There seemed to be multiple phases to the San Antonio Spurs franchise-record 18 game losing streak. First it was a lack of focus on the defensive end leading to blowouts. Then it was blowing big leads with horrid third quarters. Over the last few games, it seemed the Spurs have entered the “can’t buy a bucket” phase of the losing streak.
That was until San Antonio lit up the Lakers for 42 first quarter points (following their 45-point 4th quarter on Wednesday night) and 129 for the game in their streak-snapping win. In that first quarter run, the Spurs shot 64% from the field and 54.5% from three. They were attacking the Lakers relentlessly, getting out in transition and moving the ball well in the half court. They rode that momentum through the rest of the game, shooting 49.5% from the field and 42.9% from deep over all four quarters.
They were led by Devin Vassell, who had a career high 36-points. Sure he was hot from three, hitting 5 of his 10 shots from deep. However, what’s most encouraging is that 15 of his points came from attacking the basket. Vassell got 8 of his buckets in the paint and 7 of them at the free throw line. The wing has proven he’s a talented shot creator off the dribble. If he can become a threat to get downhill as well, he has potential to be a 25+ a game scorer.
Now the Spurs are tasked with turning the ship around. That doesn’t mean winning 18-games in a row, but continuing to compete in every game, even against playoff contenders like the Lakers. Now that the franchise-record losing streak is behind the Spurs, let’s see how they move forward in the rest of their season.
- It wasn’t Victor Wembanyama’s best offensive game, but he was incredibly impactful on the defensive end. Wembanyama finished with 13 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Despite only having two blocks, it felt like Wemby was contesting everything at the rim. Even LeBron James was hesitant when trying to attack him in the paint (maybe 5 years ago it’s a different story.) The Spurs defense has been steadily improving since moving Wembanyama to the 5. Allowing him to play mostly around the paint has helped the Spurs rebound more, and protect the rim. The starting lineup change appears to have paid dividends.
- Speaking of the new starting five... they were fantastic on Friday. All five starters scored double-digits. Malaki Branham has been great in his new starting role, scoring at all three levels and improving as a distributor (he had 8 assists on Friday.) It’s moved Jeremy Sochan into an off-ball role where he can thrive as a cutter and screener. Wembanyama at the five means more spacing for him on post touches. It also improves the Spurs depth. Zach Collins, Tre Jones, Doug McDermott and Cedi Osman are strong bench options for San Antonio. Collins and Osman were great on Friday, putting up 16 and 15 points respectively.
- Sochan’s defense on LeBron James was so good that when he left the floor, you really felt the difference. According to matchup data, James was 0-5 shooting and had 2 turnovers when guarded by Sochan. In the second quarter, Sochan had picked up his third foul and had to sit. Keldon Johnson was then tasked with guarding LeBron 1-on-1. The Lakers cleared out the left side of the floor, posted LeBron on the block, and let him go to work. The Spur were forced to double James, and the basketball savant made them pay with a passing clinic. That action is what led the Lakers to their second quarter run. Without Sochan on the floor to pester him, James was able to shred the Spurs defense. This was a game that should build some confidence for the second-year wing.