After a nearly unprecedented four-day hiatus, the Spurs returned to action tonight, opening the 2022 Rodeo Road Trip in the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers: the most improved team in the league and contender for the top spot in the East. The Spurs started the game well enough, but a bad offensive stretch spanning the second quarter and first half of the third put the Spurs in a 23-point hole they wouldn’t be able to dig all the way out of on the way to a 105-92 loss.
Devin Vassell led the comeback attempt with 18 points, including his own 7-0 run in the third, on 8-16 shooting, and Keldon Johnson also contributed 18 points and 3 threes on a night when the Spurs just didn’t have it going from beyond the arc. Four Cavs starters scored in double figures, led by 27 from first-time All Star Darius Garland.
- I had to give my eyes time to adjust when this game started. There was just something off-putting about the Spurs’ white uniforms (and Cleveland’s white accent pieces, for that matter) on top of the Cavs’ cream-colored court. The court itself wasn’t ugly, it just presented an awkward contrast on the TV screen.
- After an impressive showing in his season debut against the Rockets last week, Zach Collins looked more like a player who hadn’t played in a year-and-a-half at times. An early pass from the top of the arc went directly to Jarrett Allen, and he just turned his back on the play ready to head back on defense without anticipating the Cavs would get out in transition, and Isaac Okoro ran right past him at halfcourt for the dunk. After that an offensive rebound landed right in his hands, but he dropped it about of bounds. Still, he had his positive plays and looked more comfortable in some ways, such as where to be on the court with less drifting around. Three days of practice probably helped.
- The Spurs started the game shooting well and got the lead as high as eight in the first quarter, but they also looked like a team that hadn’t played in the NBA equivalent of an eternity, with several passes going right to Cavs players or out of bounds, bad communication at times, layups rolling off the rim, and Cleveland basically daring the Spurs to take wide open threes that weren’t falling, especially in the second quarter when the Cavs got the lead as high as 13. Overall, the Spurs hit just 3-17 threes in the first half (all from Johnson) to the Cavs’ 7-11, and they were outscored 3-12 from the free throw line. Because of all that, it felt like a minor miracle that they were only down by nine at the half, 57-48.
- Switching baskets didn’t initially help, as the Spurs shooting struggles continued while the Cavs opened the third quarter on a 16-2 run and pushed the lead as high as 23 before Devin Vassell woke up on offense, perhaps triggered by a steal and transition dunk. He then made a short two, mid-range shot, and finally a three (the Spurs’ first from anyone other than Johnson in the game) to briefly get the Spurs back within 15. That got their confidence going a for the first time since the first quarter, they kept whittling away at the Cavs lead point by point, and Gregg Popovich even used his challenge to overturn a charge call and get Dejounte Murray free throws. They ended the quarter down “just” 73-84.
- Murray wasn’t in his All-Star form tonight, with just 16 points, 6 rebounds and 9 assists on 7-17 shooting (which, reminder, the fact that this feels like an off game for him tells you how far he has come). Like the rest of the team, shots he usually makes (especially around the rim) just weren’t falling, whether it was the presence of Allen deterring him or rustiness at play.
- The Spurs continued to chip into the Cavs’ lead to start the fourth quarter, getting the lead as low as seven a couple of times, but they just didn’t have enough to come all the way back. Allen continued to be defensive hindrance just by his mere presence in the paint, and Pop eventually emptied the bench with Cavs back up by 16 with 1:33 left.
- One thing I wasn’t aware of coming into this game the Spurs have two of the top three-point shooters in the league. Doug McDermott is (now was?) 2nd at 43.5% on 5.3 attempts per game, Johnson is 3rd at 43.1% on 4.3 attempts. McBuckets didn’t have it tonight, going 0-3 from three, Johnson initially hit three of his first five before missing his final four attempts, and overall the Spurs shot just 8-33 from three. It was that kind of shooting night for the Spurs from basically all over the court.
For the Cavs fans’ perspective, visit Fear the Sword.
The first leg of the Rodeo Road Trip continues in Atlanta on Friday as the Spurs take on the Hawks. Tipoff will be at 6:30 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.