The San Antonio Spurs earned their third straight road victory with a harder-than-expected win against the Cleveland Cavaliers behind a career game by Keldon Johnson and an unusually strong start. The Spurs, hoping to avoid the need for a late rally, surged out to a 15 point first-half lead with consistently solid halfcourt defense, while sharing the ball willingly at the other end. Cleveland posed little offensive outside diversity of its young backcourt studs. While the Cavaliers made a spirited run spanning the third and fourth quarters, the Spurs young core made the difference in the closing minutes.
San Antonio was led with balanced performances by Johnson (23 points and 21 rebounds), DeMar DeRozan (20 points and 7 rebounds), and Dejounte Murray (22 points and 6 rebounds). Cleveland’s Darius Garland (29 points and 8 assists) and Collin Sexton (29 points and 5 rebounds) supplied the majority of the scoring firepower throughout, while their bench, outside of Lamar Steven’s surprise performance (15 points), was outclassed by the Spurs’ reserves.
- If you had Oral Roberts or North Texas as your upset choices today, you are truly prescient! There has been only one Spurs franchise player from either school (Oral Roberts): Greg Sutton.
- I’m not sure what’s the worse name: Quicken Loans Arena or Rocket Loans Fieldhouse.
- Jakob Poeltl and Derrick White were whistled for two fouls in the first 18 seconds. Poeltl’s second foul was a very questionable call where he turned back Isaac Okoro at the rim on his dunk attempt. Does it only seem like the best defenders against Poeltl are the referees and the free throw stripe?
- Keldon’s Kitchen: Johnson is so strong that, when he misses on a rare inside attempt, he’s able to use his second leap ability (without Zion Williamson’s heft) to put himself in great position to access the carom.
- Derrick White’s Defensive IQ: On one late first half possession, White defended a high pick and roll, faded into the paint to fend off cutters, guarded the post player directly, closed out on a crosscourt pass, and pulled down the errant Cavaliers shot.
- Sequence of the Game: Off the catch in the first period, DeRozan deftly delivered the ball to Johnson on the baseline; who whipped it around a flying Jarrett Allen to Drew Eubanks for a monster dunk.
- It was nice to see Tre Jones gain some first half experience.
- It’s disspiriting to see that Kevin Love went from making the last stop in the 2016 Finals on Stephen Curry to playing less than 15 minutes a game a mere five years later.
- A spritely Spurs team notched a quick touchdown in the opening minutes, while the backcourt of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton supplied most of the home team’s scoring. San Antonio helped its undermanned bigs expertly on the Cavaliers’ drives and were able to corral rebounds, and though it ran out to a lead, a cold spell and sloppy execution near the end of the opening quarter allowed Cleveland to close the deficit. The Spurs left the stanza up 25-22.
- Right after converting a degree-of-difficulty lefty layup at the start of the second period, Poeltl was sent right back to the bench with his third foul. A 15-1 run highlighted by a Johnson and-1 and putback, Rudy Gay dunk in transition, and hot shooting by Derrick White gave San Antonio a 15-point lead. Meanwhile, halfway through the quarter, Sexton and Garland had accounted for 86(!!!)% of Cleveland’s total points. Allen remembered that he was 7 feet tall and asserted himself on the offensive boards and in the paint to some success. A Gay pull-up jumper supplied the last Spurs points for the half and they exited up 54-42.
- After a turnover to start the second half, DeRozan asserted himself and converted a handful of free throws and a pair of stepback jumpers to extend the San Antonio advantage to 18. Halfway into the third, Sexton and Garland still had 2⁄3 of the Cavaliers’ points. Back-to-back Patty Mills threes delivered from DeRozan made it 75-53. Cleveland inexplicably fouled the Spurs on three 3-point tries in the period alone. Complacent play by San Antonio along with an inspired effort by Cleveland reserve Lamar Stevens allowed the Cavaliers to stay within 15 points heading into the final quarter.
- The Cavaliers’ reserves showed demonstrably higher effort - with a Stevens steal and dunk closing the gap to 10. A pair of successive difficult layups converted by Dejounte Murray combined with Johnson’s 20th rebound and putback stopped the Cleveland run temporarily. A Sexton three and floater were offset by DeRozan’s and Murray’s layups. Despite missing 7 of his first 9 shots, Mills connected on what Sean Elliott called a “terrible, great” shot from behind the arc.
- It wouldn’t be an exciting Spurs ending without a fraught set of final moments. Two giveaways by San Antonio led to four quick Cleveland points and made it 109-103. Two free throws by White appeared to ice the game away, but the Cavaliers’ relentlessness made the final result way tougher than necessary.
For the Cavaliers fan’s perspective, please visit Fear the Sword.
San Antonio takes on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in a SEGABABA Saturday evening at 8:00 PM CT.