Spurs’ Johnson: ‘I’m blessed and honored to be an Olympian’

The Summer of 2021 could be special times for Spurs F Keldon Johnson. On Friday, Johnson was named to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball roster.

Johnson, along with JaVale McGee, were named to the Team USA roster after Kevin Love decided to withdraw from the Olympics and Bradley Beal being unable to play due to health and safety protocols.

The 21-year-old Johnson is the third player in San Antonio franchise history to be named to the U.S. Olympic team after playing for the Spurs, joining David Robinson (1992, 1996) and Tim Duncan (2004). He also becomes the 32nd player in Spurs history to suit up for San Antonio and represent their country at the Olympics.

“I’m blessed and honored to be an Olympian,” Johnson said to reporters via a Zoom call on Friday. 

Originally named to the 2021 USA Basketball Select Team on July 1, Johnson participated in the national team’s training camp in Las Vegas and played in two exhibition games, averaging 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds against Australia and Argentina.

Being around many great players will be very beneficial to Johnson, which he discussed on Friday.

“I’m definitely learning something new every day,” he said. “I feel like I’m around a lot of great players and some of the best players in the league, so just if I don’t understand something, asking questions. Just seeing things that they do different than what I would do. Just learning from it and putting my own spin on it. I think just being around these guys and being able to go and compete against them in practice and then play with them in a game really is teaching me a lot about basketball.”

In his second season with the Spurs, Johnson averaged 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 28.5 minutes in being named to the 2021 NBA Rising Stars Roster. He became the first player in his first two seasons to average at least 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds since Duncan in 1998-99.

Team USA, coached by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, will compete in the Summer Olympic Games from July 23 through Aug. 8 in Tokyo, Japan.

Listen below as Johnson reacts to joining Team USA:

 

Spurs’ Popovich thinks Jokic could be the best passer in basketball

It has been rough sledding for the San Antonio Spurs of late. San Antonio has lost five straight and 10 of their last 12, including Friday’s 121-119 loss to the Nuggets, as Denver swept the two-game set at Ball Arena and extended their winning streak to eight games.

Denver(34-18) defeated the Spurs 106-96 on Wednesday night.

The Spurs trailed by as much as 18 points in the first half on Friday night but made a furious run in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie, but Keldon Johnson came up short on his drive to the basket, and DeMar DeRozan missed a putback at the buzzer.

It appeared that San Antonio could get routed in this contest. The Spurs never led in this game and trailed by 13 points entering the fourth quarter. However, Derrick White did everything in his power to bring the Spurs back, including scoring 14 of his team-high 25 points in the final quarter, but it wasn’t enough.

On Friday night, San Antonio saw the greatness of Nikola Jokic on full display. Jokic had a triple-double with 26 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds, and in the two-game set against the Spurs, Jokic averaged 25.5 points, 12.0 assists, and 11 rebounds.

After the loss to the Nuggets, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had high praise for the three-time All-Star.

“That’s why they are a helluva team,” Popovich said. “Jokic is maybe the best passer in the league. Certainly, the best big-man passer and better than most wings, so sure, he sets the table for everybody; he’s great.”

Jokic is special and a legitimate MVP candidate. There are not many things he can’t do on a basketball court, and with the addition of Aaron Gordon before the trade deadline, Denver looks like a team that can make a run at an NBA title.

As for the Spurs(24-26), who are 9th in the Western Conference, it does not get any easier as they continue their five-game road trip on Sunday night against the Mavericks.

Watch below as Pop talks Jokic:

Spurs drop third straight after loss to Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers(29-16) are a very talented team, and they have a lot of guys who can make shots, which they did on Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs(22-19).

Los Angeles shot 51%(17-33) from three-point range. Ex-Spur Kawhi Leonard led the way for Los Angeles with a game-high 25 points, and Marcus Morris, who hit five three-pointers, had 20 points as the Clippers defeated the Spurs 134-101 in the first game of their two-game set at AT&T Center.

Los Angeles has now won three straight. The Spurs dropped their third straight at home and their third consecutive game overall.

The Clippers had six guys in double figures on Wednesday night.

DeMar DeRozan led the way for the Spurs with 19 points.

Fortunately for the Spurs, they have an opportunity to avenge this loss on Thursday night as San Antonio plays the third game of their nine-game homestand against the Clippers. 

The Clippers were in control of this game from the start and never trailed in this one. Los Angeles led by as much as 35 points in this contest. 

