The Spurs completely dominated Boston during the first half, building a 24-point cushion behind a stifling defensive effort that left their visitors frustrated and completely out of rhythm. Although the Celtics eventually made a huge run to capture their first lead late in the fourth quarter, San Antonio weathered the storm and ended their six-game skid.
Dejounte Murray packed the box score with a career-high 29 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, three steals, and a block and stepped up down the stretch when the Silver and Black needed a closer. Keldon Johnson and Derrick White chipped in 17 points apiece, while Tre Jones and Lonnie Walker combined for 22 points off the bench.
You won’t win many games in the pace-and-space NBA when you only make six three-pointers, but you’ll always have a chance to emerge victorious if you hold your opposition to 37% shooting. San Antonio has the personnel to lean on their defense when shots aren’t falling, and perhaps they can string together a few wins if they buy into a defense-first identity.
Tre Jones should play more often for the Silver and Black
Tre Jones has received sporadic minutes while swaying in and outside the rotation for most of this season after an untimely ankle sprain kept him on the sidelines during training camp and put his Summer League momentum on pause. Yet the six-three point guard has shown up prepared each time head coach Gregg Popovich calls his number off the pine.
With sharpshooters Devin Vassell and Doug McDermott unable to suit up against the Celtics, the Duke alumnus dropped a career-high 12 points in a season-high 18 minutes of action. Jones knocked down a floater, got to the free-throw line, finished at the rim, drained a few midrange jumpers, and ran San Antonio’s offense for short stints.
Although the 21-year-old was far from perfect, he looked every part of a solid backup point guard and showed he could be impactful when given a longer leash alongside legitimate rotation players. With that said, there is no guarantee this encouraging performance earned Tre an increased role in Pop’s game plan, but it probably should.
There’s no reason to act like Bryn Forbes is the main culprit behind a 5-13 start, though there’s little doubt the undersized marksman has been a net negative for the Spurs. San Antonio has been outscored by a team-worst 78 points when he’s on the court, and subbing in Tre makes sense when Sparty isn’t shooting well from beyond the arc.
Jakob Poeltl is the X-Factor to the Spurs housing an elite defense
Health and safety protocols and competition reconditioning held Jakob Poeltl out of seven straight outings, leaving San Antonio’s roster at less than 100% for a lengthy stretch. While his absence wasn’t the sole reason for the Spurs stacking up losses, it undeniably begins to explain why their defense hasn’t been as good as advertised.
Poeltl had an underwhelming return against the Minnesota Timberwolves but has steadily regained his form on the defensive end. His stout rim protection made the difference for the good guys as Boston struggled around the basket, and the Celtics shot a measly 8-of-26 with Jakob designated as the primary defender on any given play.
The Austrian center has quietly been one of the best shot blockers and interior anchors in the NBA over the last couple of seasons. Although San Antonio has a plethora of sturdy perimeter stoppers in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Devin Vassell, Jakob is the X-Factor to the Spurs hosting an elite inside-out defense.
Dejounte Murray is San Antonio’s best hope down the stretch
As discussed numerous times on this site this season, San Antonio comes and goes as Dejounte Murray does. The sixth-year floor general routinely sets the tone for how the rest of the roster performs. And with as well as he played on Friday night, it should come as no surprise the Spurs walked away with their first win in two weeks.
The Silver and Black ask Dejounte to do just about everything on a nightly basis, including filling in as the de facto closer now that DeMar DeRozan is off to greener pastures. While thrusting Murray into a suboptimal role with a less than ideal supporting cast has resulted in a handful of close losses, the young guard finally delivered and dispatched the Celtics with the game hanging in the balance.
Dejounte accounted for half of San Antonio’s 26 fourth-quarter points to help them stave off a furious Boston comeback attempt, and who knows where they would be in the standings without his services? The six-five midrange specialist now paces the Spurs with 23 clutch points on 10-of-22 shooting, with everyone else combining for 33 points on 11-of-29 from the field.