The San Antonio Spurs really, really needed to beat the Sacramento Kings on Friday night in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Thankfully, the good guys did just that. The Spurs started off strong, played well down the stretch and posted a 129-120 victory over the Kings.
Showing no signs of rust, San Antonio went on a 17-0 run in the first quarter and led 43-30 going into the second period. The Kings rallied in the second as the Spurs offense struggled to keep up. Going into halftime, Sacramento held a 65-64 advantage.
The third quarter was a back and forth affair. DeMar DeRozan scored the final five points of the stanza to give the Spurs a 96-92 lead going into the fourth period. With four minutes remaining, the game was tied at 112-112. That’s when Lonnie Walker IV gave the Spurs the lead with a runner and DeRozan followed with two baskets. With the offense back in high gear, San Antonio was able to hold on from there.
This was an impressive victory, given the circumstances. A lot of young guys got minutes and most of the players were playing new roles since the last time the games counted. The schedule only gets more challenging from here but this was a good start.
Final Grades: Spurs vs. Kings
This was an offensive masterpiece from DeMar DeRozan. To begin the game, DeRozan was picking his spots very well and setting up his teammates constantly. The offense was humming in the first quarter largely due to his decision-making. In his first 27 minutes of action, DeRozan totaled ten assists and five points. When it was money time, DeRozan started looking at the basket. In his final 11 minutes, he had 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the floor. The Spurs couldn’t expect much more out of DeRozan on offense than what they got. Defensively, he was much less impressive. He was caught flat-footed a lot and didn’t provide much help. The good news is he played with enough toughness on that end that the Spurs got away with playing DeRozan at power forward for most of the game.
First of all, Derrick White finally looks like he’s completely healthy after struggling with foot injuries earlier in the season. But not only is he healthy, he’s confident and now fully realizes that he has a green light on offense to do whatever he wants. He came out of the gates firing away (he hit two threes in the opening minutes) and never looked back. When White wasn’t launching three-pointers, he was authoring hardheaded forays to the rim. I liked his passing and his footwork in the halfcourt sets. While he made a number of errors, almost all of them were errors of aggression — which, for White especially, is forgivable. Defensively, he was also really solid. He drew five (5!) charges, challenged shots in the paint and got a hand up on the perimeter. The Spurs didn’t have many players willing to defend tonight but White was up for the job.
Scoring-wise, Dejounte Murray looked fine. His three-point stroke was as smooth as we’ve seen it and his midrange jumper is dependable. Playmaking-wise, Murray was mostly a disappointment. He had a few good passes here and there but his running of the offense left a lot to be desired. On defense, he appeared to be trying but his effectiveness was highly suspect. De’Aaron Fox scored a career-high 39 points and although not all the points were on Murray, Murray never came close to slowing him down. Add in five fouls in 21 minutes and it was mostly a frustrating night for San Antonio’s starting point guard.
Lonnie Walker IV
This was a good, solid effort from Lonnie Walker IV. He stayed within the framework of the offense and still efficiently poured in 16 points in 32 minutes. There were moments when he could have been more selfish or driven with more vigor but, all in all, Walker did well. Specifically, he jump started the Spurs after halftime and then nailed a momentous three-pointer in the fourth quarter. Defensively, there was more good than there was bad. He did well fighting around screens and his attentiveness remained high throughout.
The good: Jakob Poeltl was really active on defense. He protected the hoop well and kept his hands in the passing lanes. His offensive rebounding was key and he had a few slick passes. The bad: Given how small the Kings played, it would have been helpful if Poeltl was more impactful on the boards — particularly on the defensive end. He also missed a couple shots he usually makes in his sleep.
Keldon Johnson had some phenomenal moments in the scrimmages and though he didn’t play at that level tonight, he was stout. On defense, he hustled and was physical. There were a few times when he was caught off-balance and he missed a couple rotations but the will was there. Offensively, it was great to see him take and make open threes; his stroke looks better than it was pre-COVID-19. Johnson’s court awareness is better than advertised and he had a smart pass in the fourth that helped the Spurs lock up the W. Overall, Johnson wasn’t flashy but this is exactly how he needs to play to win the confidence of the coaching staff. If the rookie plays hard and plays smart, there’s no reason not to give him plenty of minutes.
I thought Rudy Gay looked sluggish in the scrimmages but he looked better against the Kings. It’s still not a good idea for him to try to dribble in traffic but he appears to be in quality shape. His shooting form is smooth, he appears fully capable of abusing mismatches and he consistently made the right passes. On defense, he couldn’t keep players in front of him but he rebounded with fervor and used his long arms to defend the rim at times. This was a lot closer to the 2018-19 version of Gay, which is great news.
Before leaving the game with an ankle injury, Marco Belinelli was productive. He went 7-for-7 from the free throw line in the first quarter, moved well without the ball and wasn’t a complete liability on defense. It’s obvious that Belinelli realizes that he needs a strong end to this season if he wants to stay in the NBA. He’s fit (well, at least before he hurt his ankle) and looks to be ready to play his best basketball of the season.
With Bryn Forbes out due to injury and Patty Mills apparently becoming an assistant coach, Quinndary Weatherspoon got real minutes. Considering that this was essentially his first NBA action, I was really pleased with his play. Defensively, he was extremely aggressive and made a few plays. Weatherspoon doesn’t appear to be the quickest guy in the world but he anticipates well and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. Offensively, he didn’t always make the right decision but he never shied away from the action. His strength allowed him to do damage in the lane and he’s obviously a willing passer with at least a decent amount of court vision. It’s too early to say whether Weatherspoon is an NBA player but for a second round pick with minimal experience, the Spurs have to be thrilled with what they got out of him tonight.
The Kings played fast and small, which kept Drew Eubanks on the sidelines. Against bigger teams, Eubanks remains in line to get 15 or so minutes behind Poeltl.
I mean, this is what many of us have wanted all year, right? Starting Murray, White and Walker makes the Spurs exciting again — and gives them a much higher ceiling. Leaning on Johnson is the right move. Seeing lineups that didn’t feature a blatant defensive liability was amazing to see compared to what Spurs fans had to live through earlier in the season. Who knows how much of this is Pop doing some soul searching in his time away or Pop getting lucky with injuries or Pop going into a developmental mode … but, regardless, I’m pleased that he has arrived at this place. His rotation wasn’t perfect (I thought he was too quick with hooks at times) but it’s a big improvement.