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Spurs survive Cavaliers comeback attempt for third straight win

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Keldon Johnson’s 23-point, 21-rebound double-double powers the Spurs to victory in Demar DeRozan’s return game against the young Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

DeMar DeRozan returned after missing the last four games as he helped the San Antonio Spurs win their third straight game for the fourth time this season.

Up until the final frame, the Spurs had done themselves proud and were well on their way to earning their starters some rest before a SEGEBABA tomorrow night in Milwaukee. Unfortunately for the Spurs, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to show up to work in the fourth quarter and made San Antonio fight all the way until the final buzzer to pull this one out; 116-110.

The Spurs for once started the game strong including a 7-0 start with buckets for all three of their 29th overall picks; Keldon Johnson, Derrick White and Dejounte Murray. Not all was going smoothly as on the other end Jakob Poeltl picked up two early fouls and was forced to the bench. Drew Eubanks came in and did what he usually does and even had a nice dunk after great ball movement from the rest of the Spurs. This prompted a Cavs timeout as the lead was 16-8, halfway through the opening quarter. The timeout worked for J.B Bickerstaff and his team as they went on a 30 second, 5-0 run which caused a now angry Gregg Popovich to call his team’s first timeout. Late in the quarter turnovers and missed shots cost both teams as the Spurs led at the end of the first frame; 25-22.

Pop still reeling from the poor second half of the first quarter put in Tre Jones early in the second to try and get a response from his outfit. Tre was only in for 90 seconds but was a +6 on the floor and did his job as the Spurs started to execute. An 11-0 run moved the lead to double figures halfway through the quarter. The Spurs ended the half with a flurry of dunks, layups and and-1’s as San Antonio went up 12 at the halftime break.

Quarter 3 started with the returning DeMar DeRozan putting his stamp on the game as 8 straight points pushed a Spurs lead to 18. The home team and San Antonio traded buckets throughout the quarter until Patty Mills entered the fray and hit back to back threes to give the Silver & Black their largest lead of 22. Cleveland ended the frame better as they clawed it back to 15 with some good defense and shot-making on the offensive end.

The Cavs needed something to help bring themselves back into this game, and they showed a sense of urgency and pace early in the 4th to rush the Spurs on both ends of the floor, something very similar of what we saw San Antonio do in their comeback win against the Bulls two days ago. The Spurs were struggling to match the energy of Cleveland, so what did the Spurs do? They turned to their lighting in a bottle Keldon Johnson to help bring a jolt. This worked to perfection, especially during a play where KJ got an offensive rebound and put it back for an and-1 which lifted his team. If you go back and look at the play, watch DeMar’ reaction and his excitement and energy all because of a Keldon Johnson hustle play.

The Cavs didn’t stop fighting though and with 5 to go in the game they brought the lead down to single figures for the first time since the 1st half. So Pop turned to his two biggest bucket getters; DeMar and Dejounte. Those two traded some clutch points before a Patty Mills three extended the lead back over double figures. The Cavs started to get desperate and introduced a full court press, this caused havoc for San Antonio as turnovers and poor decision making let the Cavs get a bit of belief and squish the lead bit by bit. Fortunately, time ran out for the young Cleveland side and San Antonio prevailed for a 6-point win.

Game Notes

  • The Spurs win their third straight for the 4th time this season. Interestingly the Spurs haven’t had a win streak more than three in row since right after the 2019 Rodeo Road Trip and ended on March 20. So a win tomorrow would not only be San Antonio’ longest win streak of the season, but also their longest in exactly two years.
  • There was no Lonnie Walker IV in the rotation tonight. This was puzzling as he was not on the injury report and had been starting in the absence of DeMar DeRozan. We did get a bit of clarification after the game as Pop said that Lonnie is “Ok but just a bit banged up”. Hopefully we see SkyWalker tomorrow as his fresh legs could be handy on the SEGABABA.
  • J.B Bickerstaff what were you doing using your challenge so early? This may have been more puzzling than Lonnie not being in the rotation. The Cavs coach used a challenge just 7 minutes into the first on a clear foul by Jarrett Allen. It wasn’t even like Allen was in foul trouble. The refs only needed one look at the monitor before knowing it was not going to be overturned. What a waste of a challenge.
  • KELDON “BIG BODY” JOHNSON. A career night for Keldon as he had his first 20-20 game of his professional basketball life. 23 pts and 21 rbs for the two way menace. He also played a near 40 minutes so that shows how much Pop was trusting him tonight as a difference maker. Keldon needed a game like this too as he has been stagnating since the All-Star break as other guys having been getting their stats and moments. Tonight, Keldon made it his.
  • 20 pts and 7 ast for DeMar DeRozan in his return. He played 36 minutes and was solid throughout. Not spectacular but his usual impactful self. We Missed you DeMar. The starting backcourt of White and Murray had a combined 39pts which is a huge bonus if we can get that type of scoring production out of them on a nightly basis.
  • My Free Hit Theory. Tomorrow night the Spurs go and play the Milwaukee Bucks on a second night of a back to back. This will be the Spurs fifth and final away game on this road trip. The Spurs beat the three teams they were meant to, and lost to the team that they were underdogs against. The Spurs are now six games over 0.500 and no matter the results tomorrow, will finish this road trip over 0.500 as well. The Bucks are also coming off a two-day break after an OT win against the 76ers. If the Spurs lose tomorrow, no harm done, we’re underdogs going against one of the best teams in the league who are well rested as well. That’s why this game is a free hit for San Antonio, go out there play with no pressure, no stress, play your game. You lose no biggie, you win however, STATEMENT. If the Spurs win tomorrow night that’s a statement to the rest of the league that San Antonio can play with the big boys, even on a second night of a back to back against a team who just had a 2-day break. Due to the Spurs taking care of business in the last three games it now gives the Spurs a free hit tomorrow night where it feels like a loss won’t hurt but a win would be a message of ”‘You better start respecting us now” to the rest of the league, the national media and everyone involved in the NBA.

Next game: @Bucks on Saturday, 8:00 PM CT on FSSW.

MAKE. A. STATEMENT.