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Keldon Johnson is lone bright spot in Spurs blowout loss to Grizzlies

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The relentless play of the 2nd year wing is the only positive in Spurs loss to Memphis

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

With the way the Western Conference standings have played out so far every game is important. One loss to the Memphis Grizzlies two days ago dropped the Spurs from 4th place all the way down to 9th. In fact going into tonight’s game there was only a 2 game separation between 4th and 10th place. A victory in the second game of a mini series against the Grizzlies would put the Spurs right back where they wanted to be. Unfortunately it didn’t happen and they were blown out 133-102.

It didn’t start out bad though. In a turnaround of their usual slow starts the Spurs got off to an early 10-3 lead with LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 8 early points. After a Grizzly timeout Memphis went on a 10-0 run and things were back to normal. The two teams would play fairly evenly throughout the rest of the quarter and the Grizzlies ended it with a 2 point lead. After an unusually quiet game two days ago DeMar DeRozan seemed back on track as he closed out the quarter strong, driving to the basket and earning a couple of trips to the line. It would not last.

Really quickly I wanted to point out some Patty Mills defense. It seems that recently Patty has been getting a feel for jumping passing lanes. I don’t have the exact numbers, but he seems to get at least one per game. He had another one in this first quarter.

The Spurs opened up the second quarter with some more highlight defense. This time it was Jakob Poeltl rejecting an attempted dunk by Grizzly superstar Ja Morant. Jakob was rewarded on the other end with a basket and got a second on the next possession. They were the only field goal attempts he had in the game, but he made them count.

Ja getting blocked by Poeltl didn’t have much influence on his game going forward however. In just his second year he is already a master at finishing around the rim. He can go with his left or right and can also stop short and hit a devastatingly accurate floater. I’m not sure it’s possible to stop him. Unfortunately for San Antonio it wasn’t just Morant scoring around the hoop. The Grizzlies got help from everybody and outscored the Spurs 62-32 on points in the paint. Possession after possession for Memphis it was, drive around a pick and hit the cutter for an easy layup.

A nasty combination of lack of interior defense, uncharacteristic turnovers, and not being able to make a shot lead to the Spurs falling further and further behind as the 2nd quarter wore on. They went into halftime with a 69-53 deficit.

As the 3rd quarter started the Grizzlies picked up where they left off and quickly built a 20 point lead. That is until Dejounte Murray hit his first two shots of the game. Back to back 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. Unfortunately they were the only two shots he made. It wasn’t just him though. The entire offense seemed out of whack. There was little to no penetration and it appeared that most shots were taken from the outside.

I think one of the problems is that outside of DeMar there isn’t really a pecking order of scorers. Everybody is kind of on the same level. Nobody wants to step up and be the next guy after DeMar. I don’t think it’s passiveness, I think it’s everybody trying to be a good teammate and they end up being too unselfish. Trying to figure out how Derrick White fits in doesn’t help matters either.

With that being said, there is one guy who doesn’t seem afraid to step up and lead by example. Keldon Johnson. After Memphis built up their big 3rd quarter lead I wasn’t really paying attention to the score. Before I knew it Keldon had a couple of old fashioned 3-point plays and the Spurs were within 10 points. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’ll probably say it every single game Keldon plays. I love watching him play. He never quits no matter what the score is. He was playing just as hard bringing his team within 10 points as he was when the game was out of reach in the 4th. He never stops playing hard and there is nothing I admire in a player more. Keldon Johnson for life.

The rest of the game was the Grizzlies continuing to pull away until it was a blowout. On a positive note Jakob Poeltl got to the free throw line in the 4th quarter and sank both of them! However, Memphis answered right back with a 3. It was that kind of night.

Game notes

  • Happy Birthday Drew Eubanks!
  • With Derrick White coming back the big question was, “whose minutes will be most affected”? If this game is any indication it will be Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell. Lonnie only played 16 minutes after he had been averaging 28 for the season. Devin had been averaging 17 minutes per game and only played 12 tonight. Most of them were garbage minutes after the game was out of hand. With White back the Spurs roster is legitimately 10 players deep. On the positive side it could mean they are more flexible with matching up to opponents lineups. On the negative side it means that there will be some very capable players not getting the minutes they deserve.
  • DeMar DeRozan had another quiet night. He only had 14 points, but shot pretty well going 6/12. I’d like to think that he’s taking a step back to let the younger guys step up and take on more responsibility. I hope that’s it because after the 1st quarter I didn’t really notice him. He only got to the line 4 times which is very un-DeMar like.
  • The Spurs have 8 players that average 10 points or more. Against Memphis they only had 4 score more than 10. DeMar, LaMarcus, Patty, and Keldon. The 4 that didn’t were Dejounte, Lonnie, Rudy, and Derrick. Derrick was aggressive, but only shot 2/10. He’s still getting his legs under him. I think he’ll be fine. Lonnie got his minutes severely cut, so that makes sense. I would have liked Dejounte to have performed a little better. He really wasn’t aggressive at all. Of his 9 shots 6 of them were 3-pointers. That’s not his game. This could have been a game for him to showcase himself against a top point guard like Ja Morant. I hope his next game is a bounce back performance.

Next game

Wednesday, February 3rd vs. Minnesota Timberwolves @7:30 pm

With this latest loss the Spurs fell from 9th to 10th in the Western Conference standings. Fortunately for them things are packed so tightly they are still just one game out of 4th place. Here’s to moving up the standings by beating the T’Wolves.