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What we learned from the Spurs’ scrimmage win over the Pacers

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A seasoned scorer and a fresh face lead San Antonio to victory as seeding games draw near.

San Antonio Spurs v Indiana Pacers Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spurs picked up their first (unofficial) victory in four months in their third and final scrimmage against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday afternoon, and though the win won’t count towards their regular-season record, it was by far San Antonio’s best effort since entering the bubble.

The good guys made notable progress taking care of the ball, committing just 12 turnovers while dishing out 29 assists, and overall, their decision making was crisper than their first two outings. On the other end of the floor, the Silver and Black played more disciplined, notching their fewest fouls, opponent free throws, and points allowed of the restart.

Of course, Gregg Popovich and company have plenty of room for improvement across the board despite an excellent exhibition showing from the majority of the squad. Seeding games begin Thursday, and San Antonio must continue to receive meaningful contributions from their veterans and young legs alike if they hope to make some noise in Orlando without two-fifths of their starting lineup.

Observations

  • We once again saw a new assistant coach take the helm in San Antonio’s final scrimmage, and this time, Will Hardy was able to lead the Spurs to success. Pop will undoubtedly resume head coaching duties when the Spurs return to action on Friday night, but it was interesting to watch the trio of Becky Hammon, Mitch Johnson, and Hardy take turns calling the shots. If anything, it was reassuring to see how much confidence Pop has in his staff, especially with 71-year-old play-caller entering the twilight of his career.
  • For the third consecutive scrimmage, San Antonio trotted out a starting lineup of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, and Jakob Poeltl. Although the Spurs took time to get going behind an assertive yet inefficient Murray, their uncharacteristically stingy team defense kept them within striking distance during the opening frame. Lonnie and Jakob seamlessly meshed with the starters, and Derrick and Dejounte proved to be a dangerous defensive backcourt duo. As for DeMar, his struggles to fit in as an off-ball threat remained glaringly apparent. While DeRozan provided virtually zero floor spacing roaming the perimeter, once he got the ball back in his hands, the four-time All-Star saw a spike in productivity, finishing the game with 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
  • Marco Belinelli saw a steady helping of minutes for the third straight contest, and though his efficiency took a slight hit, the Italian two-guard had another solid outing. Marco even made me do a double-take after single-handedly breaking up a three-one-one Indiana fastbreak opportunity. As for Bryn Forbes, the undersized combo guard joined Patty Mills on the sidelines as neither sharpshooter suited up for the mid-day match-up. Whether or not the absence of Bryn and Patty means anything for the configuration of the rotations going forward is unclear. It isn’t unusual for Pop to rest veterans ahead of important games. However, it’s worth noting Forbes expressed being open to coming off the bench for San Antonio. Should the fourth-year guard be employed in a sixth-man role upon returning the lineup, it would be only the third time he hasn’t started a game for the Spurs in the last two seasons.
  • Drew Eubanks remained the first center off the bench, and while he put forth another steady performance, it was fellow frontcourt running mate Rudy Gay who stole the show. The 14-year pro was a measly 6-of-17 from the floor through the first two scrimmages, but the small-ball big man flipped the script and dropped a game-high 23 points to along with 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal in 22 minutes. It isn’t a realistic expectation for Gay to shoulder the scoring load on most nights. Having said that, if Rudy can maintain his 3-of-7 efficiency from beyond the arc, he could be a real asset for the Spurs as they attempt to clinch a playoff birth for a 23rd consecutive season. As for Chimezie Metu and Luka Samanic, their six-minute stint was hardly worth discussing. Neither big man scored, though it was refreshing to see an improved effort from Luka, even if he blew a wide-open layup late in the contest.
  • I mentioned Derrick and Dejounte earlier, but it can be hard to adequately encapsulate what they mean to the team when strictly looking at points scored. Their combined 20 points on 7-of-25 from the field were admittedly subpar, but simply saying they had a poor performance sells their ability to impact the game in multiple ways unfairly short. The pair of point guards also combined for 13 rebounds, 11 assists, and 4 steals. And all this production came while committing just 4 total turnovers. Getting teammates involved, creating chaos on the defensive end, and still influencing winning is a testament to their two-way prowess. And the Spurs would be smart to allow their two-way playmakers to build chemistry together over these eight seeding games.
  • I could rave about Lonnie’s potential all day, but we already know how talented the 21-year-old swingman is, so I’ll save the extended praise for another day. All you need to know is second-year guard was sharp once again. He recorded double-digit points for the third game in a row, a feat he never accomplished before the NBA hiatus. Not only did he score 12 points on an efficient 5-of-10 shooting, but he knocked down looks from every area of the. Lonnie also logged 4 assists, 0 turnovers, and was firing off some incredibly imaginative passes.

Nightly Notable: Keldon Johnson

If you were teetering on the determination of whether or not Keldon Johnson was NBA ready before Tuesday, it’s safe to say that question has definitively been answered. There’s nothing wrong with being wary of a strong scrimmage display from an unseasoned rookie, but Keldon has easily been one of the Spurs’ most valuable contributors from day one in Orlando, and his 21 points in the win over Indiana were impressive. Johnson drives to the rim with undeterred determination, defends every possession as though it might by his last, and his boundless energy is contagious. San Antonio sported a porous perimeter defense all year long, and Keldon Johnson could be part of the solution to their evident point-preventing issues. Popovich likened the first-year wing to a Mustang, and you have to leave a wild stallion room to run. Here’s to hoping Keldon gets a chance to show his worth.