The San Antonio Spurs ended 2022 on a high note. While the Dallas Mavericks ended up with a 126-125 win, the Spurs have to be thrilled with the way they played.
Before the game, Pop said he wanted to hold Luka Doncic to 50 points. Unfortunately, Doncic poured in 51 points — and, poetically, San Antonio lost by a point.
The Slovenian was masterful. The Spurs actually defended him pretty well … Doncic was just too good. He took his time and either created a clean look for himself or created easy looks for his teammates. Time and time again.
As for the good guys, they have nothing to hang their heads about. They withstood an epic game from Doncic, kept battling, kept striving and were a free throw away from tying the game at the end. Job well done.
Spurs vs. Mavs – Final Grades
Johnson played very good ball. With Devin Vassell out with injury, the focus was all on Johnson to be the go-to scorer — and he was up to the task. He confidently stroked three-pointers, kept his intensity elevated and relentlessly attacked the basket, which resulted in seven free throw attempts. Defensively, I liked his effort for the most part. Overall, the only real critique is that Johnson wasn’t doing much playmaking for his teammates — but he also had no turnovers so it’s difficult to say he was forcing the issue too much.
It’s safe to say that Poeltl is back. This was his best game since he hurt his knee. His aggression, touch and awareness paid dividends on offense. He was a beast on both the offense and defensive glass. Poeltl passed it extremely well and, don’t look now, but his free throw shooting is on the upswing. Defensively, the Austrian was rock solid in his rotations and defended the rim well.
Jones will remember this game as the one that got away. The 89% free throw shooter missed a free throw with one second left that would have tied the game. Welp, it happens. Otherwise, Jones was really good. His touch in the lane was exquisite, he took the perimeter shots he needed to take, his passing was brainy and his baseline-to-baseline effort level was palpable to everyone in the arena.
I mean, sure, Doncic had 51 points and nine assists on 18-for-29 shooting and Sochan was his primary defender … but I still say the rookie defended Doncic well. Sochan wasn’t getting much help when he was screened but he kept at it and caused the Mavs star to sweat a little bit. Obviously, there were things he could do better — but he did fine given the circumstances and it was a great learning experience. Offensively, Sochan was really productive. He dropped in two three-pointers, hit his final four one-handed free throws and found ways to be a constant threat on that end. His ball-handling, playmaking and passing continue to look more and more natural.
I don’t know if Langford was hurt or what but he just didn’t have any juice against the Mavs. He wasn’t moving well and lacked explosion. The result was an 0-for-6 night in which he played substandard defense. Langford was great last game starting in place of Vassell but he was the opposite this evening.
Branham continues to show flashes of brilliance. Each of his three made field goals tonight was beautiful. He’s so rhythmic and coordinated off the dribble that, when he’s grooving, it looks like he was born to score a basketball. Playing more point guard, Branham exhibited positive ball-handling ability and a knack for passing on the move. His defense was iffy and there was a lot of second-guessing going on inside of his cranium — but the glimpses make it easy to smile when looking at the big picture.
McDermott continues to make a ton of difference on the offensive end. With Vassell out, the Spurs have almost no spacing — unless McDermott is on the court running from spot to spot looking to get open. The Mavs paid close attention to him, which allowed others to find holes in the defense. When McDermott got the ball, he didn’t hesitate to shoot if he had a view of the orange paint on the rim. He also handed out a couple of slick passes. Defensively, Dallas singled him out, isolated him and attacked. McDermott’s D wasn’t good — but he also wasn’t a total disaster. He helped engineer enough stops to take the steam out of that strategy.
If Collins didn’t have five fouls in 18 minutes, he would have had a marvelous showing. (In his defense, a couple of the fouls looked to be questionable.) Outside of the fouls, Collins was productive in all areas of the sport. He passed it very well, he knocked down a three, he unleashed tricky post moves and he finished at the rim with touch. Defensively, Collins moved his feet well, put his body on the line and was challenging the shots he could challenge.
In the last few games, Richardson is doing a better job of playing a complementary role instead of trying to quarterback the bench unit. The result is he’s performing with more efficiency and the bench is playing better. Richardson picked his spots well, made the right passes and efforted on the defensive end.
Johnson has locked down a spot in the rotation by playing hard-nosed, energetic defense and hustling as much as possible. Offensively, I also like what he’s doing. Johnson either takes open threes or uses his
big large body to go right at the rim and try to score through contact. There’s nothing fancy about his playstyle but he fits well and helps set a high intensity level.
With Doncic as unstoppable as he was, it’s amazing that these Spurs were a bounce or two away from getting a win. Pop deserves a healthy amount of credit. The playcalling was largely successful, even though the pieces on the court struggled to generate spacing. I liked the rotation — even if starting Langford ended up being the wrong move in retrospect. All in all, Pop had his troops playing hard and playing together — and that’s mostly what you want to see as a Spurs fan during this developmental season.