When asked what San Antonio can do better to defeat the Clippers on Thursday, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said this:

“We have to do whatever we did tonight a little bit better,” he said.

Spurs Dejounte Murray added: “We were more focused on the obvious two, Kawhi and Paul George. We have to know who’s who on the floor and what they are capable of.”

The first two games of this homestand have been a disappointment for San Antonio, and with this loss, the Spurs dropped to 8th in the Western Conference.

After this poor performance, It should be interesting to see San Antonio’s response on Thursday night.

 

 

 

Cavs’ Bickerstaff on loss to Spurs: ‘I thought there was an opportunity if we would have competed the way we did in the fourth quarter for 48’

When the Cavaliers get off to a slow start, nine times out of ten, they will lose. Against the San Antonio Spurs(22-16) on Friday night, Cleveland(15-26) trailed by three points after one quarter and trailed by 12 points at the break. The Cavaliers fell behind by as many as 22 points in the third quarter. Ultimately, despite a valiant effort in the fourth quarter, they would fall at home to the Spurs 116-110.

Cleveland is now 2-20 when trailing after the first quarter this season. However, they battled hard in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers scored 44 points in the final stanza, but it was too little, too late. 

The Spurs were led by Keldon Johnson, who had 23 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, which was the first 20-20 game for San Antonio since Tim Duncan did it in 2013. Cleveland’s backcourt had another huge game on Friday night. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland had 29 points apiece. For Garland, the 29 points were a career-high.

According to Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, this team has to be at their best from the beginning.

“I think we got off to a slow start,” Bickerstaff said. “I’m not necessarily sure what the cause of it was, but the message to the group was, ‘we don’t have the opportunity to ease our way into games.’ We have to have that spirit for 48 minutes in order to give ourselves a chance… I thought there was an opportunity if we would have competed the way we did in the fourth quarter for 48.”

Cleveland was able to get back into the game because of the play of rookie reserve Lamar Stevens. The two-way player gave Cleveland a huge spark in the third and fourth quarters. in 17 minutes of action, Stevens had career-highs of 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Bickerstaff was happy with his play.

“He was superb tonight,” Bickerstaff said. “Unbelievable effort. He sparked that group, and he was phenomenal tonight.”

Bickerstaff is correct. Cleveland is not good enough to start slow. They have to bring that same energy that they brought in the fourth throughout the game, but these are the things that happens when you have a young team.

Cleveland plays the third game of their four-game homestand against the Raptors on Sunday night.

Spurs’ Popovich on Simmons: ‘Who gives a d*mn if he can’t shoot?’

Before the 76ers blew out the Spurs, 134-99 on Sunday night in Philadelphia, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gave his thoughts on 76ers All-Star guard Ben Simmons. 

The three-time All-Star is having another stellar season. Simmons is averaging 16.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game and is one of the leading candidates for Defensive Player of the Year. However, as good as Simmons has played this season, he still does not take many shots from the perimeter. In four seasons, Simmons is only 4-31 from three-point range.

Can Simmons be an elite player without shooting jump shots? According to Popovich, he can.

“It would enhance his game, obviously, that can’t be argued with,” Popovich said. “But his skills and all of his physical skills, basketball skills, the way he understands the game, as unselfish as he is, he’s elite already. Who gives a damn if he can’t shoot?”

Without Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris had 23 points, and Seth Curry poured in 21 points, and of course, Simmons had another solid all-around game with 14 points, nine assists, and four rebounds. San Antonio(19-16) was outscored 46-21 in the third quarter and trailed by 33 points entering the fourth quarter. Philadelphia(27-12) led by as much as 42 points in the game.

San Antonio will quickly have to forget about this loss as they travel to Detroit to battle the Pistons on Monday night.

Watch as Popovich talks Simmons:

DeRozan on Spurs playing the top teams in NBA: ‘We take on the challenge’

The San Antonio Spurs(10-8) have gotten some excellent wins against some superb team this season, including wins over the Lakers and Clippers. Those victories were on the road. On Wednesday night, San Antonio got their biggest home win of the season.

DeMar DeRozan led the way for the Spurs with 21 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in 20 points as the Spurs defeated the Celtics(10-7) 110-106 at AT&T Center. San Antonio(4-5 at home) has struggled at home this season, but they were up for the task against Boston. 

