The Spurs started a little rusty and the Hornets got an early small lead. Tony Parker was attacking the rim but the defense, anchored by Robin Lopez, was doing a solid job of containing the Spurs' star PG. Knowing that easy scoring opportunities inside were going to be hard to come by with the Hornets' athletic interior players patrolling the paint, the Spurs started running every time they could. Their solid defense provided them with long rebounds and some live ball turnovers, and the Spurs did a great job of converting those into fast break points. With some interior scoring from Duncan to balance things out, they got a nine-point lead before a barrage of NOLA jumpers brought them back in the game. Some solid play-making from Ginobili allowed the Spurs to close down the quarter on top, 26-22.
Manu stayed aggressive early in the second and it paid off. The team seemed to want the pace to stay high so they push the rock whenever possible. Once Manu sat, De Colo and company continued to move the ball around and find the open man. With Green hitting shots and Duncan dominating inside, the Spurs extended their lead to 16. The only bright posts for the Hornets on this period were reserve guard Brian Roberts and Ryan Anderson, who targeted and attacked De Colo and Bonner respectively. Pop adjusted and the Spurs continued to control the game before Lopez and Anderson reduced the lead to twelve. Going into the break the Spurs led 54-42.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Spurs get a big first half lead against an inferior young team, take their foot of the gas pedal and allow them to make a little run and get back in the game. That's pretty much exactly what happened in the 3rd quarter. The Spurs stopped pushing the ball and tried to milk the clock with long half court possessions. Unfortunately, they are overly reliant on Parker and Duncan when they do that and it freezes out the rest of the guys. The Hornets made energy play after energy play and cut the lead down to nine but the Spurs' defense held on, led by Tim Duncan's solid interior presence. After three quarters the good guys were up 11, 72-61.
Usually after a let down quarter in which they fail to put the opponent away the Spurs start strong and cruise the rest of the way. I believe that would have been the case if Pop hadn't started experimenting with small ball lineups. The Hornets attacked the paint relentlessly, especially against the unit featuring Diaw at center (four of their five shots were at the rim in that span), and scored off offensive boards (four in the first seven minutes of the quarter). They got the lead down to four but Pop went to a two big lineup featuring Diaw and Duncan with five minutes to go and the Spurs pulled away. The final result was never in jeopardy from then on, with the Spurs scoring efficiently and containing the Hornets' charges en route to a little too close for comfort 99-94 win.
- Kawhi Leonard is back, yo! Leonard played 20 minutes off the bench and looked great for a guy that has missed so many games. He got a couple of steals, which is what I missed the most about him, but also scored eight points and pulled down a couple of boards. I can wait to see him back in the starting lineup. The Spurs will finally have some time to practice in this homestand and Leonard and Jackson will probably benefit the most from it.
- I mentioned the small ball lineups not working but it was still good to see Pop try them out. With Leonard and Jackson coming back, playing time for either Neal or De Colo will be hard to come by if the Spurs stick to traditional lineups. I would have preferred Splitter anchoring the paint to Diaw but hopefully Pop is just beginning to experiment.
- What has become consistent is the Spurs' basic three man big rotation. Splitter and Duncan start, then Diaw comes in for Tiago. Tiago then replaces Tim. There are some minutes here and there for Bonner but Pop is giving him a much shorter leash. I mostly like it, except for the Splitter-Diaw pairing. It should work, I know that, but it hasn't so far. Maybe with more reps they get better. Individually, they were both OK. Diaw boxed out, rebounded the ball, mostly took shots when he was supposed to and defended Anderson well. Splitter was a bit turnover prone against the Hornets aggressive help defense but was solid otherwise, scoring six points on four shots, pulling down seven boards and dishing out two assists.
- Neal has had a couple bad games in a row. He's not shooting enough and when he does, he often misses. Going back to the bench might benefit him. Green was bad from outside (1-5 on threes) but managed to scored in other ways and also pulled down four boards and got a couple of assists. Good game for Danny. Jack didn't have a great game by any means but he keeps slowly rounding into shape and didn't really hurt the Spurs in limited minutes.
- Nando De Colo makes spectacular plays like it's no big thing. He got a behind the back assist for a Danny Green corner three on the break in the first half. Then, in the second half, he froze his guy by faking he was going to take the ball back out after he was stopped in his drive, only to turn back, score and draw the foul. Let's hope Pop finds a way to give Nando a few minutes a game even with a full roster.
Your Three Stars
3 - Manu Ginobili (13 points, seven assists, two rebounds and two steals)
Yeah, yeah he went 3-10 from the field but you knew I was going to give Manu a spot here and he actually deserves it. Manu got himself to the line seven times and displayed his vintage amazing passing. Ginobili had seven assists to two turnovers (one of which was a travelling violation) and looked much better in terms of timing and precision. He also got a couple of steals and a block and did a lot of little things. Far from a throwback Manu game but another step in the right direction.
2 - Tony Parker (25 points, five assists)
Tony was phenomenal at scoring when the Spurs' offense dried out and carved up Greiviz Vazquez for 27 points on 17 shots. His corner three wasn't falling but Tony looked great out there, getting to the rim and finishing against a usually solid Hornets interior D.
3 - Tim Duncan (15 points, 10 boards, five assists, two steals and two blocks)
Just look at that stat line. He did that while going against his heir apparent Anthony Davis for most of the game. Davis had a good game himself (18 and 11) but he has a long way to go before dominating all aspects of the game the way Duncan does. Single game +/- is usually worthless but in this particular game, Tim's team-leading +13 accurately shows how much better the Spurs were when Big Fun was on the court.
The Spurs will now play the Mavs at home on Sunday. Let's hope they can get a winning streak going.
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All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats