The Spurs ended the regular season with a 130-120 loss to the Mavericks, which secured them the ninth-best odds in the lottery, so far. It was a fun game in the first half and for most of the third period, before an injury to Dallas superstar Luka Doncic unfortunately zapped the fourth quarter of all excitement.
The injury left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, but for a while the game was entertaining. Both teams played with surprising discipline for early stretches, executing their game plans, despite it being the last game of the regular season. The Mavericks used Jalen Brunson to test the mettle of rookie Josh Primo, which helped them since San Antonio was committed to keeping Doncic out of the paint. Neither team looked very comfortable in attack, but some good shots from Devin Vassell kept Spurs inside while Josh Powell wreaked havoc near the edge for Dallas. It wasn’t the best played quarter and the score was low, but it was unexpectedly intense at times.
It was going to be interesting to see how the Spurs second unit fared against a Mavericks bench that was among the best in the league after the All-Star break, especially without Lonnie Walker IV. But Gregg Popovich added a mix of starters and subs that held up well and got contributions from most of its members. Despite the offenses warming up, the scoreline remained tight as both teams had good streaks in which they took care of the ball and struck three but then became sloppy on both sides. At times San Antonio edged Dallas, but the consistency needed to carve out a lead just wasn’t there and Doncic was always ready to respond whenever the Silver and Black looked to seize the momentum. A hotly contested half ended deservedly tied.
The Mavericks finally looked like the superior team in the third quarter, as Doncic had a masterful stretch to fuel a run that would put his team in control. He had 8 points and 5 assists in the frame, completely taking control of the game and giving his teammates the confidence they needed to make a three-way shoot-off. The closest thing Spurs have to a player capable of putting on such a performance is Dejounte Murray, but when he returned after missing five games he was simply not sharp. It looked like the competitive part of the night was over when Dallas took an 18-point lead, but the thing the Mavs probably feared most happened in the final minutes of the frame: Doncic got hurt. A calf strain would sideline him for the rest of the game, opening the door for a comeback.
The Spurs ran off as the Mavericks were clearly shaken by the news of Luka and began to realize the game was meaningless, but San Antonio never really threatened to get a win that didn’t. would benefit them in any way. Jason Kidd started giving his deep bench some playing time first, then Gregg Popovich followed suit with almost five minutes left and San Antonio lost just eight. A glorified pickup game was probably always going to be how this match ended, but Doncic’s injury made the final minutes feel even more like a chore than they would have under better circumstances. In the end, the Mavericks picked up a victory that won’t give them the third seed, Spurs improved their lottery chances, and both teams seemed almost relieved once the bell rang.
- The craziest thing about Doncic’s injury is that he wasn’t supposed to play this game. He had been suspended by the league for reaching 16 technical fouls before having one overturned. The basketball gods have a twisted sense of humor. Also, while Jason Kidd probably should have limited his minutes, sometimes these things happen. Remember when Manu Ginobili broke his arm against the Suns in the last game of the season in 2011? If you managed to erase that memory, sorry to remind you, but it happened under the guidance of a trainer known to take care of the health of stars. I’ll take most opportunities to criticize Kidd, but I’m not sure he’s to blame here.
- When it comes to the health of Spurs’ players, they got away with it unscathed. Dejounte Murray was a little rusty when he returned, but he still made plays and mostly looked like himself, which is a huge relief. Lonnie Walker IV sat down to rest his back, so hopefully he’ll be in good shape for the play-in match.
- Zach Collins prevented at least three scoring dunks. Marquese Chriss probably hates it. In general, Collins’ defense has been a little lacking, which is understandable after two seasons, but it’s good to see he’s not afraid to jump in and physically protect the rim.
- The Spurs officially finished the regular season with a positive point differential despite winning just 34 games, which is hilarious. Hopefully that means they’re not the typical 10th seed and have a chance of making the playoffs, but that could just be a statistical aberration. Who knows.
game of the night
Josh Primo had a quiet night, but that high-arched float behind the panel was gorgeous.
3rd place (1 point) – Devin Vassell | 15 points, four rebounds, three assists.
Vassell’s shot really helped Spurs early on and he did his best against Doncic in defence. In the second half, his impact faded (not new to Vassell), to the point where Tre Jones or Jakob Poeltl could have taken that spot. But his 13 points in the first half, when the game was tight, earned him the nod.
2nd place (2 points) – Josh Richardson | 18 points, four three-pointers.
Richardson is reliable, which is such a good trait to have in a young team that is normally characterized by its inconsistency. He hits his threes, plays good defense and provides secondary ball handling, but more than that he can be relied on. Sometimes you just need veterans who will be stable, and Richardson has offered that since being traded to San Antonio.
1st place (3 points) – Keldon Johnson | 24 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals.
Johnson has forced things on offense at times, which hasn’t led to good results this season, but the production is there, so he gets the top spot. The three weren’t falling, but he still had 20-plus points for the ninth straight game getting on the line. He also contributed on the boards and had four interceptions, a category in which he normally struggles to break into. Excellent last stretch of the season for Johnson.
Final standings of the regular season
1st – Dejounte Murray – 121pts
2nd – Jakob Poeltl & Keldon Johnson – 68pts
3rd – Devin Vassell – 54pts
4th – Derrick White – 51pts
5th – Lonnie Walker IV – 40pts
6th – Doug McDermott – 16pts
7th – Three Jones – 14pts
8th – Bryn Forbes – 12pts
9th – Thaddée Young – 11pts
10th – Jock Landale & Josh Richardson – 10pts
11th – Keita Bates-Diop – 6pts
12th – Josh Primo – 4pts
13th – Zach Collins – 3pts
14th – Drew Eubanks – 2pts
15th – Devontae Cacok & Joe Wieskamp – 1pt
Next game: at the Pelicans on Wednesday
The Spurs will travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans in the first qualifying game. Their playoff future hangs in the balance, so they’ll surely be ready to compete for the full 48 minutes.