SAN ANTONIO – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich screamed on the sidelines, pounded the scorer’s table and then demonstrated the defensive stance he wanted his young players to show in the final seconds against Cleveland.
Keldon Johnson and his San Antonio teammates delivered.
Johnson scored 21 points and blocked a late shot by Donovan Mitchell as the Spurs held off the Cavaliers 112-111 Monday night.
“He’s locked in every day,” Spurs guard Josh Richardson said of the 73-year-old coach. “He’s on a treadmill every day before practice. It trickles down through the whole organization that the head guy is like that. It’s hard to see Pop over there in the stance and you’re on the court not in the stance. He’s 70-whatever years old.”
Richardson had 24 points to help San Antonio win its third straight after an 11-game losing streak.
“We played their record and not the team,” Mitchell said. “They are a talented group. When they get going, they get comfortable, and we didn’t respect that coming out and that’s on us. That can’t happen.”
Mitchell scored 28 points as Cleveland lost for the first time this season to a team below .500.
The Cavaliers trailed by 19 in the third quarter and rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final 4 1/2 minutes for a chance to win.
Cleveland was 16 for 17 on free throws with its only miss coming on the front end of a pair by Evan Mobley with 37.2 seconds remaining that cut San Antonio’s lead to 112-111.
The Cavaliers had multiple opportunities to win after Spurs point guard Tre Jones missed a 12-footer with 12.1 seconds left.
Mitchell’s runner over Richardson was blocked by Johnson with 6.1 seconds remaining.
“He got by me, so I thought he was going to lay it up and we were going to come back down one,” Richardson said. “But 3 (Johnson’s jersey number) came flying out of nowhere. That was a huge block.”
Following an offensive rebound by Caris LeVert, Darius Garland missed a 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second remaining.
LeVert finished with 23 points, Garland had 18 and Evan Mobley had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavaliers.
Cleveland had a 12-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to pull within seven points. The Cavaliers had to rally after the Spurs dominated the first half.
San Antonio closed the first half on a 28-12 burst in taking a 65-49 lead into the second half. The Spurs outscored the Cavs 36-22 in the second quarter.
“When you give a team like that confidence early anything can happen late as you saw,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell had 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting in the opening quarter, including an emphatic one-handed dunk that silenced the crowd buzzing from an 8-0 run by the Spurs.
San Antonio was nine for 27 on 3-pointers.
Cavaliers: Cleveland had won three straight overall and three consecutive road games against San Antonio. The Cavs’ previous loss in San Antonio was March 28, 2019. … Mitchell was listed as questionable with a sore right lower leg. … Kevin Love played after being questionable with a sore lower back. … Cleveland is 5-9 on the road this season. The Cavs have lost eight of its last nine on the road.
Spurs: Johnson was listed as with a stomach ailment not related to COVID-19. … Jeremy Sochan came off the bench in his return from a five-game with a bruised quadricep. Sochan started the first 20 games of his NBA career, the second most consecutive starts by a rookie in franchise history. Tim Duncan started all 82 games in his rookie season.
RING ’EM UP
The Spurs bench has taken to mimicking making a phone call after Richardson drains a 3-pointer.
Richardson began making that gesture in honor of his favorite soccer player, Gabriel Jesus of the Premier League’s Arsenal.
“He does that when he scores goals,” Richardson said. “I kind of adopted it. So, it’s me calling my mom.”
Cavaliers: At Dallas on Wednesday.
Spurs: Host Portland on Wednesday.
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