help. Devin Vassell and Tre Jones were invisible, throughout the half and Wembanyama alternated good plays with bad plays, so not even with the second unit stepping up could the Spurs prevent the Magic’s lead from reaching 23 at one point and sit at 17 at the break.

Vassell would come alive in the third quarter, delivering a fantastic scoring performance that showed off his jumper but, more than anything, his ability to get to the rim en route to 23 points in the frame. Tre Jones also showed signs of life after a disastrous first half. The Spurs dropped 41 points in 12 minutes after scoring just 44 in an entire half, but it wasn’t enough to mount a comeback, for two reasons. First, the Magic caught fire from outside, with Franz Wagner leading the way, and dropped 37 points to keep up with Vassell and San Antonio. Second, Wembanyama, as Gregg Popovich put it, had periods when he ran out of gas in the second game of a back-to-back, and it affected the team on both ends, as he tried to force things at times on offense while not being the difference-maker he normally is on defense.

Orlando was ahead by 13 to start the fourth, so the game wasn’t necessarily out of reach, but the Spurs had already made their big push thanks to Vassell and it seemed unlikely they could muster up the energy to get enough stops to chip away at the lead. The Magic kept driving to the rim and San Antonio could at best trade buckets. As the minutes passed and the deficit remained firmly in the double-digits, it became clear there would be no comeback. Whenever there was a spark that inspired some optimism, Orlando would get a timely offensive board or steal that resulted in points when they needed them. The better, more well-rested team didn’t have to try too hard in the end to secure a comfortable win against a feisty but tired and inconsistent opponent.

Game notes

  • Pop was open about how back-to-backs are still a new experience for Wembanyama and how he, as mentioned, runs out of gas at times. Wemby looked tired. He still logged 15 points and three blocks and actually had more than the one rebound he was credited with pulling down, but it was a bad game for the rookie. It happens.
  • Vassell didn’t score in the entire first half and then dropped 23 points in a quarter, the most out of anyone in a single frame in the Popovich era. When Vassell is aggressive, he shows star potential. The problem is his inconsistency. It’s his first year in such a big role, so it’s not surprising that he hasn’t fully adjusted to it yet but if he does, the Spurs will have one of their key pieces in place.
  • The Spurs’ forwards were severely outplayed by their Magic counterparts. Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and even Joe Ingles had better games than Jeremy Sochan, Keldon Johnson and Julian Champagnie. San Antonio played a lot of zone in part because no one could guard Banchero or Wagner one on one.
  • Tre Jones was terrible in the first half before playing better in the second, but Blake Wesley was ready to bring his usual energy off the bench to make up for Jones’ lackadaisical play on Thursday. Wesley was a pest on defense and he finished with 10 points and seven assists to one turnover. The Spurs didn’t trade for a point guard at the deadline but if Wesley keeps showing improvement, they won’t regret their decision.
  • The Spurs got some good minutes from Zach Collins, who scored 12 points while only missing one shot — his only three-point attempt — and logged three assists and two blocks. Collins is not the stretch five the coaching staff wanted him to be, but he’s still a solid big man.
  • Malaki Branham played 20 minutes and seems likely to get at least some of the playing time that used to go to McDermott. It will be interesting to see what he does with it. Right now he’s still a minus defender who can’t shoot but can keep the ball moving. The biggest thing for him will be to show intensity and focus whenever he’s on the floor and he did a decent job of it against Orlando.

Play of the night

Devin Vassell gets the momentary switch and just attacks the big man. He needs to do this a lot more consistently, especially with how much attention Wembanyama draws when the two are on the floor together.

Next game: at Brooklyn Nets on Saturday

The Spurs will visit the new-look Nets this weekend. Brooklyn was busy at the trade deadline and has Ben Simmons back. It should be an interesting matchup.