After a few close matches in which they got to show how plucky they can be both in victory and defeat, the Spurs found themselves on the wrong end of a blowout again. They simply were no match for the red-hot Nets, who dominated from start to finish en route to an easy 139-103 win, their 12th in a row.
It became clear that it was going to be a long night for the Spurs very early in the game, as the Nets’ stars were clearly dialed in and ready to exploit any mismatches San Antonio’s switching defense was surrendering. Early on Kevin Durant casually shot over Devin Vassell before Ben Simmons simply drove past Jakob Poeltl. Making matters worse, notorious Spurs’ killer Kyrie Irving was feeling it, scoring in every conceivable way in the first half, including a putback dunk in which no one wearing Silver and Black put a body even near him. The threes were falling for Brooklyn but the home team was also getting buckets inside off drives or in transition or by simply giving Durant the ball so that he could shoot over a smaller defender from the midrange. Everyone, from superstars to role players like Yuta Watanabe, had their time to shine in a half in which the Nets dropped 74 points and could have honestly scored more.
As bad as the defense was in the opening two quarters, what made it impossible for the Spurs to stay even remotely close in the first half was that the offense was atrocious in the half court. Live ball turnovers not only gave the Nets the opportunity to run the other way but also meant that there wasn’t even a shot for the big men to try to rebound. When San Antonio didn’t run or was coming off a timeout, it was extremely hard to get anything easy. Keldon Johnson willed his way into a few buckets, Devin Vassell heated up slowly as the minutes passed, and Josh Richardson provided some scoring off the bench, but it all felt like valiant but disjointed individual efforts. At one point the only idea the offense seem to have was to force the ball into Zach Collins in the post, to mixed results at best. On both ends, the Spurs looked very much lost and without any easy fixes to their struggles. The 27-point deficit at the break felt appropriate.
The Spurs came out of the locker room for the second half with an understandable sense of urgency after being trampled for 24 minutes, but their improved effort really couldn’t get them back in it. For a couple of minutes, Poeltl dominated the boards, San Antonio caused some turnovers and Brooklyn players had questionable body language and a noticeable lack of intensity on defense, which made the idea of a closer game seem possible, but the hope didn’t last long. There were some good possessions but the Nets simply got buckets whenever they wanted. The Spurs' offense was better, but trading buckets when down by over 20 points is not a recipe for success. Gregg Popovich went deep into his bench to try to find some answers, giving Romeo Langford and Isaiah Roby some minutes in the third, but it was clear there wasn’t going to be an unlikely hero in this one. The final period was garbage time, as the Nets never led by fewer than 29 points.
The loss was predictable, considering the disparity in star power and the fantastic basketball the Nets have been playing lately, so it’s hard to get too discouraged by the outcome of the game. Suffering such a big beatdown in which key weaknesses are exposed is never fun, but this season was always going to have its ups and downs. All that matters for the young Spurs now is to bounce back and keep games close again going forward, in order to get some more experience in the clutch. In the end, this year is all about development, after all.
- At times it seemed like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were just toying with the Spurs. It’s hard to blame them, since San Antonio lacks the type of point-of-attack defender who can give Irving trouble and was without any experienced long forward to throw at Durant, with Keita Bates-Diop out. Those two did whatever they wanted on offense and had Ben Simmons wreaking havoc on defense, getting steals and pushing the pace. It was simply too much star power for the Spurs to handle.
- Keldon Johnson tried his hardest to keep the Spurs from completely falling apart on offense, driving with purpose and making some really tough shots. It just wasn’t enough on a night in which Vassell only had good stretches but not a lot of consistency and the threes weren’t falling for the role players. Still, great effort by Keldon.
- One of the areas in which the Spurs had an edge was rebounding, but early on they couldn’t really make it count. Jakob Poeltl did his best in the third quarter to make a difference by grabbing some offensive boards, but it was too late by then.
- Jeremy Sochan had his worst game in a while, scoring just five points and turning the ball over three times while only logging one assist. Malaki Branham looked a little lost out there after brimming with confidence in some recent games. They are rookies, so the highs and lows will continue to come. Hopefully they can shake off this performance and be ready to turn things around next game.
Play of the game
In games like these, you have to settle for some fun in garbage time. Romeo Langford provided it, so he gets the nod.
Romeo was clear and boy did he LIFT OFF @spurs | #PorVida | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/UKiIx7Gg2C— Bally Sports San Antonio (@BallySportsSA) January 3, 2023
Next game: at New York Knicks on Wednesday
The Spurs will stay in New York to face the Knicks. The two teams played each other recently and San Antonio prevailed, but Jalen Brunson is back for this one and the Knicks are coming off a huge win over the Suns, so it should be a tough outing for the Silver and Black.