The Spurs couldn’t handle the streaking Kings in the first of a back-to-back set on Monday. Despite cutting a big double-digit deficit to just three points early in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t complete the comeback and lost 132-115.
The matchup everyone was looking forward coming into this one was the battle between the reigning Player of the Week, De’Aaron Fox, and Dejounte Murray. It didn’t disappoint, as Fox made his presence felt before and after getting into some early foul trouble while Murray had the best half of his career, dropping 21 points in the first two quarter. Yet it was another, less heralded duel that proved to be similarly important to the development of the game early. Luke Walton decided to put Harrison Barnes on DeMar DeRozan to avoid doubling the Spurs’ top scorer while hiding Buddy Hield on Keldon Johnson. The decision paid off, as DeRozan couldn’t help Murray carry the scoring and was instead turned into a playmaker.
While the Spurs relied on individual exploits to put points on the board in the first two quarters, the Kings’ offense hummed thanks to some absurd outside shooting. Sacramento had 11 made threes in the first half to San Antonio’s five and also held a 10-point edge on free throw makes. Everything seemed easy for the visitors, as the Silver and Black looked a step slow on defense and relied on Murray and Jakob Poeltl to make plays on both ends to stay afloat. Not even the typically reliable bench was able to come through, as the subs went 4-for-14 from the field in the first half. The Kings cleaned up the mistakes they made earlier on the defensive glass and forced the Spurs’ backcourt to do the heavy lifting, and they easily took control.
It was clear that something had to change in the second half for the Spurs, and it did, at least on one end. Johnson decided to attack Hield and force his way to the rim, which gave the offense a boost after Murray cooled off. Unfortunately San Antonio couldn’t get stops, as the Kings kept hitting jumpers and extending the lead until finally Fox had to rest, giving the home team an opportunity to make a move. After being down by as many as 19 points, the Spurs closed strong courtesy of a much more energetic defense and the scoring prowess of DeRozan and Gay, to reduce the deficit to the same eight points that separated the two teams at the half.
Alas, the comeback was not meant to be. The bench made a push and cut the lead to three, but couldn’t put the team ahead. That last one push never came from the starters, either. A few empty offensive possessions featuring two turnovers and a Poeltl miss that resulted in a fastbreak bucket for Richaun Holmes put the Kings ahead by 10 once again. Dejounte Murray tried to take over like he had in the first half, but he ended up forcing the action to mixed results. By the time DeRozan, the Spurs’ closer, checked back in, Sacramento led by 13 and was showing no signs of letting up. Simply put, San Antonio ran out of gas against a team riding high on a winning streak and playing its best ball of the season.
- Since these two teams will meet again on Wednesday, it’s reasonable to expect a few adjustments. How the Spurs decide to attack Hield will be one of the most interesting to watch. Johnson was extremely passive in the first half, and that can’t happen again. The Kings need to be punished for putting their bigger, better perimeter defender on DeRozan. If DeMar and Keldon go a combined 2-for-10 in the first half again, San Antonio will be in trouble.
- Murray was engulfed in flames in the first half, but only scored two points in the second half. It wasn’t all that surprising, since Johnson, Gay and DeRozan got more touches as the game went on, but it was a little unfortunate that he couldn’t keep it going. Still, a great performance from Murray, who essentially played Fox to a draw.
- Jakob Poeltl also did much better in the first half and faded away, but no one can complain about his overall production. The defense and work on the boards remains stellar and now he’s adding more offense to the equation, so Poeltl gets a pass even though the relentless Holmes had a standout game.
- Derrick White has turned into a volume three-point shooter recently, and that continued against the Kings, as he fired seven outside shots and made three. Someone has to shoot for the starting lineup to have enough spacing and White has showed he can be that guy, but the downside of his new role is that he’s not creating for others as much. A little more balance would be great.
- Rudy Gay and Patty Mills had their moments in the second half, but the bench veterans need to be a little more consistent. It seems they miss Poeltl, as their net rating as a duo has dropped significantly since the big man became a starter. Maybe the arrival of Gorgui Dieng will revitalize the bench.
- The Spurs could have picked Tyrese Haliburton but instead went for Devin Vassell. Going by just these first 40 something games, that looks like a mistake, since Haliburton is more productive right now. But Tyreke Evans was the best rookie on a class that included Stephen Curry once. I’m not saying Haliburton will fall off or Vassell will turn into a superstar, but no one should be making definitive statements about two young players this quickly. Patience is a virtue.
- Chimezie Metu lives! With Marvin Bagley III and Hassan Whiteside out, Metu got the backup center minutes for the Kings and looked as clueless yet occasionally tantalizing as he did while wearing Silver and Black. Metu hit a three and moved well, but he also goaltended a couple of buckets. There might still be hope for the former Spur, but he still has lots to learn.
Next game: Vs. Kings on Wednesday
We go again in a couple of days. Let’s hope the result is different, because the Kings are creeping into the play-in picture.