Losing skid stopped, Spurs look to get greedy and win two in a row

Photo of Jeff McDonald

As the final straggling seconds ticked away on the Spurs’ first victory since what felt like the George Gervin era, Keldon Johnson decided to mark the moment the only way he knew how.

He let out a primal scream at midcourt of Vivint Arena, then proceeded to embrace each of his brothers in arms.

In the wake of a slump-busting 102-94 triumph at Utah on Tuesday, this party came Gregg Popovich approved.

“I’m just thrilled they could taste a little bit of victory,” Popovich said, “and keep them alive.”

The celebration proved short-lived.

By the time Johnson and the rest of the Spurs reached the tunnel to the visitor’s locker room, their stone faces were back.

Yes, Johnson said, it was good to put an end to a franchise-record 16-game losing streak.

Winning once in 17 games, however, is no reason to start popping Dom Perignon.

“It’s just one win,” Johnson said. “We’ve lost too many to be celebrating.”

Spurs (15-47)

at Pacers (28-35)

When, where: 7:30 p.m., AT&T Center

TV/radio: KENS, 1200 AM, 1350 AM (Spanish), 107.5 FM (Spanish)


Spurs: PG Malaki Branham (6-4, 1st), SG Keita Bates-Diop (6-8 5th), SF Keldon Johnson (6-5, 4th), PF Jeremy Sochan (6-9, 1st), C Zach Collins (6-5, 5th).

Pacers: PG Tyrese Haliburton (6-5, 3rd), SG Andrew Nembhard (6-4, 1st), SF Buddy Hield (6-4, 7th), PF Aaron Nesmith (6-6, 3rd), C Myles Turner (6-11, 8th).


Spurs: G Devonte' Graham (6-1, 5th), F Doug McDermott (6-7, 9th), G Blake Wesley (6-4, 1st year), F/C Charles Bassey (6-9, 2nd), F/C Gorgui Dieng (6-11, 10th), F/C Dominic Barlow (6-9, 1st). Inactive: Tre Jones (foot), Khem Birch (knee), Isaiah Roby (ankle), Romeo Langford (adductor), Devin Vassell (left knee procedure), Julian Champaigne (G League, two-way).

Pacers: F Jordan Nwora (6-9, 2nd), G/F Bennedict Mathurin (6-6, 1s), F Jalen Smith (6-10, 3rd), G T.J. McConnell (6-2, 8th), G Chris Duarte (6-6, 2nd), F Oshae Brissett (6-7, 4th), G George Hill (6-4, 14th), F Isaiah Jackson (6-10, 2nd), F/C James Johnson (6-7, 13th), C Daniel Theis (6-8, 6th). Inactive: Kendall Brown (tibia), Trevelin Queen (G League, two-way).


Spurs: Gregg Popovich

Pacers: Rick Carlisle


Spurs: Points, Johnson, 21.8 per game; rebounds, Collins, 6.0; assists, Jones, 6.3; steals, Jones, 1.3; blocks, Bassey, 0.9.

Pacers: Points, Haliburton, 20.1 per game; rebounds, Turner, 8.0; assists, Haliburton, 10.1; steals, Haliburton, 1.7; blocks, Turner, 2.3.


• With Tuesday's 124-122 win at Dallas, the Pacers have won two in a row on the road after losing 11 straight. They are 10-20 on the road overall.

• The Spurs have lost five straight home games and are 9-21 overall at the AT&T Center. In the season's first meeting between the former ABA foes, they beat the Pacers 137-124 on Oct. 21 in San Antonio.

• In his last 10 games, Turner is averaging 18.2 points, eight rebounds and 2.3 blocks. The Texas-ex had 24 points on 10 of 13 and four blocks against the Mavericks on Tuesday.

Tom Orsborn

The victory was the Spurs’ first since Jan. 17, when they defeated a Brooklyn squad missing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That was so long ago, Durant and Irving were still on the Nets’ roster.

