SAN ANTONIO —
San Antonio started the game on a 6-0 run. With Keldon Johnson matching up on LeBron James and Jakob Poeltl on Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan was tasked with limiting the much taller Marc Gasol.
Keldon Johnson got out in transition and forcefully dunked in LeBron's vicinity, but LeBron got him back as the Lakers came back with an 11-0 run.
Poeltl scored 6-straight points for the Spurs by screening and moving well without the ball before finishing with some deft touch around the basket. He hit Dejounte Murray for a layup, and got a steal as well.
Drew Eubanks came off the bench for him with the score tied at 17 when he picked up his second foul. Eubanks missed his first four shots, and the Lakers rattled off a quick 7-0 run behind Dennis Schroder.
The Lakers' bench unit was able to build a 10-point lead behind strong three-point shooting, hitting 5-9 from deep in the quarter. Patty Mills and Rudy Gay each hit a triple, but they were the only Spurs to attempt a three in the period.
San Antonio trailed 35-27 after the first 12 minutes.
Rookie Devin Vassell played some of the ace defense he's known for and stripped Montrezl Harrell under the basket. Eubanks made his first shot of the second quarter, and swatted a driving layup attempt from LeBron.
Poeltl came back into the game very briefly, then picked up his third foul on a very soft call. Eubanks came back in, and recorded an impressive block on Harrell before DeRozan dunked all over Harrell on the ensuing break.
Lonnie Walker IV attacked with his head down and got to the rim aggressively, and got his hands in a passing lane to start a transition break.
The officiating continued to frustrate San Antonio, as Johnson and DeRozan went drive after drive with plenty of contact and no whistles. After one such drive, Coach Pop voiced his displeasure with the referees a bit too vociferously, and got ejected with two technicals.
Becky Hammon took over head coaching duties, becoming the first woman to direct an NBA team in a regular-season game in history.
Rudy Gay went on a quick 5-0 run, and then the Spurs gave up a 5-point possession to the Lakers in the last two seconds, so Los Angeles took a 63-53 lead into the break.
Things seemed to turn for the Spurs in the third quarter as they strung together some stops, scores from Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills, and whistles, but when they cut it to 8 the Lakers immediately responded with their own run.
San Antonio got into the bonus early in the quarter and continued attacking the paint, but the Lakers' sustained outside attack helped them build the lead out to 18.
Lonnie knocked down a three and hit a layup through Marc Gasol. Dejounte knocked down one three off the dribble, then knocked down a catch and shoot look, then threw his body into Kuzma to create space for a layup.
It was an ugly quarter, but the ball bounced San Antonio's way. The Spurs finished on an 8-0 run with Vassell drilling a 3 to cut it to 92-82 with 12 minutes to play.
The Lakers extended their lead in the fourth quarter as Wesley Matthews kept losing his defenders and subsequently drilling threes. He shot 6-6 in the game, all from deep.
Dejounte Murray's hot shooting continued, and he kept San Antonio in the game with a career-high 29 points to go with 7 assists and 7 rebounds. He was not in the mood to celebrate his achievement, saying that he didn't care what he did in the loss.
Los Angeles pushed their lead to 16, but the Spurs pulled back to within 11 with 5:52 to play. DeRozan attacked the rim and hit free throws, cutting it to single digits while putting the Spurs in the bonus. He hit a three as well, but the Lakers kept hitting shots. San Antonio fell 121-107.
After the game, Coach Hammon said she didn't know that she'd take over for Pop until he pointed at her and said, "you got 'em." She understands that she made history and it's a big deal, but said that in the moment, she was just trying to help the guys win.
Will LeBron James play?
LeBron James celebrates his 36th birthday today at the start of his 18th year in the NBA, and it still doesn't look like his inevitable duel with Father Time is anywhere close. He's listed as questionable after tweaking his left ankle, and San Antonio would need to take advantage if the King stays in a throne on the bench, or if he's limited.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel alluded to LeBron playing before the game, and he is indeed starting at the three. He's scored at least 10 points in 999 consecutive games, and he can be the first to hit 1,000.
It will be interesting to see who tries to stop him from doing that. Keldon Johnson would be the logical choice, being the only player with the big body and quick feet to challenge James at all levels. Lonnie Walker IV would be an interesting matchup if the Spurs go with a small lineup, but smaller defenders tend to struggle against the incomparably athletic LeBron.
Dejounte Murray spoke about his favorite player growing up, who he said has become a big brother to him. Once they're on the court, however, that all goes out the window. Murray said he'll treat LeBron as an enemy trying to destroy his team, and he'll try to do the same to the Lakers.
Before the game, Popovich had words of praise for LeBron, saying that the fact that he's still playing like this is a testament to his intelligence, tenacity and character.
LaMarcus Aldridge will not play
Aldridge, on the other hand, has looked every bit of 35 in the preseason and first three games of the regular season. He was listed as questionable with a sore left knee after just 4 points and 4 boards in the loss in New Orleans, and has been ruled out.
The defensive problems are real and concerning, with teams attacking him in pick and roll and Aldridge not looking anywhere near as fast or feisty as he needs to be on that end.
His offensive production has been underwhelming, averaging just 12 points while shooting 42% from the floor and 2-11 from three after a lot of talk about his newfound commitment to floor spacing.
Still, he deserves a lot of credit for completely changing his offensive game. Post-ups have been few and far between, and most of his shots are good looks that come off of pick and roll/pops. He's gone from the center of the offense to just a center as the team leans into DeMar and the young core. He should shoot better and could get into a groove if he continues to play the same complimentary style and gets his legs back under him.
Coach Popovich announced pregame that Jakob Poeltl will start.
Who guards Anthony Davis?
Keldon Johnson probably isn't a bad choice to stick on LA's versatile big man, but he may be tied up with LeBron. Davis would likely torch Gay on the perimeter, but Jakob Poeltl and Trey Lyles have the size and footspeed to bother him, and Drew Eubanks is an underrated and physical defender. The lengthy Luka Šamanić may even get some run, but that's far from a sure thing.
Anyone who draws the assignment will have a difficult time guarding one of the best big men in the game today, but if he stumbles, expect a heavy dose of reminders from San Antonians and basketball fans around the globe that he isn't quite Tim Duncan yet.
AD is listed as probable with a right calf contusion, and Alex Caruso will miss both games.
How well-rested is San Antonio?
San Antonio missed open shots and struggled to drive on the second night of a back-to-back, falling 98-95 in New Orleans. The Spurs turned it over 23 times, shot just 11-36 from deep, got only 12 points total from DeRozan and Aldridge, and only lost by three.
With a few days off to rest, San Antonio should look a good bit sharper. DeRozan will do his best to put the loss behind him and continue forcing the issue on offense and finding his teammates in good spots, as he's averaged 9 assists per game.
The Compton native who grew up idolizing Kobe said it's always exciting to play against his hometown Lakers with friends and family watching, and the fact that they're the defending champs adds that much more juice to the game.