The San Antonio Spurs squared off against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night to close out a long five-game road trip, where they had dropped the previous four in a row. Fans tuning into the broadcast midway through the game could be forgiven if they thought they were watching a replay from the night before. For one, the Spurs were in the same building — the unfortunately named Crypto.com Arena — and also faced the same offensive shortcomings.
It was clear from the opening tip that the Spurs were struggling to find the energy needed to close out the trip with a win. Gorgui Dieng started for Jakob Poeltl, who sat out with knee soreness, and the Spurs just could not contain Anthony Davis without their leading shot-blocker and man in the middle. The Lakers played without LeBron James, but didn’t need him, as Davis basically had his way with the Spurs and scored 18 first quarter points on 7/10 shooting (he would finish with 34). A lack of defense was a bit of a theme, as poor communication led to missed coverage on Laker slashers. In addition, Spurs defenders struggled to rotate out to open shooters.
On offense, Keldon Johnson continued his recent struggles, shooting 4/20 (1/16 over the first three quarters) and finishing with 12 points. Plays frequently devolved into one Spurs attempting to create a shot — usually a contested three — while four others stood back and watched. Johnson in particular really looked aggressively for his shot and just could not get anything to drop.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Lakers would win 123 to 92 and the Spurs would drop to 6-12 on the season after losing all five on the road and 10 of their last 11 games.
This adage will be used frequently this year to explain the Spurs’ struggles, but this is a young team in search of an identity, and missing at least one All-Star MVP level player. It will be common place for the team to go long stretches where they look atrocious on offense. Johnson (21.9 PPG) and Devin Vassell (20.4 PPG) have taken great strides and are both setting career highs in points per game, but neither one is ready to put the team on their back during droughts.
- Spurs coach Greg Poppovich was not on the sideline tonight, and assistant Brett Brown covered the coaching duties. Per the Spurs, Pop is dealing with an unspecified illness that appeared rather suddenly. Team doctors checked him out, and he was doing well enough to remain in the arena. We all hope he recovers soon, but I am sure watching game footage of this one will not help any stomach issues he might be having.
- Coming into the game, Keldon Johnson was averaging 15 ppg, 2.3 rpg, and 2.3 apg on 36% shooting from the field over his last three. He would finish the night with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist while shooting 20%. Clearly he is in a funk, and it will be interesting to see if some home cooking helps him get back to his previous level of play.
- Russell Westbrook sagged back deep into the paint and repeatedly dared Jeremy Sochan to shoot from outside (he is shooting 16% from the arc this season so far and finished 0/3 from the line tonight). Sochan is an intriguing prospect, and can fill a stat sheet, but he must keep working on that outside shot to not hurt the Spurs offensive flow.
- The Spurs rank 28th out of 30 teams in Free Throw attempts per Field Goal. Tonight, that disparity continued. The Lakers went to the line 24 times (and hit 21) on 17 Spur fouls. Meanwhile, 10 Laker fouls lead to only 10 Spurs free throws (they hit three…yes, three…of those). That, gentle readers, is a difference of 18 points from the line alone. One can’t help but wonder what some of these blowouts would look like if they were able to put a little more pressure on opposing defenders.
- Don’t think the Spurs’ offense has been rough lately? To start the third quarter, they went seven and a half minutes without a bucket, missing their first 11 shots, and scored their first field goal on a goaltend from Russell Westbrook). Jason Richardson was the first Spur in double-figures 36 minutes into the game. Devin Vassell would eventually get on a mini hot streak in the final frame and finished as their leading scorer with 17 points (on 7/14 shooting from the floor) but the Spurs shot 39% as a team, after shooting 41% the night before.
Play of the Game:
Yeah, man, I got nothin’. Let’s just run the Memorial Day Miracle again.
The Spurs return to the welcome confines of the AT&T Center on Wednesday night, facing Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. Tip is at 7 pm Central.