No Timmy. No Kawhi. No Pop. Manu back. Unfamiliar giant Australians. Professional baseball players sitting courtside in their jerseys. More professional baseball players in the locker room following the game.
It was a typical Wednesday night at the AT&T Center.
But after what had been a busy sports day by San Antonio standards, the Spurs managed to hold off the New Orleans Hornets in unnecessarily dramatic fashion, extending their winning streak to six games after a 106-102 victory. Tim Duncan sat out due to a sore knee, Kawhi Leonard sat out because he contusion-ed his left patella by FALLING ON A NAIL ON A BASKETBALL COURT IN PHILADELPHIA, and Gregg Popovich got sick and let Mike Budenholzer go win a game for him. Which he did, because Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter pick-and-rolled the Hornets into their final nightcap under that moniker. New Orleans will officially announce tomorrow that the franchise will be changing its name to THE PELICANS RAWWWRR!!
Perhaps tonight's game was fitting for the twilight of the Hornets' unimpressive New Orleans existence, as Parker sliced up the defense for 24 points and 13 assists on 10-for-18 shooting. Even without the presence of Duncan alleviating interior pressure, Tony basically did what he wanted in his 36 minutes of court time.
Timmy might not have been there, but Tiago was.
Splitter fell one point shy of tying a career high, rolling to the rim and racking up 25 points on 10-for-11 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds in 32 minutes. The Spurs scored 66 points in the paint to the Hornets' 36 on just 18-for-44 shooting. Robin Lopez -- who's been great for the Hornicans/Pelinets this season -- couldn't keep up with the two-man game between Parker and Splitter, and Anthony Davis couldn't maintain position against the Spurs' razor-sharp offensive execution. San Antonio finished the night with just eight turnovers, a crucial statistic in a game marred by poor shooting from both the free-throw line and the perimeter.
But it was yet another defensively charged second half for San Antonio that allowed it to run out to a 12-point lead with as little as 1:42 remaining. After allowing 64 points to New Orleans in the first half, the Spurs managed to hold the Hornets to 25 points through the first 22-plus minutes of the second half. It was a shocking turnaround for a team missing its two best defenders. New Orleans shot 62 percent from the field in the first half, hitting jumper after jumper while converting 11 of its 17 shots in the paint. But the second half was a completely different story.
San Antonio held the visitors to 32 percent shooting after the break. And with Splitter acting as the team's best rim defender, the Hornets went just 7-for-27 inside the painted area. But despite jumping out to the double-digit lead late in the game, San Antonio allowed New Orleans to go on a run that surely had Pop falling out of his living room recliner.
The Hornets hit two threes and a lay-up, forced two turnovers and cut an 11-point deficit to just three in a 20-second span that forced Bud to reinsert Parker and Manu Ginobili into the game to close it out. The Spurs would hit their free throws, and chaotic disaster was averted.
Speaking of Manu, the San Antonio sixth man returned from a four-game absence due to a hamstring injury to contribute nine points and five assists in under 17 minutes. It was a pretty good night to get the Argentine back.
"At the beginning, I was a little worried so I took it easy in the first few minutes. Then I started to loosen up and I knew I was going to play limited minutes, but I can't complain," Manu said. "It was an important win, especially with how the first half developed. We couldn't make a stop; they were very sharp.
"Then in the second half we started to play harder, our rotations were there, everybody was very active and we held them to 15 points in the third quarter," he continued. "It was a great second half defensively."
New Orleans has given San Antonio a lot of trouble in recent memory. It doesn't always show in the win-loss column, but Monty Williams' teams have been difficult to handle for the silver and black. And for as talented as that team is, for San Antonio to pull one out in the final minutes without two of its best players once again speaks volumes of the depth this group possesses. But it also says something about how good Tony Parker is and how solid Tiago Splitter has become. Both Duncan and Leonard are day-to-day with their injuries -- TImmy is expected to miss Friday's game in Dallas -- and Manu is most likely going to be limited in the immediate future until he has full confidence in his hamstring, so the Spurs will be reliant on tonight's wonderful pick-and-roll tandem.
But there is one thing to keep in mind. Be ready for Friday, because this isn't the same Dallas team Spurs fans have become accustomed to this season. This one has won five of its last six games and is currently resting at home, waiting.
Oh and that Dirk guy? He's getting back to his old tricks.
-- Spurs announced prior to the game they have signed Australian big man Aron Baynes to a multi-year deal. The former Washington St. Cougar said he wants to be a physical, energetic man in the middle for his new team, but he must wait for certain issues to clear with his visa before he begins practicing and eventually playing with the team.
-- There were several professional baseball players in attendance tonight. Players from both the Astros and Rangers were taking in the game while visiting the Alamo City. The Houston players were wearing their jerseys, well, because nobody knew who they were anyway. Except me, an irrational Astros fan. Texas players were hanging around the Spurs locker room mingling after the game.
-- Mike Budenholzer said he got the call from Pop that he'd be coaching less than two hours before the game. Bud said Pop told him to "have fun" and that he'd either "win or lose." Poignant, Hall-of-Fame stuff right there.