Once again, the San Antonio Spurs were able to hang with the Los Angeles Lakers but, unfortunately, the end result was another loss. Los Angeles won their second straight game in San Antonio, this time by a final score of 109-103. After beginning the season with a pair of wins, the Spurs are now 2-3.
A three-point play by Rudy Gay with two and a half minutes remaining gave the Spurs a lead of three points, 103-100. But, not surprisingly, the Lakers championship mettle kicked in down the stretch and L.A. outscored S.A. 9-0 the rest of the way.
The Spurs held the Lakers to only 40.6% shooting from the floor but the yellow team used their superior size to gobble up 16 offensive rebounds, including many key second-chance opportunities in vital moments of the affair.
DeRozan was solid across the board. Offensively, he was patient, took good shots, set up his teammates well and rarely forced the issue. He led the team with seven assists and also drained three more three-pointers. It goes without saying that if DeRozan is serious about shooting threes this season, that’s great news for the good guys. Even on defense, I thought DeRozan was pretty good. He was hustling and when mistakes were made, it was rarely his fault.
What more could the Spurs have wanted out of Johnson? On defense, when he wasn’t guarding LeBron James, he was defending Anthony Davis. Given his youth and inexperience, I thought Johnson did very well on defense. He wasn’t always in perfect position but his effort and competitiveness allowed him to remain a positive force on D. Offensively, Johnson poured in a career-high 26 points. Importantly, he produced even though the Lakers had heavily scouted him. Their plan was to play him for the drive and then try to draw charges. Johnson responded by launching threes over the sagging defense — and he hit 5-of-9 from deep. He was also under control on his drives, which allowed him to make plays even if he couldn’t get all the way to the rim. All in all, this was a definite step forward in Johnson’s development. If he can hit threes reliably and drive with precision, the 21-year-old’s ceiling elevates even higher.
Murray wasn’t able to follow up his strong showing on Wednesday with another positive outing. Instead, his play in this game was herky-jerky. The good: He looks a whole lot better driving to the cup than at any point in his career; he’s stronger and his finishing appears to be vastly improved. Though he was 5-for-13 from the field, I didn’t have an issue with his shot-selection. In fact, he was taking the same type of shots as last time out. Defensively, I thought this was one of his better games and he was strong on the boards. The bad: His playmaking was missing in action and he wasn’t doing a good job of pushing the pace. He wasn’t as wild as usual but he probably dialed it too far back. The caveat: With the return of Derrick White, Murray’s role changed since last game so it’s not completely fair to judge the two outings against each other. He wasn’t asked to do as much playmaking as he was on Wednesday.
Lonnie Walker IV
The good: Walker usually isn’t a player who will dribble through a crowd to get to the rim, however he did that multiple times tonight. His finishing at the rim was better and he was able to make plays when tasked with being a facilitator. The bad: Walker’s rotations weren’t good — when he wasn’t too slow, he was completely lost. His individual D was better but he wasn’t fighting around screens and the Lakers picked up on that. On offense, Walker maddeningly passed up open shots — from wide open three-pointers to point blank layups. He has to take open shots — that’s his number one job as a basketball player.
Ouch. Poeltl started again but this was not an evening to remember. I don’t know if he was trying to avoid foul trouble or if his 0-for-4 shooting at the line destroyed his confidence but he played like a zombie out there. He was super soft at the point of contact, worse than usual on the defensive boards and uncharacteristically slow to rotate to defend the rim. On offense, he actively avoided rolling to open spaces and ended up hanging his teammates out to dry a number of times because — well, I don’t know why. Poeltl was just extremely timid this game for whatever reason.
This was another strong early-season game from Mills. The Lakers tried to attack him on defense but didn’t have a huge amount of success in doing so. On offense, his shooting, ball movement and speed were creating opportunities for himself and others. Mills is really playing good basketball right now.
The Gay conundrum continues. On one hand, his chucking is helping give life to the bench unit. On the other hand, his chucking is stopping the team from enjoying sustained rhythm. On one hand, 6-for-16 shouldn’t be celebrated. On the other hand, if a couple of his three-pointers didn’t rim out he would have been viewed as a hero. Beyond his chucking, I was actually impressed with Gay’s work on defense. His intelligence on that end doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. His body isn’t always able to moving quickly enough for him to be a good defender but he almost always knows where he needs to be and what he needs to do.
In White’s return to the court following offseason toe surgery, I thought he looked pretty good — all things considered. Defensively, he didn’t waste any time getting back to blocking shots, drawing charges and generally just wreaking havoc. His individual defense was also really good. On offense, he was rusty but White’s decision-making was already helpful. He was also shooting three-pointers when given a chance, which was an important part of his Bubble success. Let’s hope he’s able to ramp up his minutes soon.
With Poeltl in zombie mode, Eubanks got extended playing time. He didn’t exactly blow the doors off, either. Offensively, Eubanks has seemingly forgotten that his main attribute is athleticism. He’s trying to finish with touch instead of explosive athleticism and that’s not working out for him. Defensively, he started off really bad but, to his credit, got better as the game went along. Eventually, he was handling switches okay enough and was doing admirable work defending the rim and crashing the glass.
Playing Johnson and DeRozan extended minutes was the right call. Pop worked White back into the rotation seamlessly (but I’m hoping Pop finds room for Devin Vassell at some point). Though it’s tough to blame Pop too much for it, he really didn’t get much out of the center position. Poeltl and Eubanks combining for zero points in 43 minutes wasn’t exactly helpful. In retrospect, should Pop have used Gay more at center like he did late in the game? You can make that argument. Then again, you can also make the argument that Gay at center makes the Spurs too small, especially when these supersized Lakers are already dominating on the boards.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier. Their next three games are against the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers and then these same Lakers once again. After three straight tough losses, a win on Sunday against the Jazz would be big in order to avoid an extended losing streak and to reclaim some of the confidence this team had in the first two ballgames of the season.