On the last game of their winless Rodeo Road Trip, the Spurs pulled out a gutsy win against the Utah Jazz. Despite a big third quarter run from the Jazz, the Spurs kept their composure, and responded in the 4th to take home the 102-94 victory.
The Spurs got off to a good start in the first half, riding a wave of sound play from their bench, with major contributions from Doug McDermott and Blake Wesley. Keldon Johnson led the way for most of the game, and got off to a sound start early on the offensive end, scoring 8 of the Spurs first 16 points by getting to the rim off of screens and drives. San Antonio struggled to guard Lauri Markkanen, who was on fire all game long, drawing doubles and still scoring. He finished the first half with 21 points.
Markkanen’s play led a 10-0 run for the Jazz in the 2nd quarter that kept the game close. When the Spurs were struggling to get good looks in the second, they routinely went to their leading scorer, who came through again and again. Johnson was relentless driving to the rim, and was the most expressive player on the court, constantly being picked up by the floor microphone. The Jazz attacked the paint on their second quarter run, and kept the game respectable going into halftime.
Two of the Spurs rookies, Jeremy Sochan and Malaki Branham struggled early on, forcing their offense, and getting out of position on defense. They carried those struggles into the 3rd quarter, where the Jazz would once again make their run. Much like the last contest between these two, the Spurs turned the ball over too often, and allowed the Jazz to play physically, getting to the free throw line 20+ times in the second half. The Jazz outscored the Spurs 20-8 in the first 8 minutes of the third quarter.
The Silver and Black showed resilience, led by Sochan late in the 3rd. The Spurs put him in the pick and roll, and allowed the rookie to make plays for others, and get his own looks on straight line drives and post ups. He hit Charles Bassey a couple of times on the roll, and kicked out to McDermott in the pick and pop, showing off his playmaking skills to finish the quarter. San Antonio weathered the storm, and took a 2-point deficit into the 4th.
It was there where the bench gave the Spurs the jolt that they needed to win this game. Wesley and Bassey were deterrents on the defensive end; Wesley finished with 3 steals and Bassey had 3 blocks. Their toughness and physicality set the tone for the rest of the squad. Toss in some timely shooting from both McDermott and Devonte Graham, and the Spurs went into the final three minutes tied up with Utah, after some miraculous shot making from Talen Horton-Tucker.
That’s where Johnson took over. KJ had 8 points on tough drive in the last 3 minutes to seal the win for the Spurs. On the other end, the Jazz failed to get Markkanen the ball in spots to score, and the Silver and Black swallowed up their role players. Zach Collins made some tough plays under the basket, not only protecting the rim and altering shots, but getting on the floor after loose balls and securing boards.
After getting called out by their head coach for not playing a full 48-minutes, this young roster responded with a gutsy performance. It’s the type of play you want to see from a rebuilding squad. They played with heart, and were especially frisky on the defensive end, where they’ve struggled so much this season. Finally, this team snapped their historic losing streak.
- It won’t show up in the box score, but Zach Collins changed the game on the defensive end of the floor. The starting center struggled mightily shooting the ball, 2-15 from the field, but was phenomenal at altering shots at the basket. Just because he’s not blocking the shots, doesn’t mean he’s not bothering them. The Jazz only had 36 points in the paint compared to the Spurs 56. A lot of that had to do with Collins walling up and making looks difficult in the paint. He was crucial down the stretch.
- Blake Wesley had his best game as a San Antonio Spur. The 19-year-old guard used his athleticism to change the game on the defensive end of the floor. He was giving the Jazz ball-handlers fits all game, harassing them in the open court, and even blocking their shots near the rim. On offense he pushed the pace in transition, giving the Spurs a jolt and allowing them to play faster, and knocked down a couple of key three-pointers. He still needs to learn how to process the game at this level, but tonight he showed the raw skills that make him such a tantalizing prospect. He finished the game with 9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.
- We haven’t seen much of Doug McDermott as a screener lately, but it was an effective action tonight. On some of his most open looks, the Spurs would send him and a big man on a double stagger screen, with McDermott slipping or popping, while the post rolled to the hoop. Because the Spurs are such a downhill team with ball-handlers like Johnson and Sochan, defenses haven’t had to respect the perimeter as much in that action. I really like that wrinkle of the offense, and would love to see more of it, even with shooters like Branham or Collins popping to create space.
- What a pickup Charles Bassey has been for the Spurs. He’s fairly skilled for a player of his size, showing some playmaking chops and a nice push shot from the free throw line. Most of all, he’s a strong rebounder with a good nose for the ball. He finished the game with 10 rebounds in 20 minutes of play. He’s not quite as long as Collins, but makes up for that with strength and instincts on the defensive end. These are the kind of guys you have to hit on in the margins while rebuilding, and it looks like San Antonio has done just that.
- Malaki Branham left the game with “back soreness” according to the Spurs. With the injury happening in the 4th quarter, they may have just erred on the side of caution with the rookie guard. San Antonio can’t really afford to lose anymore guard depth, with Tre Jones, and Devin Vassell both injured. Spurs fans should watch the injury report going into Thursday night’s game against the Pacers.
Next Game: vs. Pacers on Thursday, March 2
The Spurs will finally head home to face a hot Pacers team who just won a nail biter against the Dallas Mavericks. Devin Vassell’s return has been rumored to occur during the Spurs’ homestand after the All-Star break. They will look to add the scoring forward, and build their winning streak.