It wasn’t as lopsided an affair as the three previous matchups, but the Spurs swept the season series against the Trail Blazers in convincing fashion despite missing Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl. Keldon Johnson led the way and a strong second half was all that was needed to secure a 113-92 win that gets San Antonio closer to the play-in.
The first half was nothing like in previous matchups, as the Blazers took a lead early and looked like the more composed team. The absences of their defensive and offensive linchpins were causing the Spurs to struggle with execution on both ends, as their was no shot creator on the floor or reliable back line defense. After a while, however, things normalize a little for San Antonio. Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson started to attack more and the activity level on the defensive end improved. As the bench checked in and two more natural scorers like Lonnie Walker IV and Josh Richardson shared the floor, the second unit had more weapons. Inside, the Spurs just went for offensive boards, which gave them valuable second chances. After one, the home team was up three.
While the limitations of the available roster were teased earlier in the game, they were fully exposed in the second quarter, as the Silver and Black lost Jock Landale to an ankle sprain. No backup point guard and no backup center was too much for the Spurs to adjust to on the fly. The defense allowed an abundance of buckets due to bad communication while the offense stagnated greatly when Josh Primo was asked to run it. Johnson was once again the biggest bright spot, and San Antonio occasionally looked good when they could push the pace, but in general the quarter belonged to Portland, which dropped 33 points while only allowing 22. An eight-point deficit going into the break didn’t seem insurmountable, but the Spurs were going to have to figure things out quickly to avoid dropping a much-needed and attainable win.
Fortunately, they did. They got lucky with a Zach Collins banked three to beat the shot clock, but put together a mini-run early on to tie things up in the first few minutes, as the Blazers’ offense went cold. Josh Primo joined Tre Jones and Keldon Johnson in giving the starters a spark on both ends, and the Spurs began to click. Suddenly, they were the ones leading by eight. A mild Portland response prevented them from just running away with it, but it was clear that San Antonio was in control. Even the moments with no natural point guard or center on the floor were survivable for the Silver and Black. They even closed the frame strong to give themselves a 10-point lead going into a final period that could be characterized as garbage time.
Against a different opponent, the bad stretches and the absences could have come back to haunt San Antonio late, but the Blazers are already thinking about next season. Despite a somewhat sloppy start to the fourth, the outcome was never in question. The lead ballooned until reaching 19 at one point, and the Spurs simply managed it. In the end, it was another easy win against a Portland team that was simply too shorthanded and uninterested in actually prevailing to pose a threat past the first half. With it, the Silver and Black have a strong chance to make the play-in, especially after a Lakers loss to the Nuggets. There aren’t any more games that can be penciled in as wins going forward, but after taking care of business against the Blazers, it would be surprising to see the Spurs miss the postseason.
- It’s unclear if Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl will miss more time, but the Spurs could have another absence next game if Jock Landale’s ankle sprain is serious. Devin Vassell’s neck was bothering him after a collision, so he might get a game off as well. It’s hard to get to the end of the season in one piece.
- One good thing about the absences is that we get to see players in different roles, or ones that were buried in the bench get a chance to play. Romeo Langford was among the latter, as he got some playing time in the second quarter. Unfortunately, it was only five minutes. We haven’t seen enough of Langford to know if he should be on the roster next season, but hopefully the coaching staff has.
- Josh Richardson, Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell couldn’t hit outside shots in this one (a combined 3-for-17), but they did a little bit of everything. Richardson even ran point for stretches. Having quality wing depth is important. Depending on what happens on draft night the Spurs could find themselves with too much of it, but for now it has been helping them tremendously.
Play of the night
There weren’t as many highlight dunks as in the previous matchup, but Keldon Johnson did throw one down on the Blazers.
3rd place (1 point) - Zach Collins | 18 points, 13 rebounds, two assists
Collins filled in for Jakob Poeltl, and he did great on offense, as he grabbed offensive boards, hit a three and kept the ball moving. His passing wasn’t at its best, as he committed a couple of bad turnovers, but he’s proved to be capable on that area. If the outside shot gets more consistent, he could be a great backup for this team. The defense is more of a work in progress, but he gets a pass until next season, because he was out for so long.
2nd place (2 points) - Tre Jones | 18 points, seven rebounds, no turnovers
It’s tempting to give Jones the top spot, simply because the team looked much, much better with him running things, but that’s more of a reflection on how not having a backup point guard affected the Spurs. Anything less than a second place would feel wrong, though, because Jones actual performance deserves praise. He didn’t force things but tried to put pressure on the defense while also bringing effort on the other end. More importantly, he took (and made) the threes the opponent dared him to take. Big night for Tre.
1st place (3 points) - Keldon Johnson | 28 points, only one shot from the mid-range area
Johnson has been scoring more recently, and with the absences the team had the 28 points are not that surprising, but the way he got them was impressive. Earlier in the season Johnson tried to become more of a primary scorer and the result was some questionably shot selection. Against the Blazers, as the first option, he simply stuck to what he does best, raining threes and attacking the rim, which is encouraging. There will be time for Keldon to expand his offensive arsenal, but it’s great to see that he can lead all scorers while playing to his strengths.
1st - Dejounte Murray - 121pts
2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 65pts
3rd - Keldon Johnson - 64pts
4th - Derrick White - 51pts
5th - Devin Vassell- 49pts
6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 37pts
7th - Doug McDermott - 16pts
8th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts
9th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts
10th - Jock Landale - 10pts
11th - Tre Jones -9pts
12th - Josh Richardson - 7pts
13th - Keita Bates-Diop - 6pts
14th - Josh Primo & Zach Collins - 3pts
14th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts
15th - Devontae Cacok & Joe Wieskamp - 1pt
Next game: at Nuggets on Tuesday
The Spurs will visit Denver hoping to clinch a play-in spot. If they win one more game and the Lakers lose one, the 10th spot will be theirs. Of course, beating Nikola Jokic’s team is easier said than done, so expect a tough matchup.