The San Antonio Spurs have a playoff spot pretty much locked up, but they’re still jockeying for position. Anything to avoid the Golden State Warriors, which probably means fighting for a seventh seed, but maybe means settling for eighth. With that in mind, they have a lot to play for. Wins are helpful. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, wins are not so helpful. Even so, they’ve done a better job giving themselves shots at them of late, so it wasn’t completely surprising that this game was close in the closing minutes.
Ultimately, the Spurs had veterans trying to make plays at the end of the game, and the Cavs trusted key possessions to Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman. A Patty Mills three-pointer with 13.5 seconds remaining gave the Spurs a four point lead, and the game was all but over. I’m not sure many Cavs fans are disappointed. Let’s jump to it.
POSITIVE: Larry Nance Jr. played like a super-sub off the bench
This wasn’t a great game for the starters. But Larry Nance, Jr. was productive off the bench and found himself closing the game. He had an errant pass in crunch time, but his energy was abundant and he filled up the stat sheet. Thirteen points on seven shots, 11 rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes is basically exactly what you’re looking for. He probably doesn’t have the body or size to really bang at the center position as a starter for a full season, so maybe this is how he’s best used.
If he can ever stay healthy with Tristan Thompson for an extended period of time ... well I think the two of them would help each other stay healthy. The problem is they both play the same position and it’s possible the Cavs ultimately decide to move on from one (read: Thompson) this summer. Without a good deal I’d want to keep both, but it’s a lot of money for two bigs, neither of whom are consistently good as a starting center.
NEGATIVE: Cedi Osman kept coming, but it was a tough game
Osman was a team worst -14 in his 30 minutes, and he scored just nine points on his 13 shots. He made some nice plays late in the game, but also badly missed some shots and took an ill-advised midrange jumper off the dribble in the last couple minutes. He’s been good all year about avoiding those shots, so he gets some leeway. He had trouble defensively in the third quarter vs. DeMar DeRozan when the Spurs went on their run to get themselves back in the game. He’s had an interesting year but might end up being the wing version of Nance: an almost-starter that hangs around in the league for a dozen years and no one ever says anything bad about. But also someone hard to get too excited about.
POSITIVE: Brandon Knight is playing his way into some confidence
Collin Sexton’s growth didn’t just come with Kevin Love’s return from injury. He’s sharing the court with Brandon Knight as a secondary ballhandler, and that bodes well on a few fronts. One, it’s possible Sexton isn’t a long term point guard. He looks good sharing the ball. Two, Knight is playing pretty okay! He’s had stretches of good play in his career, and it’s unclear what sort of trade value he could play his way into. In the meantime, he’s bought into his role in Cleveland and is getting more and more time on the court. There’s no downside.