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Keldon Johnson’s career night leads Spurs to a chippy win over short-handed Nets

It was downright ugly at times, but the Spurs found a way to win a chippy, entertaining game against the Nets.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

After getting blown out of the building in Brooklyn a few weeks ago and severely struggling though a current five-game losing streak, the Spurs entered the night hoping to right the ship against a Nets squad that was already down Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving ended up being a late scratch with calf tightness. It wasn’t a pretty game and even got chippy at times, but the Spurs willed themselves to a 106-98 victory on the back of a career-high 36 points from Keldon Johnson.

Johnson hit his first three as part of a 12-4 Spurs run to start the game, forcing a Jacque Vaughn timeout. The Nets looked discombobulated and disinterested on offense, with 7 turnovers and shooting just 28% in the quarter, and while the Spurs weren’t great on that end themselves, they played with a level of determination. Jakob Poeltl had his way down low, Jeremy Sochan looked comfortable taking any type of shot, and the Spurs led 27-15 at the end of the first quarter.

Then, the roles flipped in the second quarter. The Spurs were the dysfunctional team, while the Nets started finding their shooting stroke, beginning the quarter on a 16-7 run. Things got interesting when Sochan and Markieff Morris got into a scuffle over some trash talk and a double foul. Sochan, who had all 16 of his points in the first half (including hitting 2-3 from three), responded by getting an and-one on Morris on their next offensive possession, but the Nets eventually took the lead on a pair of Ben Simmons free throws. The Spurs couldn’t stop turning the ball over or make shots when they got them, but after being down by five, a little 5-0 run allowed them to end the half with the game tied 51-51 and regain some momentum.

The Spurs’ aggressiveness returned to start the third quarter, with Johnson scoring the first four points to extend their run to 9-0 and briefly retake the lead. The score remained stuck at 58-58 for several minutes, but the Spurs finally busted the drought with a 6-0 run, forcing a Nets timeout. (Yes, these little runs mattered a lot in a sloppy, low scoring game.) With the threes not falling for Johnson in the middle quarters, he remained aggressive attacking the rim, scoring 10 straight points for the Spurs, who entered the fourth quarter up 76-68.

The Spurs stretched the lead out to twelve early in the fourth before the Nets responded with a 10-3 run. But once again, Johnson was there to take the momentum back. He finally hit his second three of the game on his 9th try, and he followed that up with a transition dunk to stretch the lead back out to seven. They were able to keep the Nets at arm's length the rest of the way, trading buckets and maintaining at least a two-possession lead. Another KJ three with under a minute left gave the Spurs an eight-point lead, but of course, it isn’t a tight Spurs game without some chaos like inbounding trouble and turnovers in crunch time. Fortunately, the Nets were no better, and the Spurs held on for the win.

Game Notes

  • Early in the game, Sean Elliott and Michelle Beadle were expecting some chippy-ness between Sochan and Simmons, but of course it ended up being a Morris twin. After Sochan hit a three midway through the second quarter, he came back down the court trash talking a bit, and Morris responded by bowling over him for the offensive foul. Sochan pulled Morris down with him, and the two had to be separated. After video review, the offensive foul on Morris stood, Sochan was given a flagrant one foul for pulling him down, and Morris was given a technical foul for pushing Zach Collins as he intervened. The end result was one technical free throw for the Spurs, two for Morris, and Brooklyn ball (either because the flagrant came second or it superseded the offensive foul, not sure because sometimes I swear the rules change game-to-game).
  • Maybe it was fitting that Kevin Willis was the Spurs’ alumni of the evening, because this was a throwback-style game to his era. It was physical, chippy, low scoring (at least by today’s standards), and the art of the three-point shot seemed like a foreign concept. The Spurs certainly shot plenty but only hit 7-34 (with five of those makes surprisingly coming from Sochan and Johnson). Believe it or not, the Nets were even worse, hitting just 3-23 for a paltry 13%. Even though he was easier to guard with Durant and Irving out, the Spurs did a good job of holding Seth Curry in check, as he hit just 1-7 threes.
  • The Spurs bigs battled foul trouble all night. Poeltl had three fouls in the first quarter and didn’t even play in the second quarter, Collins picked up his third late in the second, and Sochan got his fourth early in the third. Gregg Popovich finally challenged one of the refs’ many iffy calls on the night when Poeltl was called for his fourth midway through the third quarter after he took an elbow to the face from Edmond Sumner, but it was unsuccessful as the refs determined Poeltl was not in a legal position to take a charge. (Does it even matter when the player leads with his elbow? This was not a well officiated game.)

Play of the Game

So many plays to choose from, especially from Keldon Johnson. His three-pointer with under a minute left is what really sealed the deal, but this dunk five minutes earlier is really the play that set the tone for the rest of the game and showed the Spurs weren’t going to back down in this one.

Coming up: Friday vs. Los Angeles Clippers

After a rare two nights off, Kawhi Leonard and the struggling Clippers will be coming to town. It’s always an interesting game when the Klaw comes to town, and maybe the Spurs can take advantage as he continues to work himself back into shape, and Paul George remaining on a day-to-day status.