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Spurs restart season with a win over the Kings

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Derrick White and DeMar Derozan help the Spurs leapfrog the Kings in the standings.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at San Antonio Spurs Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When I first heard about the NBA’s plan to finish out the season I wasn’t sure what to think. I love watching San Antonio Spurs basketball, but the rapid spread of COVID throughout the nation made basketball seem like an unnecessary risk to players, coaches, and staff. Now that the season restart has officially kicked off, I’m cautiously optimistic. The games have been competitive and enjoyable and the players seem to be in midseason form. Most importantly, the NBA appears to be taking all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of everybody inside the NBA bubble.

With each team in the bubble playing only eight regular season games before the playoff seeding is finalized, there’s not a lot of time for teams outside the top eight in the standings to make a push for the playoffs. This makes every game for the Spurs a must win, but as a wise person once said, you can’t win them all if you don’t win the first.

Which brings us to the Spurs game against Sacramento. The Kings came into the season restart 11th place in the Western Conference standings, only a half game ahead of the 12th place Spurs. These two teams also split their first two meetings of the season, making this game doubly important. The Spurs started and ended the game strong, which was just enough to pull out a 129-120 victory.

This win moved the Spurs to 10th in the West and gave them the regular season tiebreaker against the Kings. The Spurs remain half a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for 9th in the West and move to within three games of the Memphis Grizzlies for 8th in the West. The Spurs next game is on Sunday against the aforementioned Grizzlies. It’ll be a chance for the Spurs to let every team vying for that final playoff spot in the West know that they have every intention of keeping their playoff steak going for at least another season.

Game flow

The Spurs came into the game against the Kings shorthanded. We knew about LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles being out for the remainder of the season, but we found out during the broadcast that the Spurs were also going to be without Bryn Forbes for the remainder of the season. I could make an addition by subtraction joke here but I digress. I have yet to see an official report that Forbes is out the rest of the season, so it’s possible the broadcasting team misspoke. Patty Mills was also a healthy scratch in this one.

For at least the first twelve minutes of the game, the Spurs’ offense did not miss those guys one bit. DeMar DeRozan played similar to how he did in the scrimmage games, content with distributing the ball and taking a backseat to the youngsters. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray did not disappoint, scoring 13 of the Spurs’ first 16 points of the game. While the young guards took over the first half of the quarter, it was the veterans Rudy Gay and Marco Belinelli who did the bulk of the scoring in the second half of the quarter. Their combined 17 points off the bench helped the Spurs go on a 19-0 run and finish the first quarter ahead of the Kings 43-30.

I don’t know about you, but anytime I see a team go on a massive run early in the game I immediately think that team is doomed, and it started to look that way in the second quarter. The Spurs’ offense that looked unstoppable in the first quarter all of a sudden looked clunky and disjointed. Their defense started to leak, especially in transition. De’Aaron Fox was a force on offense all game, constantly finding ways to turn a Spurs’ made basket on one end into transition points on the other end. I don’t know if it was poor transition defense on the Spurs’ part, excellent transition offense by the Kings, or some combination of both, but it was frustrating to watch. The Spurs would lose their early lead and would go into the half down 64-65.

The Spurs would get even more shorthanded early in the third quarter, as Murray was forced to the bench after picking up his his fourth foul 10 seconds into the third quarter. Belinelli then sprained his ankle midway through the third quarter and was quickly ruled out the rest of the game. His injury opened up a few minutes for Quinndary Weatherspoon, who looked decent in his limited time on the floor. Lonnie Walker IV scored a quick seven points early in the third, helping the Spurs regain the lead. White continued his excellent play and DeRozan started to crack open his offense just a little. The Spurs were able to generate enough offense to go into the final quarter up 96-92.

The fourth quarter was more of the same. White was excellent on both ends and DeRozan started to take over on offense after being very selective early on. The Spurs’ inability to contain Fox kept this one close throughout, but the play of White, DeRozan, and Gay, along with solid contributions from almost everybody who saw the floor, was too much for the Kings to handle down the stretch.

Notes from the game

  • I can’t think of a single scenario where I would start this segment out with anybody other than White. He scored a season high with 26 points, while also grabbing eight boards, five assists, a steal, a block and he somehow managed to draw FIVE charges in a single game. Ok, so he had five turnovers but I don’t care. He was the team MVP in this one, showcasing his talents on both sides of the court. He also shot the ball with confidence, which is key for him moving forward. I still have not-so-fond memories of the Denver Nuggets neutralizing him in the playoffs by giving him space on the perimeter, forcing him to beat them from the outside. If he can hit outside shots on a consistent basis he will be very difficult to contain in a couple years.
  • DeRozan also had an impressive stat line of 27 points and 10 assists. He got his 27 points on a tidy 10-13 shooting. Let’s not forget that before the season went on a four month hiatus DeRozan had been enjoying by far the most efficient season of his career. It was nice to see him get his while still allowing the youngsters to play.
  • Gay looked fresh for the second game in a row. His struggles this season have been well documented by now, and I’m quite certain the Spurs would be in a much different place in the standings had he played up to his potential all season, but it’s nice to see him put together back-to-back strong outings. Let’s hope it continues, as he’s a key piece to the Spurs’ bench mob.
  • Murray is the one with the defensive accolades on the Spurs’ roster, but it’s White and Keldon Johnson whose defense excites me the most. Maybe it’s how I value lateral movement on the perimeter, but watching them stop ball-handlers in their tracks is a thing of beauty. Johnson doesn’t look like a rookie to me. He looks incredibly comfortable playing meaningful minutes in the NBA. If he’s given an open shot he will take it. If he sees an open lane he will drive to the rim. If there’s a loose ball he’ll dive for it. He’s also done a great job of finding teammates when the opportunity presents itself. Pop has already taken notice, and if Johnson continues to hit the corner three and show that he can be of value even without the ball in his hands like he did against the Kings, he’s going to be a mainstay in the rotation for a very long time.
  • Walker IV had a very quiet, but efficient, 16 points on 12 shots. There were a few Spurs who had it going against the Kings, but it was nice to see Walker IV find a way to have a positive impact on the game.
  • I’m excited about the youth movement in San Antonio. White, Murray, Walker IV, and Johnson bring a lot of athleticism and two-way potential to the court. Jakob Poeltl is a great defensive big who I hope the Spurs look to retain in the offseason. It still might get worse before it gets better, but I can’t wait to see where the Spurs are at in a couple years’ time.