The Spurs needed to beat the Cavaliers on the road to put pressure on the Thunder and the Clippers in their fight for seeding. They did just that in decisive fashion in their last away game of the season, blowing out the home team 112-90 in a drama-free matchup.
The Spurs were largely in control for much of the game. After a slow start they would claim the lead with 1:19 to go in the first quarter and never relinquish it again. Surprisingly they did it by doing something they struggled to do on the road against bad teams all season: making the simple plays and taking what the defense was giving them. Instead of setting up from the post, the perimeter playmakers simply drove, drew an extra defender and made the extra pass. Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge were often left open in the paint and finished well. When the Cavs started staying on them and sending an extra weak side defender to help after picks, the ball found its way to the shooters. The Spurs had 16 first-half assists and shot 53 percent from the field. It took them a while to finally put together enough stops to create separation, but they closed the second quarter well and never looked back.
To their credit, the Cavaliers, who had absolutely nothing to play for, tried to adjust after the break. They had their guards go under screens and the bigs drop down even further on the pick and roll to deter penetration. It worked for a few possessions until San Antonio started to figure it out, with Derrick White in particular doing some damage by walking into open mid-range jumpers. Unfortunately untimely turnovers prevented the Silver and Black from fully running away with this one until the fourth period, in which an early 13-0 run sealed the win. The cleanup crew didn’t get to check in until there were 5:32 to go, but Pop managed to limit DeMar DeRozan to just 32 minutes and LaMarcus Aldrdige to just under 30. Considering the Spurs will have two days off, they should be fresh and ready for the last game of the season.
There’s really not a lot to takeaway from these late-season games against opponents that are not playing for anything, but the Spurs do have to be happy with the way they played their last two road games. Their performances were surely aided by the Wizards and the Cavaliers only really exerting energy for a few minutes, but after the struggles to win similarly easy away games — at least in theory — early in the year, San Antonio will gladly take the blowout victories. Now they need to beat the Mavs and hope one or both of the Clippers and Thunder lose at least one game to have a chance to climb up the standings.
- The Spurs seemed to fully figure out how easy it should have been to score on bad East teams on Sunday. The key? Keep it simple. Again, the Cavaliers’ disastrous defense clearly helped but it was still fun to see the playmakers realize that if they were patient they were going to find someone open and that there was no need to push the issue and go one-on-one. Better late than never. Hopefully the lesson won’t be forgotten by next season.
- Aldridge was the finisher early, logging 16 points to go with 13 rebounds in the first half, while DeRozan was the creator, tallying six assists in the first two quarters to just one turnover. The two stars made most of their damage before the break, but set the tone on offense. It was exactly what was needed of them.
- Bryn Forbes and Jakob Poeltl were everywhere, on both ends, in the first few minutes. They both got buckets and played with high energy on defense. The Spurs will need those two to be sharp in the playoffs, or the starting lineup could struggle. They just need to sink the open shots and play hard on the other end. They did that against the Cavs.
- Derrick White is not taking anyone by surprise anymore. Opponents know how to defend him now: go under screens and dare him to shoot. The Cavaliers followed that script and it largely worked until they gave him too much room in the third quarter. White is not comfortable pulling up consistently from beyond the arc, but as soon as he can take a couple of steps towards the basket, he’s a threat from mid-range. He’ll have to be aggressive hunting for that shot in the playoffs if opponents continue to space him out.
- Patty Mills and Davis Bertans hit their shots. Good things tend to happen to the Spurs when they do. Unfortunately, both were better from beyond the arc earlier in the season, with Bertans in particular suffering a precipitous decline in efficiency since the All-Star break. Hopefully this game will help restore his confidence. The Spurs need their shooters.
- Lonnie Walker IV got Marco Belinelli’s minutes in the first half and looked good. He’s disruptive on defense and shows signs of slashing prowess. Hopefully he’ll take a White-like leap as a sophomore, assuming he can carve out a spot for himself with the big team next season after spending most of his rookie year in Austin.
- Channing Frye is retiring without ever suiting up for the Spurs, which feels a little strange. A veteran big man shooter who is a fantastic teammate by all accounts sounds like someone that Pop would have loved to have off the bench. Which other veterans that have never played in San Antonio feel extremely Spurs-y to you? Other than Frye I’d say Robin Lopez and Trevor Ariza off the top of my head. Maybe Nene? Let me know.
Up next: Vs. Dallas on Wednesday
The Spurs will close the season at home against the Mavs on what could be Dirk Nowitzki’s final NBA game. They might need to win in order to climb up the standings. Should be fun.