In the final game of 2020, the San Antonio Spurs, who were without LaMarcus Aldridge, faced off in the first of a two-game series at home against the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite getting off to a hot start, the Spurs couldn’t hold off the defending champions, and although they stayed in the game throughout, they could never quite come back in a 121-107 loss.
Los Angeles was paced by its two superstars - LeBron James (26 points and 8 assists) and Anthony Davis (20 points and 9 rebounds) - and scorching shooting from Denis Schroder (21 points) and Wesley Matthews (18 points). San Antonio’s DeJounte Murray (29 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (23 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds). The two teams will see each other a total of three times over a nine day period.
- Despite the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge from the Spurs frontline, Los Angeles countered with length and heft in 6’9” Lebron James, 6’10” Anthony Davis, and 6’11” Marc Gasol. San Antonio inserted Jakob Poeltl in at center.
- Two-Way Play: In first quarter action, Poeltl converted a series of shots around the rim (half-hook over Davis, a layup in traffic, and a reverse) and ripped the ball away from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a steal to boot.
- The smattering of people occupying the stands behind each basket in the lower bowl gave this a Summer League feel.
- Keldon’s Kitchen: Johnson’s direct drives to the rim have been lauded. However, on a first quarter fast break, the young forward drove it straight at James - forcing him to commit - and freeing up Dejounte Murray for an and-1. Johnson drew the unenviable defensive assignment of guarding James and, despite Keldon’s musculature, he appeared dimunitive trying to defend LeBron in the post.
- Sequence of the Game: Midway through the second period, Eubanks turned back an unsuspecting Montrezl Harrell at the rim on his dunk attempt, and DeRozan delivered an emphatic facial on Harrell immediately at the other end.
- In a SATEBABA (Same Team, Back-to-Back at home) not seen since the ABA days, the Spurs and Lakers tussle again here in two nights. There have been countless prior times where teams engaged in a home-and-away back-to-back scenario, but outside of a rare occasion during the Dallas Chaparrals franchise iteration, where they played two straight at the Virginia Squires in the 71-72 season, there have been zero occasions where San Antonio hosted the same opponent in consecutive regular season games.
- Opposing players who would make decent Spurs: Alex Caruso. He could fit in nicely with this current crop of youthful wings as a change of pace energizer and a defensive stalwart. Unfortunately, he did not make the Texas trip due to COVID-19 protocols.
- The Spurs wore a path down the center of the lane to sneak out to an early 9-2 advantage. Their half-court offense left something to be deisred away from the rim, and Los Angeles countered with solid half-court execution and 58% shooting to surge out to a 35-27 lead after the first quarter. On a positive note, all eleven of the Spurs’ field goals came off of assists.
- Poeltl drew his third foul early in the second period, which netted Eubanks more playing time than unexpected. The Lakers’ gameplan of beating the Spurs down the court in the transition game garnered them numerous layups and dunks. An alarming amount of San Antonio’s shots fell just short or trickled or rimmed out, and the Lakers were able to extend their lead to 13 at one point. DeRozan and Lonnie Walker IV made earnest attempts to get into the paint and their forays led to some needed baskets and free throws. However, after a no-call on a DeRozan drive, Pop earned two technical fouls in succession and exited the game. In a sign of how awkward and difficult the first half was for the good guys, both James and Gasol converted circus shots in succession to give Los Angeles a 63-53 lead at the break.
- San Antonio increased its energy at the defensive end to start the third stanza and drew two early offensive fouls. Walker IV paired a pretty three and a contested shot over Gasol for a personal 5-0 run. The Lakers seemingly countered every run, though, with offensive rebounding and consistent shotmaking to preserve its double-digit lead. The Spurs got into the foul bonus midway through the period to offset the barrage of Lakers points. Grizzled veteran Wesley Matthews nailed two straight shots from distance to push the LA advatnage to 14. Rookie Devin Vassell nailed an open three in transition to close out San Antonio’s scoring with the Lakers still up ten.
- Matthews continued his white-hot shooting (6-for-6) from beyond the arc to bolster LA’s cushion at the start of the fourth. Murray continued his impressive finishing along the baseline and at the rim, which bodes well for his scoring prospects when Derrick White returns. Davis and James fended off a late Spurs run with a handful of clutch baskets.
For the Lakers fans’ perspective, visit Silver Screen and Roll.
Both teams return next year (okay - in two nights) to the AT&T Center for another tilt with the Lakers on Friday night at 7:00 PM CDT on NBA TV.