Injuries are a terrible thing. Coming into this game, the Pelicans were missing Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, while the Spurs were without Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. The good guys were also on a SEGABABA and Manu Ginobili was returning after a two-game absence. There was no way this game was going to be anything but a struggle for both teams. Fortunately, the Spurs pulled through and got the win in the end.
The Spurs started out a bit lethargic. Tim Duncan's shot was even flatter than usual and Manu Ginobili, who had missed the previous two games, looked a step slow on defense. But the Spurs had one clear mismatch on their side, as Brian Roberts was tasked with defending Tony Parker. San Antonio exploited it to stay in the game despite the birds hitting some outside shots early. The revamped starting unit didn't wow anyone but they did a good job of keeping it close.
Unfortunately, the injuries are forcing the Spurs to play some strange lineups. Once Baynes checked in for Duncan and the Spurs went small with Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Patty Mills in the perimeter, the bigger Pelicans started driving to the basket. With Alexis Ajinca drawing Baynes out of the paint, the rim was unprotected. Things weren't much better on the other end, where the Spurs consistently struggled to get their offense going. Only some Manu Ginobili drives (usually following a turnover, in true Manu fashion) provided the lift the Spurs needed to avoid falling into a huge hole.
The Pelicans' subs built their lead all the way up to double digits and Pop had no choice but to bring back the starters a little sooner that he would have wanted to. New Orleans upped its defensive intensity and started getting steals and deflections that fueled their transition offense. The downside to that aggressiveness on D is that it only goes as far as the officials allow it to. The Spurs went to the bonus early and earned 20 of their 51 points in the half at the free throw line, a rarity for this team.
Those freebies plus a dominant Parker helped fuel a run that allowed the Spurs to climb their way back. After a crazy Marco Belinelli buzzer-beater, they managed to only go into the break down one, 52-51.
The Pelicans went on a run to start the third quarter, once again courtesy of some hot perimeter shooting. The Spurs chipped away at the lead on the shoulders of the Big Three, who scored 21 of the team's 23 points in the frame, led by Duncan's 11. With three of NOLA's best offensive players in a suit and Eric Gordon struggling, the Pelicans were over reliant on Anthony Davis. As Jeff Ayres surprisingly started to contain AD, the Spurs defense tightened up and the good guys went on a run. Going into the final period, the Spurs led by three, 76-73.
The bench started the fourth and not only maintained the lead but extended it, with Belinelli as the offensive catalyst. It seemed the Spurs were going to finally create separation but the Pelicans refused to go away quietly. After a couple of bad possessions by the Spurs' bench guards, the Pels cut the lead to three with back-to-back three pointers. An emphatic put back dunk and a driving layup by Davis put NOLA ahead. And to make matters worst, Tim Duncan fouled out for the first time in three years with half a quarter to go.
But the Spurs dug deep and found answers in their core players. San Antonio withstood the final Pelican charge and pulled off a hard-fought win. Parker sealed it with a beautiful driving layup after turning the corner on Davis and Ginobili iced it with free throws. It wasn't the prettiest of wins but for the short handed Spurs, it will do.
- Manu Ginobili's performance after missing a couple games was a mixed bag. On the one hand, he drove to the rim often and managed to finish once he got there. On the other, his outside shot was off and he committed a couple of silly turnovers. Defensively he looked terrible early on but made some plays later in the game. Overall, I'd call it a solid game and hope he gets his rhythm back soon.
- The Spurs managed to survive without Green and Splitter but trouble is definitely on the horizon. If Ginobili keeps starting, Pop will need to sub him out relatively early in the first quarter so that he can come in with the bench unit. Watching that Mills-Joseph-Marco trio try to create was painful.
- I know Aron Baynes has a lot of fans out there but he has a world of trouble stepping outside the paint to guard anyone. Against teams with traditional centers, Baynes will definitely be useful but when the opponent goes with a shooter at the five, Bonner should probably get the nod, despite his problems on the defensive glass.
- Diaw had a very quiet game. He didn't score and had only two boards and an assist in over 22 minutes. He did well when he subbed in for Duncan as the only big to end the game, though.
- According to the Pelicans' broadcast, the last time Tim Duncan fouled out was on 1/20/2010 against the Jazz. The refs called the game really tight, with the Spurs receiving some kind whistles along the way, so I can't really complain. But six fouls for Tim Duncan in just 26 minutes somehow feels wrong.
- The Big Three scored 59 of the Spurs' total 101 points. But Marco Belinelli and Kawhi Leonard provided the extra push needed to get the W with 12 and 13 points respectively. Leonard still disappears too often but keeps showing flashes of a potent post game. Marco just hits 30 foot jumpers with such regularity, it's ridiculous. Good game from those two, which is good news since the Spurs will need them to deliver with Danny sidelined.
- Patty Mills and Cory Joseph had pretty terrible games. Mills went scoreless in 11 minutes and couldn't create shots for himself or others. Joseph's stat line (seven points on 3-6 shooting) looks better but he often seems over-matched out there. His complete lack of a reliable three point shot combined with his limited playmaking skills are just too much for him to overcome on sheer effort. Hopefully these two will bounce back next time around because Pop seems to be quite fond of those two point guard lineups all of a sudden.
- Jeff Ayres keeps showing his doubters that he is a useful defensive player. Ayres did a good job on Davis after some initial struggles and also contributed on the boards. He still has terrible hands and Parker just refuses to pass to him, which is probably a good idea. He converted his only field goal attempt (a dunk, obviously) but also had one turnover when he couldn't catch a pass posting up, even though the TO was attributed to Duncan.
- I just have to say I really, really like Anthony Davis. A lot of big men have been anointed the next big thing but Davis does seem to have what it takes to be a true franchise player. Two-way big men with that amount of talent don't come around that often. In fact, it's hard to think of anyone that fits that description since Tim Duncan. In a couple of years, the Pelicans will be really, really scary.
The Spurs will host the Jazz on Wednesday.
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