Jan 6, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) scores over Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Milwaukee Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) in the fourth quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s what the San Antonio Spurs will need to do to get a win tonight
As far as road trips go, the one that the San Antonio Spurs have been on has gone about as well as we could have hoped. It started off with a blowout at the hands of the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia 76ers but since then things have turned around for San Antonio.
These past two games have been particularly exciting. The Spurs followed up a thrilling comeback against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night with a career night from Keldon Johnson yesterday to put away the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tonight they’ll have a chance to finish the road trip on a hot streak when they face the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks have been one of the most dominant teams in the league over the past two seasons but the Spurs have been able to hold their own against them. They’ve split the series with Milwaukee, with each team winning on their own home court. Will the Spurs be able to reverse that trend and steal a win in Milwaukee tonight?
The Spurs will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back, a scenario that has not been too kind to them this season. This could be a bench heavy game for San Antonio. Thankfully they’ve got one of the best second units in the NBA.
In any case, grabbing a win tonight would be an excellent way to end what has already been an encouraging road trip. Here’s what the Spurs will have to focus on to get it done.
Next: Crash the glass
Mar 19, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) and forward Drew Eubanks (14) fight for a rebound with Cleveland Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen (31) during the second quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs will need to hold their own against Milwaukee on the boards
One thing that the Milwaukee Bucks do better than any other team in the league is dominate the boards. They’re first in the league in total rebounds thanks to the efforts of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis.
To combat that, the Spurs are going to have to get incredible games from their leading rebounders. That means following their own shots on offense and making sure they limit the Bucks’ opportunities for second-chance points.
This is where playing on the second night of a back-to-back might really hurt them. Keldon Johnson went off for 23 points and 21 rebounds last night – the first Spurs player since Tim Duncan to post a 20/20 game – but all of that glass eating might have taken a lot out of him.
But if there is any player on San Antonio’s roster who can bounce back from that kind of effort it’s Keldon. Honestly, I’m not totally sure that he’s got blood in his veins. It very well could be some weird cocktail of extra-strong espresso, pure electricity, and whatever they use to fuel spaceships. The man has a motor that just does not quit. It’s incredible.
San Antonio is going to need another heroic performance from Johnson If they want to win tonight but he can’t do it alone. Jakob Poeltl, Dejounte Murray, and DeMar DeRozan will all have to pitch in if the Spurs want to leave Milwaukee with a win.
Next: Time for Devin Vassell to shine
Mar 15, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Devin Vassell (24) gathers the loose ball against Detroit Pistons guard Delon Wright (55) during the fourth quarter at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Devin Vassell could be in for extended minutes against Milwaukee
The Spurs are going to fight to get a win tonight but we can’t discount the possibility of Gregg Popovich resting his starters and turning to the bench early. If that’s the case then we could be in for a heavy dose of Devin Vassell minutes.
Vassell hasn’t received the attention that other rookies in his class have but he’s quietly had a very impressive season for San Antonio. He rarely makes typical rookie mistakes, knocks down open jumpers when asked to do so, and always plays the hounding defense that made him such an appealing prospect coming out of Florida State.
If Vassell does play a larger than typical role tonight he’ll likely be matched up with the Bucks former All-Star, Khris Middleton. Despite playing for one of the best teams in the league and making the All-Star game in 2019 and 2020, Middleton still rarely gets the recognition he deserves.
This season, Middleton is averaging 20.2 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 42 percent from behind the arc. He’s also chipping in 6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per contest. He does a little bit of everything and he does it all extremely well.
One of the toughest things about guarding Middleton is that he can beat you in so many ways. He can give you problems in the post, is lethal in the mid-range and has an elite three-point shot. If matched up with him, Vassell will have to stay glued to Middleton’s hip to prevent him from torching the Spurs.
Outside of being a challenging matchup, Middleton presents an intriguing player comparison for Vassell. Devin’s got the same lanky frame, floor-spacing ability, and switchability on defense. If he can pick Middleton’s brain during the game he’ll be better for it. This is a matchup I’m going to enjoy watching.
Next: Slow down the MVP
Mar 17, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts after scoring against the Philadelphia 76ersa during overtime at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs will not win without making life tough for Giannis
Here’s a brilliant bit of basketball analysis for you: the San Antonio Spurs are going to have a hard time getting a win if they let Giannis run rampant over them all game long.
How they prevent that from happening is its own set of problems. They don’t have a player that’s incredibly well-tailored to lock up the reigning MVP. Frankly, there aren’t many of those players in the league and none of them play for San Antonio.
It could come down to some combination of Jakob Poeltl and Rudy Gay doing their best to both Giannis. Poeltl is an elite rim protector but he doesn’t quite have the speed and agility to stay with Giannis in the open court or on the perimeter. Gay’s lost a bit of a step and might have trouble keeping up as well and Giannis is more than strong enough to power through him.
The Spurs could pack the paint and try to force Giannis to settle for jump shots but that’s not a risk-free strategy either. He can still drive to the rim and try to make a living at the free-throw line. He was struggling to make free-throws earlier this season but has since improved his percentage to a solid but not impressive 68 percent from the charity stripe.
There’s no foolproof strategy for containing Giannis. It’s why he’s won back-to-back MVPs and should be in the running to make it three in a row. But if the Spurs want to win they’ll have to find a way to at least slow him down.
The second night of a back-to-back and playing on the road against one of the best teams in the NBA? Things could get ugly for the San Antonio Spurs tonight. Still, it’ll be a good test for the young players to go up against one of the best teams in the league. Iron sharpens iron and whatever happens tonight will help the young guys improve for when they face the Bucks in San Antonio later this season.