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Spurs overcome slow start, lose late to the Heat in preseason thriller

Spurs fight Miami down the stretch but fall late to Max Strus and the Heat; 109-105

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs drop to 1-2 in preseason after a narrow loss to the Miami Heat on Friday night. Not that wins, losses or records matter much in preseason, but it for sure was nice to see San Antonio play a close game that went right down to the final buzzer.

The Spurs rested starting center Jakob Poeltl for tonight’s game. In the place of the Austrian came in bruising big man Drew Eubanks. Then in a surprise, Pop started third-year player, Luka Samanic, dropping Doug McDermott to the bench. The Heat rested the majority of their starters and key rotation players with only Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro the notable names playing.

Game Recap

Keldon Johnson came out strong in this contest and made his intentions known early as he attacked the rim on the opening 3 possessions. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they struggled to score early as the Heat collapsed in the paint and forced the Spurs to make outside shots, which they failed to do so. San Antonio’ pace did quicken with the introduction of Doug McDermott, his spacing and floor running helped open up the court for the rest of the Spurs players. With the Spurs struggling to score much in the opening exchanges, it meant their defense struggled at points as they constantly were having to defend in transition, this constituted to the early 24-17 deficit.

The game didn’t get any easier for the young Silver & Black outfit, as Miami started the 2nd quarter scorching hot from 3, as the Spurs failed to close out and run the Heat players off the line. This 3-point barrage helped open up the rest of the floor, as Tyler Herro was able to get to any spot he wanted and knock down the shot. Luckily for the Spurs, Devin Vassell and Doug McDermott entered and helped changed the momentum for the squad. They did so by just hitting a few threes and getting the crowd back into the game. Once the crowd was alive again, the Spurs responded with their play on both ends of the floor. Thad Young increased the noise by his play late on the defensive end. 2 steals and 2 drawn charges for the oldest member on the team, as he helped steady the ship as the Spurs shrank a once 19-point deficit to only 9 at the half time break.

After a less than stellar first half, Luka Samanic was moved back to the bench with McDermott taking back his spot. Keldon Johnson made a statement this quarter, his constant rim running attacks caused the Heat all types of problems. Then on top of that, KJ started to hit his outside shot as well. A double-digit quarter for Keldon put the Spurs right back into this contest. The Spurs were constantly in the face of the Heat players when on defense, forcing turnovers and tough shots. The game turned super physical late third, but the Spurs were up for the challenge, as they got after it on the glass and made second chance opportunities count, as they turned the game into a 1-point affair going into the 4th.

Drew Eubanks put on a show early in the last quarter, as he cut through the middle of the paint twice, with teammates finding him for open slams. The ball movement in the second half was much better from San Antonio and this opened up driving lanes for our guys to exploit, this was a huge reason why the Spurs were able to get back into the game. The Spurs then found themselves in their first close game of the preseason, as there was just 1-point in it, with under 4 to play. The ending of the game was frantic, as both teams kept countering each other with buckets. For the Spurs it was Bryn Forbes with multiple threes and Luka with 7 late points, but it was not to be for San Antonio. Max Strus of the Miami Heat ended up with 28, and was able to do just enough to steal the win from under the noses of the Spurs. Miami won by, four 109-105.

Game Notes

  • Keldon is not just a bully no more. Last year when attacking the rim, KJ was a bit one dimensional with his move set, constantly barraging into his defender, hoping to over-power and finish through them. So far this preseason, Keldon has shown a ton more finesse with his moves to the rim. Euro-steps galore for the youngster. His footwork is becoming impeccable, and its helping him become more unpredictable when driving to the bucket. This may be the DeMar DeRozan class that Keldon attended the past two seasons finally paying off.
  • Shooting is still a mystery. One half its good, one half it’s bad. The Spurs still aren’t consistent in their three-point shooting and most likely won’t be for the season. This is bad news, as it will make it easier for opposition teams to game plan for the Spurs, as they will do what the Heat did so often tonight, close up the paint and dare the Spurs to shoot. If the Spurs can just get a bit more consistent, it would really open up their offense.
  • Devin Vassell is so improved from his rookie campaign. Vassell changed the momentum twice in one game, which is hard to do. In the 2nd and the 3rd quarters when he entered, his shot making, unselfishness and defensive tenacity helped the Spurs get back on track. He was a big reason they were in this game late. A promising sophomore season coming up for the former Seminole.

Spurs Valuable Player (SVP)

* Just a quick note on the SVP, the points will reset once the regular season begins.

3RD Place (1 point) – Bryn Fobes - 16 points, 4/9 from three

3rd straight game of double-digit points for Forbes, and so far he is playing the exact role he needs to be. The NBA champ is averaging 4 threes a game, and if he can sustain this in the regular season, he is going to help the Spurs immensely. His return so far has been good, hopefully he can continue his play into the games that matter.

2ND Place (2 points) – Dejounte Murray - 13 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals

I really wanted to give this spot to Vassell, but Murray just had much better overall stats. He also was great all game, like he always is. DJ got after it defensively, taking on Herro and Robinson and making it tough for them all game long. Another stellar performance from the current leader of this team.

1ST Place (3 points) – Keldon Johnson - 23 points, 8/13 from the field, 2/4 from three

Keldon could easily be a 20+ points per game scorer in this league one day, although his chance of that drastically improve if he is just able to shoot the three at the league average. He’s going to get his 15 or so points at the rim every game, so as long as that three point comes along with it, he can be a real impactful scorer this year and beyond.

Preseason Tally Leaderboard:

Keldon Johnson - 5pts

Dejounte Murray & Bryn Fobes - 4pts each

Josh Primo – 3pts

Drew Eubanks & Jakob Poeltl – 1pt each

Next Game: @ Magic on Sunday

The Spurs go to Orlando for their penultimate preseason contest.