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Keldon Johnson’s big night helps Spurs beat Rockets, snap 11-game losing streak

While still ravaged by injuries, the Spurs took down a fellow bottom-dweller to return to victory for the first time in a long while.

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The losing streak is finally over. With Keldon Johnson and Tre Jones leading the way and solid performances from most rotation players, the Spurs beat the Rockets 118-109 in a duel between the two worst teams in the West.

The first half lived up to the expectations anyone could have had from a matchup between two extremely young teams, in both the best and worst ways. Both squads tried to play fast and relied on some of their best players, with Alperen Sengun giving the Spurs some trouble inside early and rookie Jabari Smith Jr. coming alive as the minutes went on. San Antonio, meanwhile, leaned on Tre Jones to punish a terrible Rockets’ transition defense while Keldon Johnson bullied his way into buckets near the paint. The score was close throughout and there were some genuine fun stretches in which the matchup seemed like a glimpse into the future of the league, with a lot of young talent shining.

Then there were the other moments, in which the game was painfully sloppy, as both teams took turns botching easy plays. The Rockets missed dunks and looked completely clueless on defense while the Spurs had some guys make wild drives and veteran Josh Richardson throwing one of the worst alley-oop passes of the last 10 years, at least. The swings from good, entertaining play to incompetence from both sides came so consistently that neither squad could really take a big lead. The Rockets were ahead by five after the first 12 minutes and by three at the break, thanks to a buzzer-beater, but the nine ties and nine lead changes in the first two quarters really highlight how much of an up-and-down affair it truly was in the first half.

Whoever was going to take this one was going to have to actually put together a strong run, and initially, in the second half it seemed like it was going to be the Rockets, as they got a quick seven-point lead. Then a barrage of threes from the Spurs changed the flow of the game completely. Four long balls in a row fell and San Antonio pulled ahead and never looked back, even through the most precarious time this season for the Silver and Black: the minutes Tre Jones rests. Some good stretches from Malaki Branham and Josh Richardson kept them ahead during that time, and then Doug McDermott came alive to bring some firepower off the bench. Despite getting little from their leading scorer for the night during the frame, the Spurs led by 13 going into the final period.

There was no comeback for the visitors, who simply made too many mistakes while San Antonio managed its lead. There was a scary stretch in the final minutes when, with Boban Marjanovic leading the charge, Houston cut the one-time 20 point Spurs lead down to 12, but there was not enough time for things to get too suspenseful. Keldon Johnson came through with a timely bucket and a free throw, and the Spurs cruised into their first win in almost a month.

Game notes

  • Keldon Johnson got some clean looks from outside and actually converted them, going 3-for-6 from beyond the three-point line. He’s also clearly making an effort to use his size to get close to the basket, whether it be on post-ups or drives, and while the actions are not always pretty, the results have been good. The young wing deserves a lot of credit for never losing his confidence throughout a slump that hopefully is over for good now.
  • When Tre Jones gets to attack a defense that isn’t set, he shines. The Rockets make a lot of the same mistakes the Spurs make in transition (as well as the secondary break) and Jones feasted. It was also good to see a couple of triples fall for him and to watch him remain aggressive throughout the night.
  • Is it time to start worrying about Zach Collins? He scored efficiently but struggled against Sengun and had five turnovers and five fouls. The Spurs were clearly better off when the springier Charles Bassey was on the floor, and it’s not the first time that has happened. The front office made a commitment to Collins and he does deserve the opportunity to try to regain his rhythm after some injuries, but if he’s still getting outplayed by the third-stringer once Jakob Poeltl returns, Pop might have to make a tough decision.
  • The veterans looked a little rusty in the first half in their return to action but stepped up in the second half. McDermott and Richardson both scored in double digits for the night and had strong stretches. It’s good to have them back.
  • Romeo Langford just does a lot of the little things that help a team. His defense is good, he moves the ball, and he’s active. He just needs a reliable three-point shot to have a long career. Let’s hope he can get one before he runs out of time because he could be a really solid role player.
  • Rockets, please trade Eric Gordon already. That man looks as miserable as Rudy Gay did in his last year with the Spurs. Free him.

Play of the night

Keldon Johnson on the break, against a skinny rookie. Too easy.

Next game: at the Miami Heat on Saturday

The Spurs will travel to Miami to take on a Heat team that has disappointed so far. Could a little winning streak follow after losing 11 straight?