The Spurs trailed Boston by five after one quarter but had a strong second quarter, led by Lonnie Walker IV, who scored 12 points in that second quarter and helped San Antonio take a 14-point lead at halftime. However, the Celtics came on strong in the third quarter. They outscored San Antonio by 16 points and grabbed a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was happy not with the team’s play in the third quarter but was delighted with how they responded in the fourth.

“We kind of let up and coasted a little bit in the third quarter,” Popovich said. “They played very physically, and we didn’t respond. Turned it over, stopped moving. In the fourth quarter, we played solid D, and we attacked the rim pretty good for ourselves and teammates.”

One big defensive play was made by Spurs PG Dejounte Murray, who stripped Kemba Walker late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs holding a two-point lead. Murray finished with a dunk to put San Antonio up four.

Keldon Johnson, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds against Boston, talked about Murray’s steal and finish.

“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Johnson said. “Like DeMar(DeRozan) hit a clutch shot, D.J.(Murray) made a clutch play. He came down and got a steal, and he went and dunked it.”

The Spurs have now beaten the Lakers, Clippers, and Celtics this season, three teams that are championship contenders. According to DeRozan, San Antonio is excited to take on the challenge of beating the better teams in the league.

“We go out there, especially against these big teams, and compete to the best of our abilities,” DeRozan said. “It’s fun for us. We take on the challenge. We go out there and put it out there on the line.”

Great win for the Spurs. As the season goes on, the Spurs appear to be getting more comfortable with each other. With the possibility of Derrick White(toe) returning this weekend, things could get only better in San Antonio.

Popovich on Luka: ‘His skills are top-notch’

The Dallas Mavericks got out early against the Spurs on Friday night in San Antonio, and because of the greatness of Luka Doncic, they were able to hold the lead and defeat the Spurs 122-117.

Doncic finished the game with a near triple-double and had 36 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds. Dallas led the Spurs by as many as 18 points in this contest, and led by ten going into the fourth quarter.

However, the Spurs, who lost starting PG Dejounte Murray to a sprained ankle in the first quarter, were able to cut the lead to one late in the fourth, but Doncic hit a beautiful short bank shot to put Dallas up three, and on the next possession, Doncic drove to the lane and passed it out to Jalen Brunson who hit a dagger three to cement the game. 

After the win, Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle talked about Doncic’s playmaking down the stretch of games. 

“It’s clear that Luka has great trust in his teammates,” Carlisle said. “The Denver game was another very close game. Milwaukee game was very close. In those situations, he made the right basketball play, got the ball to his teammates, and his teammates stepping into shots with force and confidence.”

Brunson, who had 16 points against San Antonio, added this about Doncic: “He does a lot for our team, makes a lot of plays for himself and for everybody else. I was ready just in case he wanted to dish it out to me, and I was ready to knock it down.”

Dallas was in the bottom half of the league in terms of winning close games last season. In this game, things got tough down the stretch against San Antonio, and Doncic and the Mavs executed.

“I think the biggest thing is making better decisions,” Doncic said about late game situations. “I think, give up a good shot for a better shot. I think that’s the key.”

Doncic is a stud, and it is a joy to watch when he is at his best. Before the game, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talked about what makes Doncic so good.

“He is a quintessential basketball player,” Popovich said. “He has an intrinsic feel for the game. He was built for this game… At that size to have that passing ability, that vision of the court. The confidence he plays with. He shoots the ball well. He competes; he’s just in love with the game of basketball, and his skills are top-notch, so he’s just a joy to watch.”

After losing three straight, Dallas has now won two in a row and will go for three consecutive wins at home against the Rockets on Saturday night.

Watch as Pop talks Luka Doncic:

Pop on loss to Warriors: ‘If you shoot 4 for 33 from three, your defense better be pretty perfect’

The Spurs started slowly against the Warriors on Wednesday night and could not recover. San Antonio gave up 36 points and trailed by 12 after one quarter. The Spurs would fall behind by as many as 22 points in the first half and ultimately would lose on the road to Golden State 121-99.

San Antonio struggled with their shooting against the Warriors. They finished the game shooting 37% from the field, including 4/33 from three-point range. Conversely, their defense was not good. They allowed the Warriors to shoot 50% from the field and allowed Steph Curry to score 20 of his game-high 26 points in the first half. 

“I thought we had a bad start,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “They jumped on us at the beginning of game for whatever reasons, and we never got back. If you shoot 4 for 33 from three, your defense better be pretty perfect, and it wasn’t, but it’s gonna happen, nobody is going to go undefeated. Hopefully, we learned some things tonight and just keep at it.”

