Despite some late-game heroics and staunch defensive pressure from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the San Antonio Spurs managed to come away with a 116-110 road victory on Friday. The Spurs held a lead as large as 22 points late in the third quarter before being outscored 57-41 the rest of the way.
Keldon Johnson led the way with a monstrous 23 point, 21 rebound performance. It was the first 20 point, 20 rebound game by a Spur since Tim Duncan accomplished the feat in 2013. Johnson provided the Spurs with a plethora of second chance opportunities as he racked up a staggering 11 offensive rebounds, the second-most by any player in a game this season.
DeMar DeRozan settled in nicely following a four-game absence from the lineup, scoring 20 points to go along with seven assists. DeRozan frequently deferred to his teammates throughout the game but came through whenever the Spurs needed him to make a play.
Early in the third, DeRozan scored eight straight points to extend the Spurs’ lead to 18. Later in the fourth quarter, after the Cavaliers cut the lead down to eight, DeMar scored on a floater before setting up back-to-back buckets for Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills to put the Spurs back up by 13 points.
Dejounte Murray made big plays as well on his way to a 22 point, six rebound night. Murray scored 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter with each of his buckets coming at crucial moments, keeping the game out of Cleveland’s reach.
The San Antonio Spurs held their own against a tough backcourt
The starting backcourt of Murray and Derrick White had their hands full defensively with Cleveland’s young backcourt. Collin Sexton scored 29 points and five rebounds. Darius Garland had 29 points as well, coupled with eight assists. Sexton and Garland made tough shots all night and gave the Spurs a real test toward the end of the game.
Jakob Poeltl got into foul trouble early, throwing off the rotations. Drew Eubanks came into the game much earlier than usual and struggled, prompting Coach Gregg Popovich to insert Rudy Gay at the five.
Rudy Gay didn’t have much success playing the five either, illustrating the importance of Poeltl. Upon re-entering the game, Poeltl managed to snag nine rebounds in the third quarter alone.
18 PTS | 20 REB pic.twitter.com/3xtPIYcjPJ
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 20, 2021
Despite the win, there were a few causes for concern. The first being that the Spurs struggled heavily with the full-court pressure applied by the Cavs at the end of the game. With about two minutes left to play and the Spurs up 13 points, the Cavaliers chose not to give up and implemented a full-court press.
The Spurs began to get caught up in traps and make quick passes. With only a minute left in the game, the Spurs turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions in the backcourt, leading to Cavalier baskets both times. These turnovers allowed the Cavaliers to cut the lead down to six.
The Spurs are one of the best teams in the league at protecting the basketball, leading the NBA with only 10.7 turnovers per game. Ball security in late-game situations will undoubtedly be a point of emphasis from the coaching staff moving forward.
Another smaller concern for the Spurs is Lonnie Walker. While not being listed on the injury report, Lonnie Walker did not check into tonight’s game. After the game, Coach Popovich explained that Walker was a little banged up, but that he should be ok. Hopefully, Lonnie can get back onto the court soon as his confidence and decision-making seem to be improving with each game.
Next up for the Spurs, the final game of their road trip, as they face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday at 9 pm ET.