The Spurs continued their early season trend of multiple turnovers in the first quarter, with Parker as the main culprit. The starting lineup, this time featuring Boris Diaw matching up against Anthony Davis, was also having a hard time on defense, so The Brow and the Pels back court started out hot. But New Orleans seemed to had forgotten that Danny Green is an elite three-point shooter and left him open for 13 first quarter points. That contribution, combined with some individual scoring exploits from Tony Parker kept the Spurs in the game and down only seven despite allowing the Pelicans 30 points.
Manu Ginobili made his mark in the second quarter with eight consecutive points and Tony Parker, now not struggling with turnover problems, continued to hit mid-range jumpers to carry the Spurs' offense to a 30 point quarter of their own. Trying to find answers on defense, Gregg Popovich experimented with the rare Baynes-Duncan front court when Asik was on the court and with Leonard at the four when Anderson was flanking Davis. Asides from some breakdowns, it mostly worked. In fact the Spurs would have gone into the break with a tied game if not for a Tyreke Evans layup at the buzzer.
The third quarter started with both teams struggling to score. So both coaches tried to exploit match ups they liked. The Pelican had Jrue Holiday going at Tony Parker every time down the court and the Spurs looked for Duncan, who was drawing fouls. Unfortunately, the Pels woke up from their lull earlier, hitting three pointers and pushing the pace when possible. The Spurs' offense, meanwhile, couldn't get going as the stars tried to force things. Going into the final quarter, New Orleans was up ten after yet another Evans buzzer-beater, and things were not looking well.
The Spurs, and especially Manu, wanted the W. But like it has been the case early in the season, they had the will but not the sharpness to execute. The Pelicans did enough to hold on to that double digit lead for two thirds of the quarter and it seemed Pop had seen enough. He pulled Duncan, Ginobili and Parker with 4:42 remaining in a move that signified throwing in the towel. But amazingly the subs erased the deficit.
A lineup of Joseph, Green, Leonard, Diaw and Baynes caught the Pels off guard and with crazy play after crazy play reduced New Orleans' lead to two with 22 seconds to go. That's when Pop brought Manu and Tim - but not Tony - back in. Kawhi Leonard - on his best game of the season - got the call to ISO. When the Pels walled off his driving lane, he found Danny Green behind the three point line and he got Gordon in the air to get the foul call in the act of shooting. He hit all three free throws to give San Antonio the lead with 12 seconds to go. It seemed the Spurs were going to pull off a miraculous comeback.
But Anthony Davis is a superstar and he proved it by taking the inferior Aron Baynes off the dribble for an easy layup. Pop brought Parker back in for the last play and Parker drove to the rim and kicked the ball to the corner to Leonard. But Tyreke Evans was there to block his attempt. The ball still found Kawhi for a second chance but his floater rimmed out. The Pels escaped the AT&T Center with a well deserved but close win.
Is it time to panic? Of course not. But it might be time to get used to endings like this one. The Spurs are just not as good as they were last season, not without Mills, Belinelli and Splitter. Now more than ever Spurs fans will have to trust the process because the results, at least early on, might not resemble what we have grown accustomed to.