In a roller coaster of a game, the San Antonio Spurs ended up falling to the Atlanta Hawks by a final score of 109-99. While the outcome wasn’t what the good guys were hoping for, this one can be written up as a moral victory of sorts.
In the first half, the Spurs were terrible. The effort level was embarrassing. The defense was soft and the offense lacked any sort of direction. San Antonio trailed by as much as 35 points — and it legitimately felt like the Spurs were headed to their most disappointing defeat in a season full of disheartening losses.
But, thankfully, the second half was a completely different story. Pop sat some his starters to begin the second half to send a message — and it’s safe to say the message was received loud and clear. The Spurs played some of their most inspired basketball in the final two quarters. In the closing minutes of the game, San Antonio got within six points of the Hawks. Unfortunately, that’s when the steam ran out — but the comeback attempt was impressive and the number of highlight plays made it fun to watch.
Overall, it’s fair to be upset that the Spurs fell into a 35-point hole. But their response to that adversity is hopefully something they can bottle and use to their advantage going forward.
Stats: Spurs at Hawks
Spurs at Hawks – Final Grades
The first half might have been the worst half we’ve seen from Wembanyama. He didn’t run the court or play with any physicality. Defensively, he got caught flat-footed on a number of occasions. At halftime, Wembanyama was scoreless. After sitting to start the second half, Wembanyama was an absolute monster once he returned to the court. By hustling in transition, increasing his determination and playing smarter, he made his first 11 field goal attempts of the second half. His rebounding was excellent after halftime and his defense as a whole was much, much better. While his first half was ugly, the level of superduperstarness he reached in the second half erased much — if not all — of the disappointment.
After playing really bad against the Bulls in the previous game, Vassell was once again bad versus the Hawks. He wasn’t as bad — but it was close. His shot-selection wasn’t good, he was holding onto the ball too much and he single-handedly stalled multiple possessions. When Vassell decided to pass, he had a couple good looks — and that helped him retain a little bit of value. Defensively, he was putrid in the first half but got better in the second half. All in all, Vassell simply has to play better. This type of poor play where he aimlessly floats through the game making things more difficult for his teammates is unacceptable at this point of his development.
In the god-awful first half, Sochan was the only source of goodness. There were stretches where he was the only player hustling on defense and the only player who wasn’t afraid of contact on offense. He made mistakes in the first two quarters but he was at least being aggressive and acting like he wanted to be out on the floor. At halftime, Sochan had 15 points and none of his teammates had more than four points. In the second half, I still liked how he played. He took on more playmaking and had his moments. He rebounded and his defense remained energetic. On this night, Sochan was clearly most consistent Spur.
Like it was for Wembanyama, it was a tale of two halves for Jones. In the first half, he was terrible. His defense was atrocious, he shied away from physical contact and it didn’t look like he was interested in competing. Offensively, he took bad shots and wasn’t creating much for others. The second half was completely different. Jones focused more on setting the table for others and ended up with 11 assists in the second half in 16 minutes. He also hit 2-of-3 shots from the field after halftime, while turning it over only one time. Defensively, he turned up the volume and was once again chasing loose balls like a madman. While the second half was great, Jones won’t remain a starter if he lays many more of the eggs we witnessed in the first half.
Champagnie did next to nothing in the first half or in the fourth quarter. However, his shooting in the third quarter helped lead the charge. He finished the quarter with a team-high 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field — all of which were three-pointers. Defensively, Champagnie was slightly better than average. Let’s hope he can keep shooting it straight because he can be really valuable when he has it going from deep.
Against the Bulls, Johnson stepped up when Vassell struggled. Versus Atlanta, Johnson joined Vassell in the valley of the doldrums. He was 1-for-11 from the field and tallied five turnovers and four fouls. I liked Johnson’s defensive effort in the second half — but the results on that end were also lacking. He wasn’t asleep at the wheel like some of his teammates were this game but Johnson can’t play with so much recklessness and so little foreplanning.
Barlow was really strong on the boards throughout and played with an ample amount of physicality. His efficiency offensively was lacking but his decision were fine. Defensively, he held up better than usual. In this stretch of games where he has gotten consistent minutes, Barlow has helped his case of eventually becoming a legitimate NBA player.
McDermott’s defense was sometimes painfully slow, particularly outside of the three-point arc. However, he knocked down a pair of three-pointers and the spacing he provided was plain to see. Plus, his struggles on defense were predictable given the fact that he was coming off an ankle injury that caused him to miss the game against the Bulls.
Wesley started the second half at point guard and his tenacity on defense helped change the momentum. In fact, you could make the argument that Wesley’s defense was what kick-started the second half surge. He’s a great athlete with amazing quickness and lightning fast reflexes so it’s certainly possible for him to become a stellar defender. We saw glimpses of that against the Hawks. Offensively, he limited his mistakes pretty well while also making the right passes more often than not. Overall, this was a game that will win Wesley more minutes from the coaching staff.
Osman never got it going. All five of his shots were from downtown and he only connected on one. Usually, his running in transition and his passing helps out the cause. Against the Hawks, we didn’t see much of that. His defense was mostly decent but there were few mistakes mixed in.
All ten of Branham’s minutes came in the first half. Defensively, he was poor and was one of the Spurs who didn’t bother to compete. Branham only has mediocre physical tools so he can’t afford to not be locked in on the defensive end. Offensively, he did little to no playmaking despite spending time at point guard. He scored a couple buckets but his impact on that end was minimal. His benching after halftime shouldn’t have surprised him.
Mamukelashvili played long enough to miss a three-pointer.
Benching Wembanyama, Vassell and Jones to start the second half took some chutzpah but it was a brilliant move in hindsight. His team was sleepwalking and Pop was able to find the right button to push to nearly collect a comeback win for the ages.