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Malaki Branham shined for the Spurs in his home state

Mr. Ohio continued his breakout as the Spurs nearly rallied back from 21 down against the Cavs.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs headed into Cleveland to face the number one defense in the NBA, and while they initially struggled to break through the wall, getting down by as much as 21, they finally found a rhythm in the second half and got all the back within four in the fourth quarter before falling 109-117.

A big part of their near-rally was 2021’s Mr. Ohio Basketball himself: Malaki Branham. He has been on an extended offensive breakout lately, permanently earning himself a spot in the rotation. He didn’t let off in front of his friends and family, posting 18 points on 8-11 shooting (2-3 from three), 2 assists and 2 steals. He probably wasn’t expected to be a big part of the rotation this season, but even Gregg Popovich has admitted he’s done with the G League.

Keldon Johnson was the man of the match for the Spurs with 25 efficient points while also hitting 2-3 from three. While KJ has never recovered his hot outside shooting from early in the season, he seems be learning to just take the threes when they come to him but otherwise not force the issue. Instead, he has been playing to his strengths, which is using his Big Body to bully his way inside and use the rim to avoid shot blockers.

While Keita Bates-Diop isn’t quite an Ohio native (but close — he’s from two states over in Illinois), like Branham he is also an Ohio State Buckeye and filled in well as a starter in his college state with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists.

Spurs two-way player Dominick Barlow got regular rotation minutes again last night, and while his stats don’t pop out, he showed his potential with his length and defensive skillset and perhaps most importantly, looked comfortable on an NBA floor despite dealing with Jarret Allen and Evan Mobley at times. (Pop also hilariously admitted when he first saw Barlow, he thought his scouts had found an H-E-B bagger since he was so slender for an athlete. Sometimes Pop has to trust the process just as much as fans do.)

Blake Wesley has struggled to rediscover his form after returning from injury, but he may have had a bit of a breakout in the second half after a rough start last night, finishing with 9 points, 2 assists and steal, the latter of which was the play of the game for the Spurs as they rallied back in the fourth to make the Cavs sweat out the rest of the game.

And finally, the complete highlights.