After falling short on the road, the San Antonio Spurs knocked off the league’s best team in arguably their best game of the season thus far.
Despite falling short of most expectations up to this point in the season, nights like these are what inspire San Antonio Spurs fans to never give up on their team. After falling by 10 in a hyper-competitive visit to the Milwaukee Bucks, San Antonio redeemed itself with a 126-104 win over last year’s MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and some familiar faces in Mike Budenholzer and George Hill.
The Spurs played their classic style of team-ball in this one, tallying 23 total assists on 45 made field goals and 19-of-35 shooting from deep for a 54.3% mark. Those 19 threes are not only the most they’ve hit in a game this season, but they’re the second most in a single game in franchise history.
They were led offensively by wing DeMar DeRozan, who always seems to have strong games against Milwaukee. He finished 11-of-15 from the field for 25 points along with a team-high seven dimes.
There are nights when DeRozan plays like a one-trick pony, attempting and missing the same kinds of mid-range jumpers and drives to no avail. Then there are nights like tonight, when DeRozan gets his head in the game, generates his own offense and then creates for others when the defenders throw extra attention his way. When DeRozan shoots efficiently and stays locked in for all 48 minutes, the Spurs are an offensive juggernaut.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 7, 2020
Guarding Antetokounmpo is one of the most impossible tasks to date, and yet the exceptional mind of head coach Gregg Popovich is never to be underestimated. San Antonio sagged off of Giannis at the three-point line, but read him perfectly and threw large defenders like LaMarcus Aldridge, Trey Lyles and Jakob Poeltl to close out and throw him off.
The near-seven-footer missed all five of his triples and finished 10-of-22 from the field. Even in an “off night,” Giannis still posted 24 points, 12 boards, eight dimes, three blocks and a steal.
When he drove, however, the Spurs threw extra defenders at him to scrap at the ball, forcing him to make plays for others as they chased three-point shooters. The strategy was effective as they kept one of the best three-point shooting teams in basketball at bay with 33.3% shooting from deep.
On the other end, spark plug Patty Mills lit the scoreboard up with 21 points on 6-of-10 three-point shooting and continued growing his legacy as one of the team’s greatest bench scorers ever. At thing point, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if No. 8 hands in the rafters when it’s all said and done.
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Though effective in his efforts, the aforementioned Aldridge finished with a comparatively quiet 17 points on 10 shots (2-of-3 from deep) with only four rebounds. Again, a side effect of matching up with the reigning MVP.
Young guns Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV were all effective in the matchup. Back in his starting role, Murray had 13 points, three triples, nine boards, four assists and a steal in 26 minutes. White added nine points with four boards and Walker, who was sent back to the bench, led the team in plus/minus at a +16 in 20 minutes (eight points, seven boards).
Lastly, but certainly not least important, forward Rudy Gay came off the bench and helped in boatloads with fending the Bucks off. He closed out hard with his long wingspan and 6-of-10 shots for 17 points and eight boards in 25 minutes. Although he started the season slow, Gay is easily one of the best bench players in the game and will continue to get better as the team grows together.
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Things won’t get easier for the Spurs, who visit Boston on Wednesday night.