After a last-second loss to the Thunder, the Spurs proved they can still win close games. Thanks in large part to a fantastic performance from DeMar DeRozan on his return, San Antonio beat the Pelicans 117-114 at home in another meeting that went all the way.
It didn’t look like the Spurs, who were still severely understaffed, were going to force a close finish early in the game. Neither team was playing good defense to start the night, but San Antonio simply had no answer for Brandon Ingram. The young All-Star winger lost 15 points in the first frame to lead his team forward by as many as eight. Fortunately, San Antonio increased defensive intensity on the perimeter while keeping Zion Williamson in check. Once the second units were registered, Silver and Black found the advantage they needed to fully come back, with a lot of credit due to LaMarcus Aldridge’s aggressive play off the bench.
With Aldridge and DeRozan leading the offense and an inspired Dejounte Murray wreaking havoc on both ends, the Spurs showed more poise in the second quarter. Luck was also in their favor, to be fair, as they warmed up from the outside at just the right time as the Pelicans struggled with the long ball. If New Orleans had been able to capitalize on the open looks San Antonio was granting by doubling Zion and packing paint on the units, the score in the middle might have been different. Unfortunately for the visitors, the Spurs did a good job of upsetting some of their shooters with strong closures, resulting in a 1-for-7 quarter from beyond the arc for the Pelicans. After a strong final stretch from San Antonio, the lead was six before the break.
The Pelicans had a chance to regain control in the third quarter after some strong plays by Williamson, but made mistakes that prevented them from taking advantage of the Spurs’ usual calm after halftime. After a chaotic first few minutes, San Antonio again limited Zion’s impact and controlled the pace. On offense, Trey Lyles filled the X-factor role that Lonnie Walker IV played in the second quarter, but the work of DeRozan, who did a good job orchestrating the attack, was really the main reason for his success. Both teams went cold from the outside and each point was harder to come by, but by virtue of having an accomplished midfield creator, the Spurs came out ahead and extended their lead to nine in the final period.
The dependency on DeRozan that helped them from the start came back to haunt the Spurs in the fourth quarter. After thriving with a heavy ISO attack in the second and third frames, the offense dried up. RPGs couldn’t get their shots right, and unless DeRozan got to the line, nothing was easy. Fortunately for the Spurs, the Pelicans just couldn’t give that final push. Zion had some wonderful moments and the entire team deserves credit for reducing the deficit to three multiple times in the closing minutes. But every time they got close, they couldn’t close the gap by missing a shot or having a defense failure.
- DeMar DeRozan came back strong, scoring 32 points and 11 assists. It was a tremendous performance that got the Spurs through the toughest stretches of the game. DeRozan won’t be in Atlanta, but everyone should know by now that he’s an All-Star player.
- LaMarcus Aldridge came off the bench again and did a good job delivering offense. After missing a couple of jump shots he was more aggressive and ended up taking 10 free throws. As a bench scorer who can hit second drives, Aldridge could be quite productive in the future.
- Is anyone in the league called up for so many soft offensive fouls while leaking like Jakob Poeltl? It’s strange. Despite the foul problems, Jak managed to knock down 11 boards and block three shots in a win, so I’m sure he doesn’t mind too much, but I can’t wait until he gets the respect of the referees.
- Dejounte Murray filled out the stat sheet, flirting with another triple-double, while also doing a good job of containing Ingram after his initial blitz. Murray did most of his damage in the first half, but still found ways to contribute when the ball was out of his hands after DeRozan’s takeover. It’s great to see how reliable it is getting.
- Trey Lyles and Lonnie Walker IV were asked to replace as starters once again. As mentioned, they both had their moments, but they also just helped in their areas of expertise. Lyles had seven rebounds and kept the ball moving while Lonnie had 17 points. Those two are likely to continue to have great minutes until everyone is back, so it was good to see them play well despite having tough defensive assignments.
- Patty Mills was hot in the first half but cold in the second. He still played well on both ends so it’s hard to complain.
- Luka Samanic came off the bench this time, but he had one of the most encouraging zero-point, three-rebound games I can remember. He just looked like he belonged and played good defense, for the most part. He also nearly had a monstrous dunk which he sadly overcame. We are seeing progress from Luka.
- The entire Spurs game plan focused on stopping Zion Williamson, and he still had 23 points. Even if the defense forces him to hit a bad shot, Zion is so strong and has such a good second jump that he can hook his own offensive board and get the kick back. Thus he caught at least four of his eight offensive rebounds against the Spurs. Just a beast of a gamer.
Next game: vs. the nets on monday
The Nets will visit the AT&T Center next. The Spurs’ perimeter defenders will face another tough challenge. If they can stop James Harden, Silver and Black should be able to get their second win in a row.