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Keldon Johnson’s game-winner propels Spurs past Warriors

The Spurs bounced back from a tough loss against the Pelicans by beating the third best team in the West in a close game.

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In a game that was equal parts chaotic and fun, the Spurs bounced back from their loss against the Pelicans by beating the Warriors in a 110-108 nail-biter. Josh Richardson had a standout performance, but Keldon Johnson was the hero of the night, as he got the rebound on a Jakob Poeltl miss from the line with 2.4 seconds left and banked in the game-winner.

After the debacle against the Pelicans, it was interesting to see how the Spurs were going to react. A dunk by Jakob Poeltl off a Josh Primo dime in the first play of the game eased any concerns about the Silver and Black’s ability to recover from that bad loss. The Curry-less Warriors seemed almost blindsided by the focus and energy their opponent was displaying early on, struggling to protect the glass and fouling a lot when San Antonio’s ball and player movement became too much to handle. Daring Dejounte Murray and, later on, Zach Collins to beat them with jumpers didn’t really prove to be a winning strategy either, as the shots kept falling. On the other end the Spurs had some trouble containing Golden State’s back cuts, but in general managed to remain competent even when the bench checked in.

After a strong first quarter in which they ended up leading by 14, the challenge was to keep up the intensity and preventing the Warriors from gaining momentum. The Spurs did a fantastic job with that, with Josh Richardson providing the volume scoring fans have come to expect from the sidelined Lonnie Walker IV, and the bigs doing a good job on both ends. Steve Kerr tried a zone to disrupt San Antonio’s attack, but aggressive moves and precise cuts allow the visitors to put enough points on the board anyway. Golden State was clearly starting to click on offense after a slow start, but untimely turnovers prevented them from fully going nuclear. In the final minutes the Dubs managed to cut the lead to two, but three-pointers by Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell extended it to six going into the break.

The Warriors were ready to make their move at the start of the second half, scoring the first two buckets of the third period to immediately cut the lead to one, but Gregg Popovich called a quick timeout and the Spurs got back on track. Then the whole vibe of the game changed when Draymond Green got himself ejected for complaining to the officials. Dejounte Murray scored seven quick points to get the lead to double digits, and suddenly it seemed like Golden State was on the back foot. Unfortunately, the absences resulted in some strange lineups for San Antonio, and Murray simply couldn't complete a run with a unit featuring two centers in Zach Collins and Jock Landale, along with a second point guard in Tre Jones. The Silver and Black missed an opportunity and the Warriors closed strong to take a one-point lead into the fourth.

Fortunately for the Spurs, they started the final period with a more optimized lineup and the home team went through an offensive drought early. The momentum swung even harder San Antonio’s way when Klay Thompson fouled Richardson on a three-point attempt. Kerr challenged the call, but the result was not only a shooting foul but also a technical for Thompson for not giving Richardson room to land. Near the halfway mark the Silver and Black were up nine, but the Warriors had one more run in them. As the visitors kept missing shots, Golden State chipped away at the deficit and managed to regain the lead entering the last two minutes. The real fun, however, would come in the final seconds, when some questionable decisions by both the Spurs and the officials provided plenty of suspense.

With the game tied and just over 20 seconds to go, Vassell used the foul San Antonio had to give after a Warriors offensive rebound, despite the fact that the shot clock had reset to 14 seconds. Then after another miss and offensive rebound, he fouled Andrew Wiggins, with three seconds to go and the game tied. Wiggins only made the first freebie and after he missed the second, Kevon Looney fouled Poeltl while going for the rebound. Poeltl then hit the first but missed the second only to see Keldon Johnson get the offensive board and win the game. It was a wild ending to an extremely fun game that keeps the Spurs’ play-in chances alive.

Game notes

  • The Spurs are severely shorthanded at the forward spots, so playing strange lineups like the one that squandered the lead in the third quarter is almost inevitable, but they need to figure out ways to always have more than one shooter on the floor. If everyone remains out and opponents don’t play two bigs as the same time, it might be time to give Joe Wieskamp 10 minutes a game to show his worth.
  • It was interesting to see how the size advantage shifted throughout the game. The starting units were mostly evenly matched, but Poeltl was too big for Looney to handle early on. In the Collins-Landale minutes the Spurs were obviously bigger inside, but the Warriors had bigger forwards, with Otto Porter Jr. and Jonathan Kuminga giving the Spurs trouble on the offensive glass. Then in the final minutes, both teams went small, and the Warriors had the edge then. Hopefully San Antonio will get a big forward who can act as a small ball center in the offseason to have more versatility when Poeltl is resting.
  • Josh Primo got 34 minutes, and played a solid game, while Tre Jones got 20 minutes and was serviceable, even hitting a couple of threes when left open. The young guards have their ups and downs but clearly have upside.

Play of the night

There’s no other possible choice. Keldon Johnson, for the win!

SVP Awards

3rd place (1 point) - Keldon Johnson | 14 points, five assists, the game-winner

That clutch offensive board and bucket is what gets Keldon this spot, because for the rest of the game he wasn’t a big plus. His rebounding was average, he wasn’t effective from outside and he didn’t make a big defensive impact. But the assists are encouraging and the energy to get that loose ball and bucket show that Johnson can be special.

2nd place (2 points) - Dejounte Murray | 19 points, six rebounds, eight assists

Murray gets the spot almost by default. He was very inefficient from the floor, missing 16 of the 24 shots he took, but all of the starters had a cold night. Dejounte could have had a couple more assists if his admittedly risky passes to Collins near the basket were turned into buckets, and he can’t be blamed for not being able to pounce on the Warriors in the third quarter with a unit that simply couldn’t space the floor. Not a particularly good night for Dejounte, but he sneaks in because only one Spur really had a standout performance.

1st place (3 points) - Josh Richardson | 25 points on 12 shots

Richardson filled in for Lonnie Walker IV as the bench volume scorer beautifully, putting together an extremely efficient offensive night that included outside shots and trips to the line caused by fouls on three-point attempts. He also did a solid job on Klay Thompson, who even in his current form is a tough cover. At this point of the rebuild, veterans on good contracts are probably viewed more as trade pieces than future contributors, but even if Richardson’s time with the Spurs ends in the offseason, he’ll be remembered fondly because of performances like this one.

Overall leaderboad

1st - Dejounte Murray - 111pts

2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 61pts

3rd - Keldon Johnson - 53pts

4th - Derrick White - 51pts

5th - Devin Vassell- 47pts

6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 37pts

7th - Doug McDermott - 16pts

8th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts

9th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts

10th - Tre Jones & Jock Landale - 7pts

11th - Keita Bates-Diop - 6pts

12th - Josh Richardson - 5pts

13th - Josh Primo - 3pts

14th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

15th - Devontae Cacok, Zach Collins & Joe Wieskamp - 1pt

Next game: at Trail Blazers on Wednesday

The Spurs will continue their four-game road trip by facing the tanking Blazers. It should be a win, if the team shows up ready to play.