Spurs fall to Cavs but Denmon continues to impress
LAS VEGAS — With their 72-66 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday afternoon, the Spurs’ Summer League fate has been sealed. San Antonio will face off against the Milwaukee Bucks tomorrow afternoon at 5 p.m. on the west coast (7 p.m. central time) in a Las Vegas finale.
Cory Joseph re-aggravated a back injury he had, uh, aggravated on Monday night, and Nando De Colo banged his knee and his hip at different points throughout the game. With both ailing, the Spurs’ offense struggled and the Cavs took advantage. Dion Waiters took more than twice as many shots as anyone else on Cleveland’s roster (23) and scored 27 points, out-dueling Marcus Denmon and carrying his team to the win.
Ime Udoka said afterward it’s difficult to play well when your two best floor generals get nicked up.
“When Cory and Nando are banged up and not in there, especially down the stretch, you’re going to struggle with a team of new guys together,” he said. “Those guys, being our point guards, give us stability throughout the week. Once Cory was out after halftime and Nando got hurt a little bit later, we didn’t have those guys at the end of the game.”
It really affected the Spurs out of the break and into the third quarter. Cleveland outscored San Antonio 21-13 in the period, and a Jermaine Taylor 3-pointer at the buzzer stopped any momentum the Spurs had been building. And despite tying the game late in the fourth, San Antonio couldn’t connect on any of its opportunities in the waning moments as Cleveland lived to play another day.
At this point, the team must take advantage of what little time it has left, and for people like Denmon that’s very important. The former Missouri guard and last year’s second-round draft pick of the Spurs impressed for the second consecutive game. After putting up 14 points on Monday evening, his 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting — including 5-for-10 from deep — were almost enough to carry a San Antonio team missing its starting point guard throughout the second half.
“He’s starting to shoot it much better. We’ve had him off the ball a lot (this week) so it was tough for him to come in and run the show and be the point guard when we’d like to have him off the ball shooting,” Udoka said. “But he did a great job, shot the ball well, got guys involved and got guys in their sets.
“We like the way he’s shooting it, but for him to actually get out there and run the point guard a little bit showed some good things.”
Denmon has shown his touch over the last several days, but the task for him going forward remains sticking out on a team with a plethora of combo guards at its disposal. Udoka mentioned just minutes prior that Denmon had a similar skill set to another player that’s played a big role for the Spurs in recent years.
“Passion and being able to compete on both ends of the floor, being able to guard, being able to make shots. That’s something Gary Neal brought to the team,” Denmon said. “All I can do is what’s in my control, come out and compete, play hard and the rest will take care of itself.
A guy like Neal, who went undrafted and spent years overseas before blowing up the 2010 Las Vegas Summer League at age 26, set an example for other players looking to break in.
“I understand how much hard work you have to put in, and that’s something I definitely pride myself in, putting the work in,” Denmon said. “But over time, now, I’ve learned that being patient is just as important as putting in the hard work.”
And this time around in Vegas has been different for Denmon. He said last season he already knew his post-summer-league fate before it even started. The Spurs told him he’d be playing in Europe, but after a year in France he came in this July with a different mindset. Neal, the player people have compared him to, remains a restricted free agent, and San Antonio potentially has an open spot on the roster.
“Last year I already knew for sure I was going overseas,” Denmon said. “We had made plans prior to summer league. This year, it’s me coming out and competing and trying to fight for a roster spot. It’s a lot different. I play a lot more this year and I’m part of the rotation.
With Deshaun Thomas posting his worst game of summer league — five points on 1-for-12 shooting — the attention shifted to Denmon for a moment. But the focus was fixed even more firmly when the Spurs’ starting guards were sitting or ineffective late in the game. Denmon isn’t known as a facilitator, so his performance in keeping a shorthanded team in the game will look good on the summer league résumé.
For this long shot trying to crack the Spurs’ current roster, any little thing will help.