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Spurs hang tough but drop game late to the Clippers

Despite a career-high effort from Vassell in 25 minutes of action, the Clippers outlast the Spurs in the fourth quarter.

By: Lucas Oliva I Nov. 5, 2022, 10:51 am EST

First bucket back from injury for Vassell. (Photo by Reginal Thomas/SAS)

Devin Vassell made a much needed return for the Spurs last night against the Clippers. The Spurs - who lacked much needed scoring versatility in Wednesday's 43 point loss to the Raptors - struggled to begin the first quarter, going down as much as 17 in that span. A big part of the early struggles can be attributed to weak transition defense (which was seen against the Raptors as well) and a willingness to settle for poor shot attempts. With 4 minutes remaining in the first and a Pop timeout, Vassell came in firing, scoring 7 points in that span with some offensive help from Zach Collins who scored on a drive to the rim. The Spurs found themselves down 10 at the end of the first.

Vassell was subbed out to begin the second, but McDermott soundly replaced his offensive effort, scoring the first 7 points for the Spurs, opening up a 10-4 run in favor of the Spurs. Finding themselves only up 4, the Clippers kicked it into high gear, retaliating with a 7-0 run putting the Spurs back down 11. A platoon swap putting in the duo of Johnson and Vassell lit the floor up, with Keldon and Devin combining for 16 points on 86% shooting in the last 7 minutes of action in the quarter. Timely buckets for Bates-Diop, Collins and Poeltl had the Spurs finding themselves up 4 at halftime.

Pop inserted the starting lineup of Jones, Branham, Johnson, Sochan and Poeltl to kick off the third quarter, and with a quick 5 points from Tre Jones, the Clippers needed a timeout. The scoring effort continued with contributions from Sochan, Poeltl and Johnson, with the lead accumulating to 8 with 6 minutes left on the clock. Vassell makes his third quarter debut, subbing in for Branham and immediately gets to work, hitting a sweet floater with defenders crowding him. The Clippers didn’t back down however, as Wall and George were relentless in their attacks on the defense. McDermott, Sochan and Vassell held the offensive load down and were able to keep the quarter scoring dead even, maintaining their 4 point lead going into the final 12 minutes of action.

Despite an early scoring hit from Vassell and Jones, John Wall was unstoppable driving to the rim. At the nine minute mark, our main offensive producer in Vassell was benched for the night, as his minutes restriction reached its limit for the day. This left Keldon to take up the offensive load, but despite some storng plays, he struggled to get anything going. With both of the key offensive initiators either sitting or struggling, the Spurs ultimately couldn't buy a bucket for large periods of the fourth quarter. On the flip side, Paul George and company were in first quarter form, playing well in transition and hitting open shots. The Spurs would ultimately fall to the Clippers 106-113.

Key Notes:

- Devin Vassell came back from a knee injury that had sidelined him for three games and looked like he hadn't missed a step. Vassell continued to show off his scoring versatility at all three levels, knocking down threes, tough mid range shots, and even some hard drives to the rim while shooting a hyper-efficient 75% from the field. All this was good enough to net him a career-high 29 points. While fans clammored for him to be subbed back in at the end of the game, Vassell reached his minutes restriction early into the fourth quarter, likely because his hot shooting kept him in the game longer than expected. If Vassell can continue to show off his elite shot-making skillset, the Spurs are in for an amazing player.

- Keldon had an uncharacteristically tough game tonight, as he had a hard time knocking down jumpshots, but also couldn't get much to go at the rim. This resulting in an underwhelming 37% performance from the field. However, there's no reason to be alarmed as this happens with young players and seasoned players alike. This has been Keldon's only bad game of the year so far, and we'll likely see him bounce back tonight against the Nuggets.

- While Poeltl did his thing, he was outplayed by Ivica Zubac. It's become a bit of trend that Jakob struggles against the truly physical and strong big men in the league. That doesn't take away from his defensive impact on other players that get into the paint, but Zubac just looked much better out there. This lead to Jakob having the worst +/- on the team at a staggering -21 while on the floor. As said with Keldon, hopefully this kind of thing smooths over, but with Jakob Poeltl being a true target for competitors to trade for, this isn't the performance most are looking for.

- Tre Jones played well. The biggest jump for Tre has been the obvious willingness to shoot threes this season. Last year he would hesitate and shot a horrendous 19%, while this year he looks willing and confidant in his shot. It looks like this was the biggest thing holding him back, as through the first nine games of the year, Tre is shooting a scorching 43% from behind the arc. While this comes on relatively low volume, it's still a great look for him to take such a big jump in his development!

- The rookies both did their part last night. Branham got his first career start and didn't look bad despite only shooting 1/3 from the field. He didn't look lost or unaware on either side of the court, which is very encouraging for a rookie who hasn't seen a ton of playing time yet. He's shown off his awareness on offense hitting a stop and pop floater over Wall on a fastbreak and tends to create strong seperation from his defender. Sochan on the other hand continues to show prowess on the offensive glass, getting a putback dunk even with the ball being in George's hand. Sochan also showed off a bit more of his high-post shots, knocking down two down the stretch. Tough night shooting from deep for him though, going 0-4 from outside. This will likely be a trend with Sochan, with nights where he knocks some down and other nights where he can't hit any that he gets. Once Sochan develops his three ball though? Big things are coming for him!

- Finally, the bench was a mixed bag of good and underwhelming performances. McDermott and Collins both played strong games, shooting a combined 8/13 from the field providing the offensive lift needed from the bench early. Aside from that, Richardson struggled to get anything drop for him, only getting points from the charity stripe. Bates-Diop was solid, nothing particularly special but nothing awful either. His hustle and finishing does impress however, and that he wants that backup spot over Roby.

The Spurs look to snap their two-game losing streak tonight against the Denver Nuggets who are coming off a needed win against the Thunder. Vassell will likely be on a minutes restriction once more.

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