In a wacky affair in which the San Antonio Spurs struggled mightily to deal with prosperity, the Spurs blew multiple leads before hanging on by the skin of their teeth. When the dust settled, San Antonio had a much-needed 116-113 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
In the first half, the Spurs led by as many as 24 points but the fun didn’t last long. The Clippers slowly but surely cut into the deficit and tied the game in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. The good guys rebuilt their lead, this time they went up 15 points with 5:15 remaining. But, again, the Clippers came all the way back.
In the final 17 seconds, L.A. had two shots that could have given them the lead and another by Kawhi Leonard that could have tied the game with less than three seconds remaining. Thankfully, all three shots clanged off the rim and the Spurs were able to end their four-game losing streak and improve to 3-4 on the season.
After the Clippers tied it in the fourth to complete their epic comeback, the Spurs didn’t feel sorry for themselves. Instead, a three-pointer by Devin Vassell, a three-pointer by Rudy Gay and traditional three-point play by Vassell in a span of 53 seconds sparked a 12-0 run that gave the Spurs the breathing room they needed to eventually hold on for dear life.
Opponents raining three-pointers has been the cause of a couple losses this season for the Spurs. Tonight, it was the Spurs who enjoyed their time behind the three-point line. They finished the game 20-for-40 on threes, which allowed them to survive hitting only 24-of-56 two-pointers.
While there were a handful of unsightly moments for the youthful guard, Murray did a whole lot more good than he did bad. After an atrocious shooting night last time out, Murray’s intensity was palpable and his hard-charging ways on both ends paid dividends. He was alert defensively, pressured the ball well and offered timely help. Offensively, he wasn’t lacking any confidence. His halfcourt execution wasn’t always there but he was very effective in transition.
The good: The Spurs were at a size disadvantage but they were able to survive on the glass in large part due to Johnson’s efforts. Defensively, he used his strength to force his man into difficult shots. On offense, he never shied away from the paint and had a few sneaky-good passes. The bad: Johnson had trouble finishing among the trees. He also appeared to second-guess a few of his looks from the perimeter. On the other end, his help-defense wasn’t always timely.
Lonnie Walker IV
His numbers aren’t too notable but I thought Walker did better than what the stats may indicate. On offense, he was aggressive and didn’t pass up shots. He also got out and ran, which was an important part of San Antonio’s attack. Defensively, his main task was slowing Leonard. While he only had occasional success in doing so, the effort was there and he positioned himself well.
DeRozan never got going. Scoring was a struggle throughout. As the game progressed, his decision-making got worse and worse. DeRozan authored a few good passes but that was about the extent of his bright spots. Defensively, he wasn’t good — although he did defend Leonard’s last-gasp three well.
Aldridge was back after missing three games due to soreness in his left knee — and he did okay. Importantly, he continued to fire away from deep, which created spacing for his teammates. Defensively, while he wasn’t moving his feet especially well, his hands were quick and was able to corral a few loose balls. All in all, Aldridge played fine given the circumstances.
Tonight’s hero was undoubtedly Mills. He was 8-for-12 from three-point land, and that only begins to tell the story. It seemed like each of his eight long balls were timely ones. While Mills had a rough patch in the fourth, he bounced back with a pair of monstrous threes that kept the momentum on San Antonio’s side. Coming into the season, Mills said he was going to unleash FIBA Patty on the NBA — and he apparently wasn’t messing around. This is the best start to a season in his career.
Odd game for Gay. At first, he was actually passing up too many shots. Considering he came into the game firing away whenever he had a chance, it was shocking to see him turn down open looks. As the game went along, Gay got more greedy — and that wasn’t a bad thing. His touch wasn’t pristine but he got some lucky bounces and was able to produce 16 important points. On D, he wasn’t great but he had a few positive possessions.
As a starter, Poeltl appeared overmatched. Back in a bench role due to the return of Aldridge, the Austrian looked right at home. His screening, awareness and passing helped spur the bench unit to success. He also rebounded well and was much better at guarding the perimeter than we’ve witnessed in his last few outings.
Was this a breakout game for the rookie? It just may have been. Vassell, who was back in the rotation after Derrick White re-injured his toe, did a lot of good on this night. On offense, he didn’t hesitate to take open shots and drilled 3-of-4 three-pointers. He also got out and ran, which helped produce easy baskets. On D, Vassell could be counted on to be in the right spots, which couldn’t be said about many of his teammates. He had a few miscues here and there but this was without question the rookie’s best showing of the regular season.
Good stuff from Pop this evening. Limiting DeRozan’s minutes was quietly one of the biggest keys to the win. Not leaning too much on Aldridge was also important, as was giving extra minutes to Mills and Vassell. I also liked the confidence he exhibited in Murray, even when times got bumpy for him. Additionally, throwing multiple defenders at Leonard seemed to tire him out and kept him from getting too comfortable.
Good win. The Spurs needed a victory of any size or of any shape — and they got one. Next up, San Antonio stays in Los Angeles to take on the Lakers on Thursday. Facing the defending champions for the third time in five games early in the season isn’t something these young Spurs would have wished for — but hopefully they can make the best of it.