Dejounte Murray, who led San Antonio with 22 points, agreed with Popovich; the Spurs were hit hard early and were not able to respond.

“We came out in the first half and just got punched in the face and didn’t know how to get back up as a whole—not making shots don’t make it better,” Murray said. “Halftime, we tried to come out and fight and fight. They’re the Warriors, and they kept fighting, kept fighting, and we just couldn’t get over that hump.”

After playing seven of their last nine game on the road, the Spurs will play nine of their next eleven at home, but with no fans allowed in the building, Popovich thinks home-court advantage is not the same. 

“It’s pretty even-steven,” he said. “I think I mentioned that to you guys before. There’s not much of a home-court advantage, I don’t think.”

While home-court advantage may not be the same, getting home and not traveling can’t hurt, and based on the way they shot the ball on Wednesday night, maybe San Antonio could use some time off the road and could benefit from some home cooking.

Spurs’ Popovich on Rockets: ‘We had four or five guys who were out to lunch’

The Houston Rockets were a depleted team on Thursday night. Due to the James Harden trade and injuries to John Wall and Eric Gordon, Houston had nine players against the Spurs, but those nine players came up huge, especially Christian Wood, who had a team-high 27 points and 15 rebounds, as the Rockets defeated San Antonio on the road 109-105.

This was a very disappointing loss for the Spurs, who were led by Keldon Johnson’s career-high 29 points, and after the game, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich felt some of his players were not ready to play against the Rockets.

“This has nothing to do with defense, offense,” Popovich said. “This has to do with between the ears. Being ready to play. We had four or five guys who were out to lunch.”

When asked if he was surprised by his team’s effort against Houston, Popovich has this to say:

“It doesn’t matter if it surprises me or not. We did what we did.” 

According to Spurs G Lonnie Walker IV, who scored 16 points on Thursday night, the Rockets played harder than San Antonio.

“They just played harder,” Walker said. “They played from the first quarter to the fourth, they played harder. It’s just that simple.”

Walker also felt the undermanned Rockets played like they had something to prove.

“They had something to prove,” he said. “They felt disrespected, so that energy and animosity built up inside of them. They were definitely ready to play this game. You could tell on the court just by their effort defensively, second-chance points, grabbing rebounds, and all those types of things.”

In an 82-game season(72 this year), losses like this happen, especially with a young team like San Antonio. Fortunately for the Spurs, they have a chance to get revenge on Saturday night against Houston. Based on Pop’s reaction after this loss, expect a much better effort from this team on Saturday night.

Notes:

DeMar DeRozan made his return on Thursday night after missing two games due to traveling to California to be with his ill father. In his return, DeRozan struggled early, but scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Watch an angry Pop below:

Spurs’ Walker: ‘I have to play with that confidence and not second guess myself’

The San Antonio Spurs finished a successful five-game road trip on Tuesday night with a 112-102 victory over the Thunder in Oklahoma City. On this road trip, the Spurs went 4-1, including wins over the Clippers and Lakers. 

Without their leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, who was back in California with his ill father, Lonnie Walker IV stepped up again for the Spurs and led the way with 24 points last night. This is his second consecutive game of 20 points or more for San Antonio.

In the two games DeRozan was out of the lineup, Walker averaged 24.5 ppg. When DeRozan plays, Walker is averaging 11.7 ppg. However, on Tuesday, the third-year guard knew that he had to be aggressive. 

“Just staying aggressive,” Walker said. “That’s just the mentality I got to approach the game every single time. Other than not looking for my shot, I’m such an unselfish player that sometimes it gets the best of me. But these past two games, with DeMar not being here at the time, I knew it was the time for me to step up and kind of take that role and kind of be more aggressive since he’s not around, and it turned out the right way.”

According to Walker, his performance last Saturday against Minnesota, where he scored only seven points in 28 minutes, really motivated him to play better going forward.

“I would say that Timberwolves game when I had about seven points, kind of ate me up alive,” Walker said. “I couldn’t go to sleep that same night knowing that we had a back-to-back. I wasn’t happy with how I played offensively and defensively. My effort wasn’t there, and I knew that wasn’t me.

“All that hard work I put in the offseason. I gotta let it be known. I have to play with that confidence and not second guess myself.”

The 22-year-old Walker has a lot of ability, and an aggressive Walker appears to be a very good Walker. When DeRozan returns, the Spurs and Walker have to find a way to keep him aggressive going forward.