Spurs win second-straight game in return to San Antonio

Third quarter rally guides Spurs past Pacers in first game back in AT&T Center

Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor

SAN ANTONIO – Despite the all-time winningest coach in NBA history being out with an illness, San Antonio managed to win its first game back at AT&T Center after the annual month-long rodeo trip.

The Spurs outscored the Pacers by 15 points in the third quarter, resulting in the 110-99 victory on Thursday night.

Thursday night’s victory came without star forward Keldon Johnson due to a foot injury and with both head coach Gregg Popovich and top assistant coach Brett Brown out with illnesses. With both coaches removed from the bench, Mitch Johnson stepped into the role and may have inspired inspiration in the Spurs’ second-straight win.

“The young guys are making strides,” Johnson said. “There’s an adjustment for them, physicality-wise, size-wise, schematically. I think you’re just starting to see some incremental games on that side of the floor.”

Though the circumstances were not ideal, Spurs’ guard Devin Vassell made his return to the court after missing the last 25 games due to injury.

The full-team effort included five players scoring in double-figures, including Vassell’s 18 points in his first game back since Jan. 2.

Devonte’ Graham, who the Spurs acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans while on the month-long road trip, also added 18 points in his debut in San Antonio.

“I was excited,” Graham told the media after the game. “It was like playing my first game; I was a little nervous, to be honest.”

The nerves did not seem to affect the new addition to the team as he shot 5 of 10 from beyond the arc.

After trailing by two points at halftime, the Spurs came out of the break on a 15-3 run to take its first lead of the game.

After a Jeremy Sochan layup to take the lead, Graham kicked the ball down low to Sochan on the team’s next possession. Drawing two defenders, Sochan passed the ball back out to Graham for an open three. 

Graham took a contested 3-pointer on his next shot attempt, drawing the foul and making the shot. The 6-foot-1 guard made the free throw to complete the 4-point play.

Graham pulled up for another three, though it bounced off the right side of the rim which led to a put-back slam dunk from Sochan.

Vassell scored 10 points late in the quarter to keep San Antonio’s offensive momentum rolling. 

After leading by 13 points after three quarters, the Spurs managed to withstand a Pacers fourth-quarter comeback and hold on for the double-digit win.

“Winning definitely gives you credibility and a feeling like the hard work has paid off,” Johnson said.

The new year has not been so kind to the Spurs. After losing a franchise record 16 straight games, San Antonio has now won back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 10.

Sochan recorded his first career double-double in the victory, finishing with team-highs of 22 points and 13 rebounds. The reigning ninth overall pick in last year’s draft, who also participated in the Rising Stars Challenge on Feb. 17, is more proud of the team win than his personal stats.

“It feels good,” Sochan said of his first-ever double-double, “but, you know, the win is way more important, so that feels good.” 

Each of the team’s last two victories has come after the Spurs trailed by double-digits. 

Pacers guard Buddy Hield had 13 first-quarter points to guide Indiana to lead by eight after the first quarter.

After finding themselves in an 11-point deficit, San Antonio sparked a 13-2 scoring run in the second quarter to bring the Spurs within striking distance.

Malaki Branham grabbed a defensive rebound to lead the fastbreak, kicking the ball to Sochan, who cut to the basket and slammed it home, igniting the crowd and closing the scoring run.

Branham again found a teammate cutting to the hoop — this time Vassell — who went for a dunk. The ball bounced around the rim and eventually fell in with eight seconds remaining in the second quarter.

After returning to AT&T Center for the first time since Feb. 2, the Spurs are set to host seven of their next eight games at home.