The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers by a final score of 116-110 to improve to 22-16 on the season. This was San Antonio’s third straight win and they’re now guaranteed a winning record on this five-game Eastern Conference road trip. It’s also the first time all season the Spurs are six games over .500.
The good guys never trailed tonight. The Spurs grabbed an early lead, grew their advantage to as chubby as 22 points and held on in the fourth quarter. San Antonio can’t be happy with how they played in the fourth, as Cleveland poured in 44 points and the Spurs simply couldn’t put the Cavs away. But, all in all, this was an important win and this road trip can already be considered a success.
The Cavs got within ten points with 8:41 remaining in the game. Dejounte Murray responded with back-to-back buckets to push San Antonio’s lead back to 14 points. Even though they seemed to try at times, the Spurs were unable to squander that big of a lead.
The statistic that jumps off of the statsheet is Keldon Johnson’s 21 rebounds. In his first 27 games of the season, Johnson averaged a stout 7.0 rebounds per game. In his seven games since returning from his COVID-19 hiatus, he was only averaging 3.1 rebounds per game. He was noticeably more energetic and powerful tonight — and his rebounding total supports those observations.
Spurs at Cavaliers: Final Grades
As stated above, Johnson stole the show with 21 rebounds tonight. Since returning from COVID-19, he had been (understandably, of course) more subdued and less beastly. However, that seemed to change in the third quarter of the Chicago Bulls game after he was benched to start the half. His increased intensity and tenacity carried over to tonight’s game and Johnson was a monster from the opening tip. He had countless strong drives to the hoop and the Cavs were powerless to keep Big Body off of the offensive boards. Johnson also had a couple slick passes and a few highlight reel-worthy defensive plays. While he had mistakes here and there, overall it was a fantastic effort from Johnson and hopefully a sign of what’s to come.
The good: Murray was efficient scoring the ball. He was hot early on and then hit a few notable shots in the fourth. His decision-making was more good than bad and his defensive play was also more good than bad. His pushing of the pace was consistently a positive. The bad: Murray wasn’t doing much playmaking. He had intermittent bouts of sloppiness. When the Cavs applied a fullcourt press at the end of the game, Murray didn’t handle it nearly as well as a point guard should. That alone needlessly extended the game an extra two or three minutes.
Welcome back, DeMar DeRozan. After missing four games due to his father’s funeral, DeRozan picked up where he left off. He played a smart brand of basketball in which he reliably produced either a quality look for himself or an open shot for a teammate. While he exhibited some rust in terms of decision-making on the move, DeRozan was definitely a force for good on offense. Defense was more of a struggle and he wasn’t doing much to help out on the boards. Then again, some of his lack of pep on that end could also be attributed to rust.
In the first half, White seemed to be building off of his impressive fourth quarter against the Bulls. He had ten points on 4-for-8 shooting and played with the necessary amount of aggression. Unfortunately, White’s play after halftime fell off. He struggled to make plays for himself or others. His defense was also a step slow. The Spurs will be a lot better team if White can start putting full games together.
Poeltl battled through early and persistent foul trouble to post a solid night at the office. His rebounding was really good and his picks were mean. Defensively, outside of the fouls, he was good in the first three quarters. Offensively, there were a few times where he could have finished with more authority but the positive news is that his activity level was high enough to remain a threat at all times.
Eh, Mills had bursts of competency but, net-net, it was a downer of a night for the Australian. His defense was lackadaisical at times and his offensive play was unnecessarily rushed on multiple occasions. Mills wasn’t terrible, mind you, but he could have done more against a team with such an inexperienced bench unit.
Not bad. Gay didn’t always take smart shots but he hit enough of them to finish with an aesthetically-pleasing line. That said, more sharing of the ball would have been helpful for his teammates. Defensively, he was a little bit better than usual. He utilized his length well on the inside and made a couple surprisingly quick plays out on the perimeter.
Eubanks’ processing speed was slow against the Cavaliers. While he had a couple of good passes, he missed open teammates three or four times. His rotations were rarely punctual and his timing on rebounding and blocking shots was wonky. To his credit, Eubanks kept playing hard even when his miscues mounted.
Not a whole lot of good to report from Vassell. He had a nice steal in transition — and that was about the extent of it. His defense was okay-ish but he was too hesitant on offense and was caught unprepared to shoot a couple of times.
When Murray got sloppy in the first half, Pop yanked him and Jones received a couple minutes of action. He didn’t dent the box score but knew what to do even though that playing time was unexpected. That should count as something, right?
I didn’t have an issue with the rotation. With Lonnie Walker IV sidelined (Pop said he was banged up), going with a nine-man rotation was the right call. Obviously, since the Spurs play again tomorrow, it would have been advantageous to not play the starters so much. That looked to be the plan … but the starters didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
The Spurs end their five-game road trip with a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. Since this will be San Antonio’s fifth game in seven days, I expect Pop to play the bench a lot more than usual. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he sits a couple starters completely. Given the circumstances, a victory over a Bucks team that has won ten of their last 11 games would be a minor miracle.