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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich vowed his team would keep Dallas star Luka Doncic below 50 points in Saturday’s New Year’s Eve clash.
Had Popovich been correct, the Spurs might have closed 2022 with a victory.
Doncic finished with 51 points, the final two coming on a pair of free throws with 4.1 seconds to go that helped the Mavericks hold on for a 126-125 victory at the AT&T Center.
It was the third game in the past five of at least 50 points for Doncic.
Two games earlier, Doncic had poured in 60 points to go with 21 rebounds and 10 assists as part of a historic triple-double against New York.
Dallas won that game by forcing overtime on an intentional missed free throw at the end of regulation from Doncic, who grabbed the rebound and put back the game-tying basket.
The Spurs nearly hit Doncic with a replay Saturday.
Tre Jones went to the foul line in almost the same situation with the Spurs behind by three with 3.1 seconds go.
Jones made the first to pull the Spurs within two points, then missed the second on purpose. He was fouled in the scrum for the rebound, and returned to the free-throw stripe for two shots and a chance to send the game to OT with 2.1 seconds to go.
Jones made the first, but missed the second. The Mavs rebounded and the game was essentially over.
Keldon Johnson scored 30 points to lead the Spurs, who were without second-leading scorer Devin Vassell (left knee soreness).
Rookie forward Jeremy Sochan added 20 points for the Spurs, while Christian Wood chipped in 25 for Dallas.
Here are three takeaways from the Spurs’ year-ending loss to Dallas, which dropped them to 12-24 overall:
The Spurs have largely struggled from the foul line this season, shooting a 73.2 percent that ranks second-to-last in the NBA.
The free-throw line nearly saved them in the fourth quarter Saturday.
The Spurs went 13 of 16 from the charity stripe in the final frame, with key performance from notoriously bad shooters.
Jeremy Sochan and Jakob Poeltl - both of whom came into the night shooting worse than 60 percent - each went 4 of 4 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Jones also made four fourth-quarter free throws, but it was the final one he missed that haunted the Spurs.
The Spurs are at their scoring best when Johnson and Vassell are playing off each other.
When one is out, the other has to pick up more of the load. Give Johnson credit for doing that.
With Vassell sidelined for a second straight game, Johnson turned in his second straight 30-point outing Saturday.
Johnson was 10 of 14 from the field, and had his best 3-point shooting game of the season by going 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.
Though his long range shot has come and gone this season, Johnson’s scoring has largely been present.
He has eight career 30-point games. All of them have come in the calendar year of 2022. Five have come this season.
Johnson also tallied 30 points in Thursday’s win over New York.
Combined with Saturday’s output, it marked the first back-to-back outings of Johnson’s career.
Sochan enjoyed one of the best games of his inaugural NBA season Saturday.
Had it ended with the game-winning steal and layup, it would have only been fitting.
He got close, but no cigar.
With nine seconds to go and the Spurs behind by one, Sochan hustled down a steal from Dallas guard Tim Hardaway Jr near midcourt.
He took off on a one-man fast break, hoping to give the Spurs the lead, but missed a contested running left-hander with 5.1 seconds to play.
That the Spurs still had a chance to force overtime even after that was a minor miracle.
Even so, Sochan was a force Saturday. The night marked the second 20-point game of his career, and he was his usual active self on both ends.
All in all, it was a good end-of-the-year showing for the No. 9 pick in the June draft.