The Spurs returned home the next night to face a well-rested Knicks squad that already present the Spurs with a serious size disadvantage. The home team was unable to muster up enough energy to keep up as the Knicks, which was only compounded by the fact that they were white hot from three all night, hitting 18-38. To add on to disappointment, Keldon Johnson was lost to an ankle sprain that looked pretty serious after landing on Jakob Poeltl’s foot. Although he briefly tried to return, he just as quickly left again.
After that disappointing setback, the Spurs began a miniseries — something that was not kind to them last season — against the Nuggets, who feature reigning MVP Nikola Jokic but are also down two starters in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr. While they didn’t necessarily dominate, the Spurs led the first outing wire-to-wire and had an answer every time Denver got close, satisfyingly led by their three first round picks from 2016-2018, who combined for 67 points on the evening.
Disappointment returned again in the second game of miniseries, as two nights later the Nuggets came back out with a vengeance, thoroughly dismantling the Spurs in the first half for a blowout loss that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated. On the bright side, Johnson made a surprisingly quick return after missing just one game to that sprain that looked like it could have taken several weeks, and the lack of playing time for the starters meant they had plenty of energy the next night to put away the Pelicans with a dominant fourth quarter, thanks in large part to the play of Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl.
After a horrible first ten games of the season from above the arc (3-22 for 13.6%) it only took Johnson 15 games to shoot himself into the top ten of the league as a three-point shooter. From Game 11 and on, he has shot 58% from three while attempting 3.3 per game, including 6-8 since (somewhat miraculously) returning from his ankle injury, pushing him up to 7th in the league at 44.4 %. (Just ahead of Patty Mills!) Obviously he can’t be expected to keep shooting threes at a 58% clip — no one can, not even Steph Curry — but if he can maintain being a 40% shooter from three, it will open up the offense both for him and his teammates a lot more.