SAN ANTONIO —
The absence of Jakob Poeltl was felt early by the Spurs. On the very first play of the game, Dejounte Murray found a rolling Drew Eubanks who couldn't finish inside with the left.
After a shooting foul each way and a 2-0 Spurs lead, the Mavs called timeout and got a pick and roll lob from Luka Doncic to center Dwight Powell. When he tried it again the next trip down, Eubanks blocked it.
Derrick White eurostepped to the rim in transition, and when Doncic answered with a three Keldon drove past him for a scoop layup and the lead. He picked up his second foul, though, and went to the bench.
Devin Vassell came in and made a sick no-look pass to Eubanks, who again failed to finish inside. He put home a feed from Dejounte Murray, but then gave up another lob for a dunk. Thad Young came in to replace him.
Doncic picked off a pass from Murray and took it coast to coast for a five-point Mavs lead. Young hit McDermott for a cutting layup, and White got into Doncic's chest to create space for a layup.
Doncic missed a three but Powell slammed home the miss, getting Pop to call time down 16-12.
Vassell came around a Young screen and floated one home, but Dallas kept scoring. Lonnie Walker IV and Keita Bates-Diop checked in. Vassell continued to show the shot creation he's been working on, hitting a pull-up jumper then coming around a screen for a hammer dunk.
After a tough miss by Doncic, Thad Young got out in transition for a dunk that drew a Dallas timeout with the Spurs down 23-20. Tre Jones came in and got on the board with a floater, but former Spur Boban Marjanovic posted up the smaller Eubanks to answer.
Derrick White pulled up from three to knot things up at 28 and that's where the score stood after one.
Boban was heavily involved for the Mavs as they built a 34-30 lead. Derrick White was able to take advantage of his matchup with the big man, driving past and finding Eubanks with a laser pass.
Just when it looked like Boban had a sure dunk, Dejounte Murray blocked him from behind. The Mavs got it back, though, and Boban dunked after all. Tim Hardaway Jr. extended Dallas' lead to eight, and Pop called time again. San Antonio gave up an open three in transition that pushed the Dallas lead to 11.
Dejounte knocked down a jumper, but the Spurs continued to struggle with Boban down low as he got another bucket over Young. He did pick up his third foul, though, and struggled to defend guards.
Doncic hit a three, Murray found Thad on the roll for a lefty hook to cut it back to 10. Frantic ball movement got it from McDermott on a baseline drive to Vassell in the corner for an open trey. Murray hit a pair of free throws, and the deficit was halved.
Young missed a rolling finish but put back the miss. Doncic answered, but Vassell came right back with a driving jumper he hung in the air for. Walker blocked a shot, got the loose ball, and zipped it to Vassell in the corner for another triple.
Dallas scored enough to stay in front, building their lead back to 7. Murray hit another nice mid-range jumper off a spin, then found Eubanks for free throws.
Vassell forced Doncic into a tough miss, and White finished inside. Murray pulled up and hit again, cutting the lead to two again.
Eubanks finished the half with another rough play, failing to finish in close and taking a bad foul under his own basket that gave Dallas free throws. Murray came down the other end and wiggled for a three ball that beat the buzzer, making it 59-58 Dallas heading to halftime.
Dejounte Murray opened the second half with a steal on Doncic, then dropped a dime to Eubanks for a dunk, then drilled a triple to tie it at 63.
Eubanks turned it over but came up with a poster block, then another stop at the rim against Doncic. Eubanks finished on a feed from Derrick White to give the Spurs a lead.
Keldon Johnson missed, but put it back up and in. Devin Vassell knocked down another three, then Derrick White finished inside, then Vassell made his toughest looking shot of the game, corralling a pass and crossing over in one motion before pulling up.
Derrick hit free throws that made it 79-71, San Antonio's largest lead. After a Doncic turnover, White got back to the line to make it a double-digit lead.
Dallas got a quick run to cut their deficit to two, with Boban again causing problems down low for the Spurs and Jalen Brunson hitting big shots as San Antonio went stagnant.
The Spurs went to the fourth clinging to an 83-81 advantage.
The Mavs got the lead back at the start of the fourth, with Boban continuing to be a presence in the paint on both ends.
Lonnie made a bucket, then found Thad for a hook finish over Boban. Keldon swiped the ball from Bobi in the post, then finished in transition with nuance.
Luka and Boban ran pick and roll to get an easy bucket at the rim for Marjanovic, then he finished another post up to give Dallas the lead, giving him 17 points on 8-10 shooting.
Keldon stopped Doncic, then took it right at Boban in transition for free throws, but missed both. Mercifully, Marjanovic went to the bench.