Patrick Mahomes was still a one-time Super Bowl champion at the time. San Antonio had not yet endured its annual shut-down-all-the-schools ice storm.

On ExpressNews.com: Spurs’ Bates-Diop hopes his best NBA season leads to another one

The win in Utah was the Spurs’ first away from the AT&T Center since a Dec. 19 triumph at Houston.

With it, the Spurs also avoided the ignominious distinction of posting the first winless rodeo road trip in club history. They finished 1-8 instead.

Now the Spurs head home to face Indiana on Thursday night seeking their first two-game winning streak since early December.

“We have to stay hungry as a group,” said Johnson, whose 25 points led the way past Utah. “Obviously it feels good to win. Everybody smiles. But we have to get better.”

That process began hours before tipoff Tuesday.

The Spurs’ day began with a sweat-soaked shootaround session at Vivint Arena. Players were asked to tape their ankles, a signal this would be more than a typical easy-does-it morning walkthrough.

“We got after it,” Popovich said. “We tried to send a message: That grunt is what it takes.”

Players heeded that message heading into the final game of the rodeo trip.

On ExpressNews.com: Gregg Popovich praises Keldon Johnson, Zach Collins for toughness

“I think it kind of set the tone for the day,” forward Doug McDermott said.

To stop their streak the Spurs had to, well, stop some streaks.

Coming in, the Spurs were 0-44 when falling behind by at least 10 points at any point in a game.

That happened with 4:17 remaining in the third quarter, when Utah’s Rudy Gay made three free throws to put his team ahead 68-58.

The Spurs were also 0-41 when trailing after three quarters. They were down 73-71 headed to the fourth Tuesday.

With rookies Jeremy Sochan and Blake Wesley providing the fourth-quarter energy, and Johnson providing the clutch baskets, the Spurs bucked both those trends.

“We really grew up tonight,” McDermott said afterward. “(The Jazz) were playing super hard and we matched that in the fourth quarter. I was really happy to see everyone competing.”

The Spurs hung in while leaning on a tool unfamiliar to them. The NBA’s worst defensive team actually played some.

After surrendering literally 1,000 points in the first eight games of the rodeo trip, the Spurs kept Utah below 100.

On ExpressNews.com: Spurs players want to win games, not draft lottery

It was the first time the Spurs had kept an opponent to fewer than even 110 since Jan. 17 — which also happened to be their most recent win until Tuesday.

“Holding them to 94 points is really good,” McDermott said, “considering what our defense has been lately.”

Said Johnson: “It started with stops.”

It ended that way, too.

With 3:18 remaining, Jazz guard Kris Dunn wiggled for a layup to give Utah a 92-91 lead.

It was the final field goal the Jazz scored.

This was the “grunt” Popovich has practically worn himself hoarse in demanding.

“They played 48 minutes,” Popovich said of his team. “It obviously wasn’t perfect. It never is. But watching them give that effort for 48 was very satisfying.”

Then there was Johnson, who tweaked an ankle in a fourth-quarter collision with Utah’s Walker Kessler but refused to leave the game.

“If it ain’t falling off,” Johnson said in an on-court TV interview after the game, “I’m gonna keep going.”

With a streak in the balance Tuesday, Johnson kept going. And going. And going.

He had nine of his points in the final 3:28 of a back-and-forth fourth, and tallied four of the Spurs’ final five baskets.

“I wanted to win,” Johnson said. “I felt like I had it going a little bit. My coaches and teammates trusted me to have the ball in my hands. They trusted me to make the right decisions.”

Having pulled the Spurs through, Johnson took a beat —but only a beat — to savor the long-forgotten feeling of victory.

“Ain’t nothing like it,” Johnson said.

The challenge now is to do it again.

In Utah, the Spurs won their first game of February on the last day of the month. It improved their record to a still unsightly 15-47.

The ultimate reward was a late-night plane flight back to San Antonio and a night to sleep in their own beds.

Indiana awaits, with the Spurs still chasing that winning feeling.


Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN