Jan 1, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) drives against San Antonio Spurs guard Keldon Johnson (3) in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs dropped two games to the Los Angeles Lakers
After an impressive two-win start to the season, the San Antonio Spurs have dropped three straight games. The most recent of these losses came in the form of a pair of back-to-back hard-fought games against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Moral victories count the same as losses in the stat sheet but these games against the Lakers were never blowouts and there’s a lot to like about how the team played. Even though they were facing one of the best teams in the league they fought for a full 48 minutes and made the Lakers earn it.
As Keldon Johnson told Tom Orsborn, that tenacious, never give up attitude is something that the team is focusing on as something to build around. “Our will to fight. I feel like we never give up,” said Johnson. “We keep fighting to the end. From the start to the end of the game, we keep fighting.”
Optimism and an ever-present will to fight will improve any team’s chances but it was always going to be hard for the Spurs to overcome the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge against the Lakers. Los Angeles showed how dangerous they can be when they go big, flooding the floor with talented big men. In those minutes the Spurs frontcourt looked wildly overmatched.
There were still quite a few standout performances from San Antonio Spurs players in these games. Here are the four who stood out to us most.
Keldon Johnson continues to exceed San Antonio Spurs fans expectations
The beginning of the season has truly been a Keldon Johnson fan’s wildest dream. From the moment the first games started against the Memphis Grizzlies last week he’s been nothing but impressive.
Over the summer we highlighted Keldon Johnson as the most important part of the trade that sent Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors. He’s proving us right with his play and knocking down quite a few historic marks along his way.
Jordan Howenstine, a member of the San Antonio Spurs PR team, has done a great job cataloging Johnson’s phenomenal stretch of games. Since the season started here are a few things he’s accomplished:
- Joined Tim Duncan and David Robinson as the only players in Spurs history to have a 25 pt 10 reb game within their first 25 games.
- Put up 25 pts, 10 rebs, and 5 made three’s at just 21 years old. Only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and Lauri Markkanen have had the same stat line at a younger age.
We’re not going to anoint him as a member of that same elite air as Durant, LeBron, and Luka but it’s clear that the Spurs have a special talent in Keldon Johnson. We’ve talked about how this team needs their top-level player to bring them back to the upper levels of the Western Conference. Could KJ be that guy?
Currently, he’s averaging an impressive 15 pts, 7.6 rebs, and 1.4 steals per game on a cool 43 percent shooting from behind the arc. Not shabby from a player who really just cracked the rotation a few months ago in Orlando.
One of the most exciting things about Johnson’s game is how much better he can get. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s far from a finished product. Watching his continued growth is sure to be one of the more exciting storylines of this season and seasons to come.
Next: The entire Spurs frontcourt
Jan 1, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell (15) shoots over San Antonio Spurs forward Drew Eubanks (14) in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
What happened to the San Antonio Spurs big men against Los Angeles?
The Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt is a handful for the best teams in the NBA. Even on their off nights, there’s just too much talent here for most teams to handle.
Without LaMarcus Aldridge, we knew that this was going to be a difficult task for the Spurs frontcourt. But I didn’t think it was going to be as ugly as it was.
In the first game of this quick series, Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks were fine. Not overly impressive, but serviceable enough that you can’t lay the blame for that loss at their feet. But in the second game against the Lakers, the two disappeared entirely.
To his credit, Eubanks did have a few standout defensive plays that reminded you he was playing in an actual NBA game.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/01/01/0022000075/587/44df453a-cdfc-60f3-3f8a-7c5b96fdd592_1280x720.mp4
But you could watch the game for minutes without realizing that Poeltl was on the floor. He just couldn’t get anything going all night. He’d end the evening missing his one field goal attempt and all four of his free-throws. He did have three assists but all of them came on simple passes, none of which were overly impressive.
Chalk it up to a bad matchup and a bad night if you want but these are the kinds of games that the Spurs need Poeltl to step up in.
If he’s going to be the lead man in the frontcourt after Aldridge potentially moves on he’s got to be consistent. But so far he hasn’t been the player that Spurs fans were hoping to see after the team signed him to an extension this summer.
It could just be a bad stretch but keep an eye on the play of Jakob Poeltl moving forward. We could see some adjustments there if things don’t turn around soon.
Next: DeRozan from deep
Jan 1, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) shoots over Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol (14) in the first half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
DeMar DeRozan continues to light it up from deep for San Antonio Spurs
After hitting a few threes against the Toronto Raptors, DeMar DeRozan told the media that he was going to shoot more three’s this year. Gregg Popovich backed him up on it but still, how many of us saw this coming?
DeMar has been on a tear from deep over the past two games. Well, a tear by his standards. More of a wrinkle, or blip if we’re talking about a volume shooter like Steph Curry.
In the two games against Los Angeles, DeRozan took five threes and made four of them. He’s up to seven made triples on the season and is just two away from surpassing his season total from last year.
This is all well and good but are we making too much of just a few threes? I don’t think so. If you’ve watched DeMar in these first few games it’s clear there’s been a mentality shift there, one that’s probably going to be a part of his game for the long haul.
What’s stood out most isn’t just that DeRozan is taking and making threes, it’s the situations they’re coming in. These aren’t just some end of the shot clock attempts that he has to get off. He’s seeking these shots out and opponents are clearly surprised by his newfound willingness to shoot them.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/01/01/0022000075/172/1cf0edec-2f29-c30b-9f4c-504c4feb30af_1280x720.mp4
There are seven seconds left in the shot clock in this clip and LeBron is waiting to shut off a drive but still, in years past you probably would’ve seen DeMar dribble in for a mid-range jumper or whip it to Rudy Gay on the other wing. Now he’s leaning right into it and knocking down the open three.
Watch LeBron in that clip. Look for the little exasperated shrug right after DeRozan finds the bottom of the net. Did no one let the King know? DeMar’s a shooter now!
He doesn’t need to be a volume three-point shooter. That’s never been the ask. But DeRozan’s starting to expand his game out beyond the three-point range, just like Aldridge did last year. That could end up making a world of difference for the Spurs in the long run.
The San Antonio Spurs have a great shot to right the ship when they face the Utah Jazz on Sunday.