Despite snapping out of their offensive funk, the Spurs simply could not keep up with the Lakers and avenge the previous night’s defeat. San Antonio crossed the 130-point threshold for the second time this season but didn’t have the bodies to shut down their opponent’s attack at any point, and lost 142 -138 on a night in which Jakob Poeltl and Jeremy Sochan had to leave the game with injuries.
It was clear from the start that it was not going to be a defensive battle, as both teams scored in four consecutive trips down the court after an initial miss from Jeremy Sochan to open up the festivities. With Anthony Davis out, Jakob Poeltl was feasting inside as the teams traded buckets in the first few minutes. San Antonio mustered up a few stops first and that was enough to claim an eight-point lead just as the starters from both squads were ready to check out. The Lakers’ bench was sharper against an opponent that was missing two second-unit members and quickly deleted the deficit before a response by the Spurs that allowed them to regain control of the game. Unfortunately, the Silver and Black simply couldn’t close strong despite scoring 34 points in the opening frame, as they allowed the visitors 33, including a buzzer-beater by center Wenyen Gabriel following a ghastly inbounding turnover.
The good news for San Antonio was that the three-pointers, which had not fallen the night before, were going in on Saturday and the Lakers’ lackadaisical defense was letting them run the floor and cut backdoor for easy buckets. The bad news was that injuries sidelined Jakob Poeltl, who was having a fantastic game by dominating inside, and Jeremy Sochan. A lead that at one point reached double digits started to evaporate as the increasingly shorthanded Spurs tried desperately to hold on. Eventually the visitors managed to wrestle control of the matchup away from San Antonio despite not playing with much energy or focus on the defensive end, simply by scoring almost at will. All the Silver and Black could do was try to keep it as close as possible, wait for the break, and regroup. They succeeded, as they only trailed by two heading to the locker room after a couple of Tre Jones buckets, despite allowing 70 first-half points.
With Romeo Langford taking Sochan’s spot and Zach Collins filling in for Jakob Poeltl, the Spurs started the second half with a small squad that had even more trouble defending than normal. Dennis Schroeder got hot, the Lakers got a lead, and it seemed like they were going to run away with it. While a true contender filled with veterans would have done just that, this version of the Purple and Gold doesn’t have the talent or the discipline to really put even a young, shorthanded, rebuilding opponent away at this point. The visitors were simply reverting to isolation basketball on offense despite scoring easily whenever they run any plays and were slow to get back on defense despite the Spurs punishing them all night by running every opportunity they had. It felt like the final result was not really in question, especially after Zach Collins was ejected for a flagrant 2, but the Lakers were intent on making things harder on themselves while San Antonio just refused to fold.
In the end, the lack of size and any sort of coordination on defense made it impossible for the Spurs to make the comeback. A few flashes of the elite version of LeBron James, a couple of Lonnie Walker IV moments, and a few threes that went in simply allowed the Lakers to manage a decently sized lead, resulting in a final score that doesn’t really show how in control the visitors were in the second half but does a good job of describing just how bad both teams were on defense throughout the night.
- Keldon Johnson had a disastrous start to the game but managed to put together a more respectable shooting night by upping his game in the second half. Scoring 26 points while taking 28 shots is nothing to write home about, but it seems like a step in the right direction for the young forward. The big question with Keldon right now is whether he’s forcing things too much to get back on track. Answering it is hard because Johnson has always taken tough shots. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. He’ll just have to keep firing, so it’s encouraging that he’s at least not afraid to pull the trigger.
- The Spurs, which were without Keita Bates-Diop, lost Poeltl and Sochan in the first half, Collins in the third quarter, and then Isaiah Roby, who fouled out, in the fourth. That’s a lot of size gone. Maybe more Charles Bassey could have helped, but he was a little erratic in the short stint he got. Hopefully Poeltl and Sochan’s injuries are not serious.
- The Spurs got to run, which means that Tre Jones got to shine. The speedy point guard finished the game with 23 points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists, getting close to a triple-double. The Lakers helped by being painfully sloppy with their transition defense, but Jones and the rest of the Spurs pushed the pace aggressively, so they deserve credit for the team’s 39 fastbreak points.
- Malaki Branham got some minutes in Josh Richardson’s absence and looked fine. He hit a couple of threes and dished out a couple of assists, but he probably needs more seasoning in Austin.
Play of the night
The real play of the game was a Westbrook-to-James alley-oop, but you’ll probably see that highlight everywhere. So instead let’s focus on the type of clean fastbreak the Spurs should try to execute more often. Simple and effective.
Next game: At Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday
After the mini-series with the Lakers, the Spurs will have a couple of days off before traveling to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder, looking to snap an eight-game losing streak.