The Cavs came into the contest as the hottest team in the NBA, having won 12 of their past 13 games and sitting comfortable in the Top-5 in the Eastern Conference.
The game started off with a clash of styles with the Spurs shooting from anywhere besides the paint as the Cavs double-big lineup with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley were manning the paint. The Cavs were taking advantage of their overall size and dominating the points in the paint on the other end of the floor. The Spurs struggled to get many points inside in the early exchanges but Keldon Johnson who missed the past two games with an elbow injury came off the bench firing from the outside to give the Spurs life. Cleveland were up 30-25 after one.
San Antonio altered their approach to start the second period, playing through their franchise player, Victor Wembanyama. Wemby was doing a good job of taking the attention of the Cavs defense while Keldon was taking full advantage of some extra space out on the court as he raced away to 16 first-half points. The Silver & Black fought all the way back to a single possession game but couldn’t get over the hump as the ball just wouldn’t fall through the hoop when they went to tie or take the lead. While on the other end, Evan Mobley who shoots 23% from the outside for his career hit back-to-back triples to give the visitors some breathing room. It wasn’t a pretty end to the half either for the Spurs as they played some turnover prone basketball and the Cavs took their chance to go into the half with a 22-point lead, 67-45.
Coach Pop had his team ready coming out of the half-time break with the Spurs starting the third period with a ton of energy that included some easy buckets which forced Cleveland Coach, J.B Bickerstaff into an early timeout. Unfortunately the Spurs couldn’t keep the momentum going as their scoring dried up and the Cavs interior defense stood up once again and made life a nightmare for the Spurs to score anywhere close to the bucket. It was a 92-71 game at the end of three with San Antonio having just run out of legs.
The Silver & Black did do a good job of not letting the score ballon much further with Devin Vassell and Wemby aiding a lot of the scoring from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Then with less than a minute to play and everyone ready to go home, there was a scuffle between Zach Collins and Donovan Mitchell which led to both players getting ejected. The scuffle started when Zach caught Mitchell in the face with an elbow on a screen which then led Donovan to retaliate and two-hand push Collins in his face. After the logistics were sorted out and both players headed to the locker room the Cavs dribbled the ball out as 117-101 winners.
- No Gas. For the majority of the night the Spurs looked pretty tired and fatigued. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise with them having played six games in the past nine days, including tonight’s game being on the second night of a back-to-back. The Spurs will now get three days off before they begin their Rodeo Road Trip and they will need every minute of the mini-rest before what is usually one of the most gruelling parts of the season.
- Bench Boost Barlow. Outside of Keldon Johnson the Spurs bench was pretty non-existent in this game. The second unit has been disastrous defensively all season long and is in the need of more athleticism and size to help when Wemby and co head to the bench. Dom Barlow who had been filling in for Zach Collins the past few weeks while Collins dealt with an ankle injury had been giving the Spurs some good minutes in that role and was providing some nice defense and some athletic burst. I doubt Coach Pop benches a Vet like Zach, even with the way he has played on both ends this season, but I do think San Antonio should be desperate to find some minutes for Barlow who had been playing well and was impacting winning and certainly did not deserve to have his minutes cut.
- A Possible Home Farewell. With the Trade Deadline rapidly approaching and the Spurs not playing another home game until the end of February, tonight might have been the final home game for some of the Spurs vets like Doug McDermott, Cedi Osman & Devonte’ Graham. If it was, all three have been exemplary Spurs. Whether it was their locker room leadership or helping out the young guys on the floor or even hitting a few big shots, it will be sad to see them go. We won’t have to wait long to find out if the Spurs make some moves with the NBA Trade Deadline coming this Thursday 8 February.
Player of the Game
3rd: Victor Wembanyama - 19 points (5/16, 2/4 7/8), 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 stocks in 27 minutes
2nd: Keldon Johnson - 17 points (7/11, 2/3, 1/2), 5 rebounds, 1 steals in 22 minutes
1st: Devin Vassell - 22 points (7/16, 3/8, 5/5), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block in 34 minutes
Play Of The Game
I hope this type of play from a 7’5+ human/alien never just feels normal:
Next Game: @ Miami on Wednesday
The Spurs kick off their Rodeo Road Trip with a matchup against last year's Eastern Conference Champions, Miami Heat.