Exhausted Spurs embarrassed by Cavaliers in blowout loss

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The San Antonio Spurs suffered what has to be their worst loss of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday. On the last of nine straight home games, the Silver and Black looked helpless on both ends as the visitors, which snapped a five-game losing streak, stomped them en route to a 125-101 blowout.

The only few moments in which the contest looked close and the Spurs competent came early in the night. San Antonio’s offense looked a little disjointed at times, but as the minutes went by in the first quarter, it got sharper. With Luka Samanic starting in Dejounte Murray’s place, the home team had a size advantage on the perimeter and did a good job of exploiting it, with Keldon Johnson getting to the rim and DeMar DeRozan to the line. Darius Garland, who’d go on to have a career-night, was a problem from the start, but he went cold for a stretch and the Cavaliers struggled to score. Their bench stopped the drought and actually gave them the lead, but the Spurs’ did enough to hold on and stop a bigger run.

Nothing looked good for the Silver and Black after that first quarter. Bad perimeter defense meant the speedy Cavalier guards were getting past the first line of defense and either finishing or finding and open Isiaiah Hartenstein in the paint. Meanwhile, the Spurs’ offense turned into a complete disaster after a few decent minutes by the bench. There was no movement, which forced DeMar DeRozan to take it upon himself to carry the load. He did what he could, but with him monopolizing the ball, the team-wide problems on that end only got worse. A couple of Rudy Gay three-pointers prevented the offensive performance on the frame from getting truly embarrassing, but the Cavaliers still carved out a 10-point lead at the half.

Things got only worse from there. The Spurs tried to stay in striking distance, but were visibly tired and had to work extremely hard to get even mediocre shots while the Cavaliers were scoring with ease. There were some mistakes, especially in transition, but even when San Antonio defended well Cleveland got buckets. Eventually the exhausted Spurs simply had no more energy to stick around and the visitors didn’t waste the opportunity to run away with it. A 43-point third quarter from the worst offense in the league sealed the game, as the lead ballooned to 21 at one point and sat at 20 going into a fourth period that would essentially count as garbage time.

There are no factors that can completely excuse this type of performance against this type of opponent, but the Spurs could point to their absences, a brutal schedule and some recent overtime games to justify their lack of energy. Hopefully once everyone is back we won’t see such pitiful showings from a team that needs every win it can get to stay in the playoff picture.

Game notes

  • DeMar DeRozan had 20 points on nine shots, because he got himself 12 free throws. He’s a master at getting himself to the line. He did, however, only have two assists, which shows that he was mostly on scorer mode on this one.
  • Keldon Johnson finished with a double-double. Early in the game he overpowered smaller defenders, which is encouraging considering his future is likely at the wing. Better ball handling will be a must for him to take the next step forward, but for now those physical straight line drives are enough for him to get some buckets when he plays aggressively.
  • With Murray out for the night, the team needed Derrick White and Patty Mills to step up. They unfortunately couldn’t. White had 13 points and six assists but he missed all six of his three-point attempts and lost Collin Sexton on cuts several times. Mills was basically a non-factor on offense, finishing with four points on four shots. Gregg Popovich even tried giving Tre Jones some second-quarter minutes to get more from the point guard position, but the rookie couldn’t do much. The Cavaliers had a huge edge in guard play and that was a big reason why they dominated.
  • Luka Samanic had three assists in the first quarter, but foul trouble prevented him from getting in rhythm. He missed all five of his outside shots, but finished with eight points, six rebounds and five assists and had some nice drives in garbage time. If Murray misses more time, Samanic should probably continue to start in his place, since he keeps showing promise.
  • Jakob Poeltl had a decent game, but he can’t do much as the last line of defense when the guards let everyone get to the paint at will. Gorgui Dieng hit an open three, which is good, and then passed up another, which is bad, but was generally fine. Drew Eubanks showed up in garbage time and had one of those big dunks he typically has, but had no impact on the outcome of the game. Not a big night for the centers.
  • Rudy Gay hit his threes and generally did a good job of handling big minutes when the game was still close and Samanic was in foul trouble. A nice, efficient, ultimately meaningless performance from the vet.
  • Devin Vassell is shooting 31 percent from outside in the past 10 games, so it wasn’t a surprise that he missed the two he attempted on Monday. He’s showing some promise as a shot creator, which is good, but ultimately the Spurs need him to hit his open shots and he’s struggling with that.
  • Remember when Kevin Love was a star? It feels so long ago. Love clearly still has enough in the tank to play for a few more years but he looks so out of place in Cleveland. No team will likely trade for him and a buyout seems unlikely until the last year of his contract, so the Cavs will just have to try to make it work with him around, no matter how awkward it seems.

Next game: @Nuggets on Wednesday

The Spurs will play the next five games away from the AT&T Center, starting with the first of two consecutive matchups against the Nuggets on Wednesday. What a brutal schedule.

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