After an unsightly loss on Monday, the San Antonio Spurs bounced back by defeating the Sacramento Kings in the rematch, 120-106. At 24-21, the Spurs remain in the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Kings, who are the 11th seed with a record of 22-26, saw their five-game winning streak come to an end.
Considering that Sacramento scored 132 points on Monday, San Antonio’s defense was obviously much improved. They defended pick-and-rolls much, much better and their closeouts on shooters were more timely. On the other end, the Spurs scored 69 points in the first half and, even though they were 1-for-8 on three-pointers in the second half, the good guys did good enough in the third and fourth quarters to cruise to victory.
With four minutes remaining in the first half, the Spurs were up 7 points, 58-51. Over the next two and a half minutes, San Antonio went on a 9-0 to push their lead to 16 points. The Kings never seriously threatened again.
Improvements over Monday’s performance are plain to see in the boxscore. After the Kings hit 18-for-36 from three-point range on Monday night, they were 11-for-35 this evening. Rookie Tyrese Haliburton tortured the Spurs with ten assists last game. This game, he had only two assists.
Spurs vs. Kings: Final Grades
After shooting just 42.4% in his last four games, DeRozan got back on track tonight. He utilized powerful, determined moves to score in the lane and didn’t hesitate to launch his outside jumper. Passing-wise, he was excellent in the first quarter. In fact, all seven of his assists were in the first quarter. The Kings adjusted by sending less help his way so DeRozan looked to score more often after that, which was the right decision. Defensively, I was pretty impressed; good rotations, strong help, fought on the boards.
The bad: Murray’s touch wasn’t sublime and he was more sloppy with the ball than usual. The good: The rest of Murray’s game was stout. He was strong on defense — on and off the ball. He was very good rebounding-wise and pushed the pace well. I liked that he didn’t hesitate to shoot threes to help space the offense. His play in transition was really good, both when he looked to pass and when he finished off fast breaks himself.
The good: White didn’t hesitate to shoot early and often. He took care of the ball and passed it decently well. His defense and rebounding were both strengths. His activity level was high in all facets. The bad: White’s accuracy was obviously suboptimal. He counterbalanced some of that by getting to the line — but then didn’t shoot well from there, either.
Poeltl was mostly a plus across the board. His rebounding was outstanding, as his physicality and length were imposing. His offense was also sharp, as he repeatedly found paths to the rim. Defensively, his guarding of pick-and-rolls was exponentially better than it was on Monday night. All that said, he was taken off the court when the Kings went to Hack-a-Jak and Poeltl proceeded to airball two free throws in a row. He can’t be that bad or else he’s not going to be playable in fourth quarters.
Better energy than usual from Johnson tonight. He also played a smarter brand of basketball. His shooting of three-pointers was helpful and he even had a pretty midair dish. His attacking of the rim was, as we’ve come to expect, relentless and brawny. Defensively, there were a handful of ugly possessions where Johnson either missed a rotation or got blown by off the dribble.
Mills was quietly really, really good for the Spurs. His passing and court vision were both much better than usual. His defense was lively and his hustle was nonstop. On offense, I thought he picked his spots better than he typically does and avoided any costly miscues. When Mills was on the court, he provided the injection of enthusiasm that the Spurs needed.
In the first half, Gay was great. He was 5-for-6 from the floor, including 3-for-3 on three-pointers. He was also more active on defense and on the boards than he usually is these days. In the second half, well, the picture wasn’t as pleasing. Gay missed all five of his shots and his defense also decreased in value.
Vassell wasn’t hugely impactful during his 16 minutes but he had his moments. As is usually the case, his impact was felt most on the defensive end. From one-on-one defense to timely rotations to expertly playing the passing lanes, he was an asset on that side of the hardwood. Offensively, he had a slick jumper but otherwise was quiet. As has been the case as of late, his aggressiveness level could be turned up on that end a notch or three.
Welcome, Gorgui Dieng, to the San Antonio Spu… aaaand he’s hurt. Just 91 seconds into his Spurs career, Dieng injured his shoulder when he got fouled in the lane while attempting a shot. He stayed in the game a while longer but it was definitely bothering him. He eventually went to the locker room and was diagnosed with a sprained shoulder. No word how long Dieng will be out but the Spurs will probably be cautious with their new backup center.
The old backup center played pretty well when he got his job back following Dieng’s injury. Eubanks was throwing his body around without a care in the world. His bruising ways resulted in five fouls in his first seven minutes of playing time. That sounds bad but I thought Eubanks still was able to have a positive impact on the game. He was burly in the paint, finished with vigor and was gobbling up rebounds. It wasn’t the prettiest of outings but he helped the Spurs put the Kings away in the second half.
A lot of good stuff from Pop tonight. The adjustments all worked really well. On offense, the Spurs prioritized attacking the Kings weaker defenders — and that was effective. On defense, the Spurs were switching faster and more aggressively, which took away a lot of what Sacramento did in the first game. Rotations-wise, I didn’t have an issue with Pop’s decisions.
The Spurs have a back-to-back Thursday against the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks had won eight straight but have now lost four of their last five games. Let’s hope the Spurs can back up this strong performance with another one.