SAN ANTONIO —
The Spurs followed up a blowout win with a blowout loss, and the common theme afterward was complacency.
“To me it's a it's a mental toughness exercise where you just have to realize everybody's got to bring it every single night," said a disappointed Gregg Popovich. "Can't get satisfied because you won a game, and think the next game is gonna be the same way.”
“We came out flat," Devin Vassell bluntly acknowledged. "We get complacent after wins, and that’s the biggest thing."
“We can't get too complacent after we get one win, you know? We're a good team so we feel like we can beat anyone," said Doug McDermott. "Just got to have the urgency right from the start in both halves.”
The Spurs forced a season-low three turnovers, got torched by the pick and roll pair of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and generally got outworked in every facet of the game.
“They didn't feel us at all. We felt them the whole game,” Pop said of the Mavericks’ physicality. “They had a good night. You know, they made a lot of shots, but they deserved it, they were they were the more competitive, physical, aggressive group tonight.”
Mavericks wreck Spurs at the AT&T Center, 123-109
Doncic kicked things up a notch with 32 points, 15 assists, and 12 rebounds in the win, hitting 6-13 from deep with a fair bit of Luka Magic sprinkled in.
"He's one of the best players in the world, but we've got to make it harder on him," said McDermott after the loss.
Porzingis had 32 points as well, and in the third quarter things came to a head as the Mavs outscored the Spurs 34-20 and built a demoralizing 27-point lead.
“They made shots, but we can't let people making shots deter us from being the team that we are, and I think that's what happened,” Vassell said after the game.
San Antonio gave up 48 points in the paint and 18-45 from deep mainly off of penetration, and the absence of Jakob Poeltl is being felt.
Jak's huge for us," McDermott said. "On defense especially, he makes such a big difference for us out there."
Before the game, Pop gave the big man a 50-50 shot of rejoining the Spurs on the upcoming road trip against the Lakers and Clippers.
Keldon Johnson opened the scoring for San Antonio with a pair of confident threes, a positive sign as he's struggled from deep to start the year.
Dejounte Murray drove in for a couple of layups, and Doug McDermott and Derrick White both ripped the twine from downtown as San Antonio built a 16-11 lead.
Luka Doncic was able to tie the game with a pair of magical scores, first on a dirty crossover then dunk, then creating space for a triple. He crossed over into another three, then found a cutter on a dunk to make it a 10-0 Dallas run. Another triple made it 13-0 before Thad Young stopped the bleeding on a rolling layup.
Dallas held a 31-22 lead after the first quarter.
Devin Vassell drained a three from the corner, and Keldon Johnson dropped a pass off down low for a Drew Eubanks finish. Johnson got to the line for free throws as well, cutting the Spurs deficit to 8. Dallas answered, but Johnson hit his third triple of the game. He took a little heat check from deep, but couldn't get it to go.
Dejounte Murray came in the game, banked in a floater, and forced a Dallas timeout with the score 41-36 Mavericks. Doncic missed a stepback, then Lonnie Walker IV drove in for free throws. Doncic threw a lob, and Lonnie answered with a pull-up jumper.
Dallas pushed back with a corner three, but Young scored on a putback through contact. Doncic floated one home and Pop called time down 48-41. The Spurs were able to earn some free throws and chip away at the lead, but Doncic found Porzingis for a pair of dunks and more down low. The big man added a three from the top as San Antonio struggled to contain that dynamic pick and roll, giving Dallas an 11-point lead.
Doug McDermott gave the ball to Thad Young, ran around him, and got a three. Thad cut while DJ was driving, and Murray found him for a solid finish down low.
Doncic hit a tough stepback three, and Murray came back and hit a jumper over Porzingis with just a few ticks left. Of course, Porzingis let a deep shot fly before the buzzer and it fell, giving him a game-high 23 points at halftime and the Mavs a 68-57 lead at the break.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, the third quarter was more of the same as Dallas collapsed the defense and basically took all they could eat in the paint and from three.
Dallas was able to build a 27-point lead off of sloppiness on both ends by San Antonio, who turned it over six times in the third. Dallas, meanwhile, coughed it up just three times in three quarters.
San Antonio's third-quarter struggles persisted in the final dozen minutes as the Silver & Black weren't able to reign in Dallas's hot hands.
The Spurs eventually lost, 123-109, falling to 4-8 on the young season.
The San Antonio Spurs are hoping the third time's the charm against Dallas, and they'll be taking the teal, pink and orange floor in their new Fiesta jerseys for the first time.
The Spurs lost the first matchup by five and the second by just one point. To flip the script, they will need to execute on their identity just a little bit better by playing disruptive defense, pushing in transition, and sharing the ball.
"It's an active group, we're not a high scoring team, we can't play isolation, go to this guy, go to that guy, we're not built that way, but they play together really well," Gregg Popovich said before the game. "Fourth quarters need some work with a young group figuring out where the ball should be and making some decisions. They're getting better at that, but the turnovers, the fast break points, they're real active and enjoying themselves, so that's a lot of fun."
Those two losses against Dallas are part of a frustrating 4-7 start for the Silver & Black, but Pop has clearly embraced growth as a main goal for his young team, and he's smiling through the growing pains.
"It's been a joy to be with these guys because of their attitude, because of their day to day, not just work ethic, but the passion they're showing to be active on the court," Pop said. "Whether it's trying to disrupt things on defense or push the ball and throw it ahead, not hold the ball on offense, as a coach, it's fun to watch that. It's kind of like watching four, five, six different guys with the light bulb going. All of a sudden they figure something out and realize, 'hey that does help you, maybe you'd want to do that.' So we're seeing that going on. A couple of games we've had, we just as easily could have won, made a shot at the end, or not turned it over, or made a different decision, which hopefully will change as time goes on. There's a lot of satisfaction in watching this group."
San Antonio is coming off a dominant 136-117 win over the Sacramento Kings as seven guys scored 15+ points. Thad Young was one of them, and he stood out as a passer as well with 8 assists.
Dejounte Murray is the key for San Antonio in all games, averaging over 18 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game while hitting almost 37% from deep. He's stepped up in the two prior games against Dallas and Doncic, one of the league's only other nightly triple double threats.
The Spurs will get their first look at Kristaps Porzingis this year, a 7'3" shooter who is always a matchup problem, but may especially be that against a Spurs team missing both Jakob Poeltl and Jock Landale. Ditto for Boban Marjanovic, the former Spur who imposed himself on the last game between these teams with 17 points on 8-10 shooting.