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'Couldn't be more proud' | Popovich, players look on bright side after Spurs lose two close games to contenders

The Spurs fell to the Bucks 121-111 after a tough game in Denver the night before, but there are plenty of positives for San Antonio to build on.

SAN ANTONIO — For the second time in as many nights, the Spurs fought an MVP-led contender into the final minutes but came up short on the scoreboard, falling to the Bucks 121-111.

RELATED: Spurs fight but fall to Bucks 121-111 | Game Recap

Despite the loss, head coach Gregg Popovich said several times that he couldn't be prouder of the way his team played against the defending champs.

"Nobody likes to lose, that includes me, but I couldn't be more proud of this team," Popovich said after the loss. "I think it's a tough start to this season, this particular back to back, not just because of the teams, but because of the travel involved. It's early in the season, so it's not an excuse, but it makes it a little more difficult for a young group, and I couldn't be more proud of the way they played toe to toe with the Bucks, they're the NBA champs, and they're talented, Bud and staff does a great job with them, and they're a tough out. I thought our guys played with great passion, great character."

San Antonio struggled mightily from beyond the arc, as players not named Doug McDermott shot just 3-28 from long range. McDermott, however, hit a career-high seven triples and put together mini runs in the first and fourth quarters that energized the crowd and his teammates. Key to his production, as always, is his frenetic movement without the basketball.

"That's just the way I play, it's the way I've always played," said McDermott, who finished with a team-high 25 points. "People label me as a shooter, but the part I enjoy most about basketball is cutting and just doing random stuff out there, and getting other people open in different ways."

San Antonio hung with the world champs by playing disruptive defense, moving the ball from side to side and making tough shots inside, finishing with 54 points in the paint.

The Spurs forced 22 turnovers and scored 24 points off of them, and had 29 assists on 48 made baskets.

Jakob Poeltl drew the assignment of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Spurs were able to "hold" the otherworldly star to 21 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in the game. He picked up three offensive fouls in the second quarter.

That became a big problem for the Bucks in the third, as Giannis whacked Derrick White on a driving layup and had to go to the bench. With him there the Bucks actually extended their lead to double digits, but San Antonio clawed back with a three each from Bryn Forbes (his first in a rough start to the season) and McDermott.

Heading to the final period, the defending champs' lead was just 85-81. Down the stretch, the Bucks hit their shots and the Spurs did not. Milwaukee finished 43% from deep, and that was a big difference in the final score.

The result was disappointing but expected given the circumstances, and Pop wasn't the only one able to look at it as a moral victory.

"Obviously we wanted to win tonight, but I think these last two games we really learned a lot about ourselves, that we can play with some of these top teams," McDermott said. "We were right there with both of them, just a few plays away from winning both of those games so I think it's just gonna help our confidence moving forward."

McDermott noted the randomness of the Spurs offense, and said that sometimes when you're running set plays it can be more confusing. He said the Spurs bring in a lot of smart basketball players who learn quickly. These Spurs seem to thrive on the chaos they create

"Sometimes just playing basketball, like we did tonight, we showed we can play with the world champs," McDermott said. "I think the more random basketball we can get, the better, and we're going to continue to just keep getting better on those things."

Popovich spoke before the game about how this team doesn't have a go-to scorer, and how he isn't sure who will be the main guy. Six Spurs scored in double figures again, and for the third of three games there was a different leading scorer.

Keldon Johnson put up 20 as he continues to show more nuance to his game, and Lonnie Walker IV led the Spurs into the break and finished the game with 17. Both showed a level of fearlessness attacking Giannis and anyone else in the way. 

Poeltl stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, 8 boards, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Dejounte Murray neared a triple double as well with 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists. Derrick White had 14 points, 8 assists, an absurd 4 steals and a block. 

Almost every time the Bucks extended their lead, the Spurs were able to scrap for an answer. The lack of long-range makes proved fatal. 

"We've got to make shots, we had some good looks, we've just got to make them," said White. "Everybody's got to have confidence to trust in the work that we put in. I think it'll come around."

The Spurs probably won't win when non-Dougs shoot 3-28, but that probably won't happen too much as the season goes on. As Devin Vassell pointed out after the season opening win, you can't really control if the ball goes in the hole or not, but you can control effort. That part was undeniably good for the underdog Spurs in this game and really the first three of the season, and that's a good sign.

"It's a game of mistakes, and we have to continue to try to make fewer mistakes on defense and not have as many dry possessions on offense, but I couldn't be more proud of their effort and camaraderie, 29 assists again, so I'm thrilled," Popovich said in summation. "I'll sleep well tonight."