The San Antonio Spurs almost pulled off a miraculous comeback before succumbing to the Cleveland Cavaliers by a final score of 117-115. The loss dropped the Spurs to 5-30, while the Cavs improved to 21-15.
The good guys played very well in the first quarter. The defense was clicking and the execution on offense was stellar. Unfortunately, the Cavs ended the first quarter by hitting a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds to cut into San Antonio’s double-digit lead.
To begin the second quarter, the Spurs bounced back and continued playing really good basketball. Sadly, the good times didn’t last. In the middle of the second quarter, things went sideways for San Antonio and the Cavs were able to close the gap.
Following a tight third quarter, the Cavs were up 88-84 heading into the final period. It didn’t take long for things to look bleak for San Antonio. Cleveland went up by as many as 16 points and held a 13-point lead with 2:42 remaining.
Instead of waving the white flag, the Spurs made one last heroic push by scoring the game’s next 11 points. Victor Wembanyama scored eight of those points while also coming up with key defensive plays. Alas, the Silver and Black ran out of time before being able to complete the comeback.
Does this classify as another moral victory? Yeah, pretty much. The Spurs played well for extended stretches and exhibited a large amount of chutzpah by nearly stealing a win with their late charge.
Stats: Spurs at Cavaliers
Spurs at Cavaliers – Final Grades
Wembanyama got off to a really slow start in the first half. He had only one two-point attempt and his defense was pedestrian. In fact, his help defense was as slow as it’s been all season. In the second half, Wembanyama kicked things up a couple dozen notches. Offensively, he turned up the intensity. By running the court and being physical in the paint, he created easy buckets and got to the free throw line. Defensively, Wembanyama got better and better and better. By the end of the fourth quarter, he was a beast. Most importantly, his competitiveness and competency in clutch situations shined bright. Wembanyama is indeed a keeper. To produce like he did in only 25 minutes shouldn’t be as routine as he’s made it seem recently.
Vassell was great in the first half. In ten minutes in the opening period, he had 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, including 2-for-2 on threes. Unfortunately, Vassell never rediscovered that magic in the remaining three quarters. He hit a couple big shots in the fourth but his middle two quarters were forgettable. Defensively, I thought he was really good throughout. He was aggressive and his anticipation was a step quicker than usual.
Sochan’s lone turnover was a big one late in the game. He also missed the last second heave that could have won it. But other than those two moments, I was actually pretty impressed with Sochan. Defensively, he was locked in and impacted that side of the court in a positive manner. He was light on his feet and his rotations were relatively timely. Offensively, I mostly liked what I saw. He didn’t try to do too much and stayed out of the way while making helpful connecting-type plays. Sochan also knocked down a pair of three-pointers and used his size well. All in all, this was definitely a step forward.
In Jones’ second start, he did nothing to lose the starting job. In fact, it’s looking like a no-brainer to continue including him in the opening five. Offensively, he picked his spots well when it came to scoring the ball. When the Cavs were focused elsewhere, Jones put 18 points on the board. It was really helpful that he cashed in a pair of long balls. However, it should be noted that Jones had a few uncharacteristically lazy crosscourt passes. Defensively, he held up well. He competed and was especially impactful when the Spurs put on a press. It’s becoming clear that for the Spurs to win games, Jones needs to start and play heavy minutes. No other arrangement looks like it could work nearly as well.
Consistent production remains an issue for Champagnie. Hell, producing anything remains an issue. Even though he’s starting, he has zero field goals made in four of his last six games. In one of the other two, he had one made field goal. In theory, Champagnie is useful to spread the court. In reality, he’s not doing enough to cause defenses to put him on a scouting report. Against the Cavaliers, he rarely moved the needle in a positive direction.
Johnson being uber aggressive off the bench is better than him being passive in a bench role — but he does need to dial things back a little bit. The good: Johnson knocked down half of his six three-point attempts and didn’t turn the ball over. His focus on defense was better than normal and his physicality in all phases of the game was impressive. The bad: Better shot-selection would have been helpful. More playmaking and better passing would have been helpful.
Barlow is slowly but surely figuring out how to play at this level. Defensively, his lack of height for the center position at 6-foot-9 was painful obviously at times but that didn’t stop him from competing. He flashed fast reaction speed in passing lanes and a healthy amount of bravery when protecting the rim. Offensively, his patience is improving and his touch is getting more deft. Barlow is obviously still a work in progress but he looks like a worthwhile project.
Going up against his former team, Osman had some strong moments. He shot threes when open, had a couple of stubbornly strong finishes and authored a couple fantastic passes. Osman kept his miscues to a minimum and his defensive intensity was a plus. All that said, he sometimes tried to do too much and many of those instances backfired in notable fashion.
It looks like Branham may have lost his starting point guard gig. In his return from an ankle injury, he didn’t look good. His shot was even flatter than usual and his second-guessing of himself was constant. Branham did have a couple of heady passes but his running of the team was poor when he was in charge of orchestrating the show. Defensively, there were highs and lows. I liked most of his work when navigating screens but he also fell asleep off the ball too often.
Wesley tried really hard on defense. His ability to disrupt on defense is a trait that not many on this team possess. Offensively, there was a lot of action — some good, some bad. Wesley is still so raw that you have to live with mistakes but his liveliness and his ability to penetrate the defense aided the cause in Cleveland.
The Spurs played well for the most part. Pop’s adjustments on both ends of the court were more profound than usual — and the adjustments paid dividends. I agreed with keeping Jones in the starting lineup. In retrospect, the minutes to Branham would have been better spent elsewhere. Overall, it’s tough to be losing games largely due to Wembanyama’s minutes restriction. Nothing Pop can do can make as big of an impact as the star rookie being able to play ten more minutes.