Dissecting the Spurs’ Overtime Victory Over the Mavericks

The San Antonio Spurs improved their season record to 4-2 on Monday with yet another close victory. This time, San Antonio outlasted the visiting Dallas Mavericks 113-108 in overtime on the strength of 34 points, six rebounds and nine assists from DeMar DeRozan.

How did it happen? Let’s discuss three observations, two questions and one prediction I have in response to this contest.

3 Observations

DeMar DeRozan stays clutch

The Spurs might be winless right now if DeRozan were replaced by a league-average wing. That’s not an exaggeration.

San Antonio’s four wins have all come by five points or fewer. DeRozan’s numbers in those games (31 points, 7.5 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game on a 57.4 true shooting percentage) have been fantastic. He’s been deadly in crunch time, especially on Monday.

DeRozan had 12 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and no turnovers in 10 clutch minutes versus the Mavs.

Most analysts didn’t like the Kawhi Leonard trade for the Spurs, mainly because DeRozan is a clear downgrade from Leonard. That’s still true. However, DeRozan’s fit as a primary scorer and ball-handler in San Antonio has been seamless.

Don’t be surprised if DeRozan gets some down-ballot MVP votes this year if the Spurs sneak into the playoffs.

Luka Doncic is a bad matchup for the Spurs

Doncic sparkled on Monday. His 31 points, eight rebounds and four assists more than overshadowed the rookie’s persistent turnover problems (six against the Spurs).

His performance also shined an even brighter light on San Antonio’s huge perimeter defense concerns. The Spurs have absolutely no one on the roster who can capably guard big, skilled wings.

They have to use a combination of smaller players (Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills) and guys with below-average lateral quickness for the wing position (DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Dante Cunningham and Marco Belinelli). Save Cunningham, all of those players have a negative DPIPM this season.

Doncic used screens to get to his preferred spots with ease on Monday. He frequently got his primary defender out of the play and had a variety of options with the Spurs’ big men sagging back on defense.

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Defending guys of Doncic’s size and skill level is going to be a problem for the Spurs all year long.

The Mavs missed a lot of open threes

Don’t be fooled by the Mavs shooting just 10-of-34 from long distance on Monday. The Spurs allowed Dallas a ton of open looks from three-point range.

Of the 34 shots from behind the arc, 22 of those were marked wide open and 10 were open. San Antonio was only within four feet of Mavs shooters on two of their 34 attempts from deep. So yes, the Spurs repeatedly dodged bullets on Monday night.

This issue for the Spurs also relates to their inability to contain Doncic. The team’s perimeter defenders navigate screens poorly, so the guys defending the roller often drop in coverage. This means the three-point line areas remain relatively unclogged. The Spurs moved really well on defense in this game until the late second quarter. From then, Dallas seemed to get open shots at will.

San Antonio’s three-point defense won’t be this lucky in most games.

2 Questions

Do the Spurs regret acquiring Jakob Poeltl?

It’s way too soon to make any firm declarations on Poeltl. The 23-year-old center has hardly played this season, with a total of 34 minutes in six games. He’s been a DNP-CD in San Antonio’s last two contests.

At the moment, he seems redundant on this Spurs roster given where the NBA is headed. Pace of play has skyrocketed, as have three-point attempts. Poeltl is a non-shooting big with pedestrian length and athleticism who is best in the half court. He struggles to play alongside LaMarcus Aldridge or Pau Gasol because most opposing lineups are too fast and perimeter-oriented. Dante Cunningham has looked like a better fit next to both Aldridge and Gasol.

The Spurs may have been better off landing Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby from the Raptors in the Leonard trade instead of Poeltl by throwing in a future draft pick or tweaking the trade in some another way.

The reality is that Poeltl is a Spur. The Austrian big man still has potential, but it will be a challenge for Gregg Popovich to maximize Poeltl’s abilities with Aldridge and Gasol still on the roster.

Can the Spurs prioritize the transition game a bit more?

The easiest way to score in the NBA is by attacking before the opposing defense sets up. With Dejounte Murray sidelined, San Antonio is utterly toothless on the break. The Mavericks, as a team, aren’t known for their athleticism, but San Antonio still lost the fast-break point battle 10-7.

In fact, the Spurs rank second-last in the NBA in fast-break points (6.7) per game. Their opponents score 18.2 such points, which is the third-worst mark in the league.

It’s unrealistic to expect San Antonio to become a big-time transition offense overnight with its personnel. The Spurs also want to play to their strengths by not letting the tempo of the game get too fast.

However, there are some occasions where the Spurs are missing out on layups or wide-open threes in favor of settling into their half-court offense. Let’s see whether the team can find the right balance between attacking and staying patient.

1 Prediction

The Spurs’ record will easily outperform their net rating this season

Right now, this is very true. The Spurs are tied for the sixth-best record in the NBA, but they have the 18th-best net rating. They’re winning the close games and losing the blowouts.

San Antonio should continue to fare well in crunch time. At the end of games, teams are fatigued and slow down the ball movement and overall pace of the game. Individual scorers step up. The Spurs gladly will accept the slower tempo and give the ball to some combination of DeRozan, Aldridge and Gay. The Spurs are also a veteran team and Popovich is trustworthy on the sidelines in close games.

On the other hand, the Spurs don’t utilize the three ball much, their perimeter defense is horrendous and they have trouble playing in fast-paced games. The Spurs’ opponents are more likely than they are to string together big runs and pull away quickly. San Antonio will likely continue to lose more blowouts than it wins.

Note: Statistics are courtesy of NBA.com. Video clips used are from the FreeDawkins YouTube account. Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images

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