The Spurs got a takeaway but gave the ball right back and ceded a bucket.
Keldon got another toughie to go, but Doncic answered and Pop called time down 94-91 with just over 6 minutes to go.
Keldon Johnson slotted in at center, taking away mismatches on switches for Doncic.
Murray was able to get to the rack and finish to tie things at 94 after stripping Doncic on a double team.
Brunson hit a tough shot from mid-range to put Dallas back in front. Dejounte caught on a cut, stretched out his steps through a small seam in the defense, and finished a reverse to tie.
Brunson created contact and got to the line for a questionable and-1. After a Murray miss, Brunson finished his third in a row from in-between and Pop called time down 5 with exactly 3 minutes to play.
The Mavs turned it over under the basket, and the Spurs couldn't capitalize on a miss by Murray. DJ was able to get to the stripe and hit big free throws to make it a one-possession game. Brunson erased that with a driving layup, but Keldon came right back with another layup with deft touch.
Dallas almost had a layup, but Devin flew in to block it. On the ensuing possession, Murray did his best impression of Keldon's layup on the left side.
Vassell was all over Brunson, who continued his magical fourth with an impossible fading jumper over Devin's outstretched arms. Pop called timeout to draw up a game-tying three with 21 seconds left. It didn't quite go as planned, as the Mavs wound up giving White a wide-open dunk with 13 seconds left.
San Antonio fouled the red-hot Brunson, who hit both. Dallas fouled up three, and Murray missed the first. The second fell, and San Antonio pressed the inbound forcing a timeout.
Closer down the stretch, the Spurs pulled to within 1 at multiple points, but eventually lost on the final play. San Antonio fell at home to Dallas, 109-108.
The Spurs will be missing a central piece to their two-way scheme on Wednesday night when they take on the Dallas Mavericks at the AT&T Center.
Jakob Poeltl has averaged about 14 points and 10 rebounds per game, and he'll be away from the team in COVID-19 protocols for the next several games. He's anchoring the defense with 2 combined steals and blocks per game, leading the league in offensive rebounds (5.1 per game) and contested twos per game (11.1), and fifth in the league in screen assists (5.6).
"Nobody's gonna play his position as well as he does, so it's a difficult loss for sure," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said before the game. "Drew Eubanks will start in place of Jakob Poeltl, and Doug McDermott will be back in the starting lineup."
The undrafted Eubanks has played 11 minutes per game this season, good for 3.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks. He always brings high-level energy and attention to detail, but at 6'10" he's a bit undersized.
Eubanks has functioned as the backup center for this team behind Poeltl in the rotation, but that may be changing as big man depth has been a bit of a weak point for the Spurs.
Rookie Jock Landale scored 10 points in just 5 minutes at the end of the loss to the Pacers earlier in the week, hitting all four shots and one from beyond the arc. Landale isn't anywhere near the defender Poeltl is, but he does bring shooting touch that Poeltl lacks. That spacing could open up more opportunities toward the rim for guys like Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell off the bench.
Coach Pop spoke a bit about the Aussie before the game.
"He played very little, so I don't want to make evaluations on such short time," he said. "He'll continue to work at it. He got behind obviously with the concussion (in the preseason), so he's gotta work his way back in. He'll do everything he can to get there, he's a good kid."
As for the biggest wildcard in the big-man rotation, veteran Thaddeus Young has looked more comfortable playing with his new teammates on both ends. He really developed as a passer from the top of the arc last year, and he has done an impressive job of finding cutters.
Young proved important in the 102-93 win over the Bucks, notching 10 points, 8 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals. On a night when Jakob Poeltl got in foul trouble, he played a lot of backup five.
"He's a pro," Popovich said before the game. "He knows how to play, he's played with different groups before, and his basketball IQ is high so it's not surprising that he does those things for us."
Young is one of the more intriguing pieces on this Spurs roster, and the question of whether or not he'll be traded will likely linger until the trade deadline. Whether he stays or goes, it helps him and the Spurs if he can be productive in his opportunities.
San Antonio is somewhat fortunate that the loss of Poeltl comes as the schedule softens up just a bit after a brutal beginning to the year.
The Dallas Mavericks are a dangerous team, but they're a bit tired and beat up, dealing with their own big man issues. Kristaps Porzingis is out, along with Maxi Kleber. The Mavs played last night in Dallas, losing to the Heat 125-110. Luka Doncic played 36 minutes, and three other starters played over 30.
San Antonio has had a day off to process what was widely accepted as their worst effort of the season against the Pacers, and they should be rested and out for blood. They might also be looking for revenge, having lost to this Mavs team 104-99 less than a week ago.