It's always hard to bounce back after a tough loss at home, like the one the Spurs suffered at the hands of the Thunder on Thursday. Traveling to New Orleans to face Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans doesn't make it any easier. The Pelicans lack a solid wing and have no quality guard depth yet they are still in the playoff race because they play hard and have one of the most impactful players in the league. They might not have intimidating or even familiar names outside their top four but no one is going to get an easy win in the Smoothie King Center this season. Friday night was no exception.
Tim Duncan led the way to start the game, hitting tough, off balance floaters over Omer Asik. He scored ten first-quarter points but because Pop was looking to stretch the rotations to protect players from fatigue he only played a little over six minutes. The bench did a good job of keeping the Pelicans at bay despite Davis being a match up nightmare for the Spurs and Ryan Anderson coming off the bench hot, as he usually does. Without playing particularly well, San Antonio had a four point lead after one, 24-20.
Pop's decision to go deep into his bench meant minutes for Austin Daye at small forward and lineups with neither Duncan nor Ginobili on the court. Splitter, who struggled early with Davis, didn't play at all after a first-quarter stint. The result was an often stagnant offense and a porous defense, as the team sleepwalked through some stretches in the second quarter while the Pelicans quietly built their lead with Davis, Anderson and Jrue Holiday doing most of the damage. The turnovers piled on and only a few inspired plays by Manu Ginobili and some dead-eye shooting from Danny Green prevented New Orleans from creating separation. After a decidedly bad second quarter, the Spurs only trailed by four, 48-44, and they were lucky the difference wasn't bigger.
The team came out sharper after the break. Tiago Splitter picked the Pelicans' defense apart passing out of the high post and New Orleans was having trouble scoring. Against most teams the level San Antonio was operating at would have been enough to erase the deficit and even build a lead. But the Pelicans have Anthony Davis on their roster. Davis hit pick-and-pop jumper after pick-and-pop jumper and controlled the paint with three blocks in the last three minutes of the third quarter, showing his dominance on both ends. Despite a solid effort, the Spurs still went into the final quarter down six, 70-64.
There was a sense San Antonio was on the clock to start the fourth: Get back into the game before Anthony Davis checks in after resting. They couldn't do it. Instead, the lead improbably grew as the bench crew couldn't save the day like they have many times before. There was a late push spearheaded by Marco Belinelli but Ginobili was gassed and the Pelicans had the momentum and the confidence to close the game out. For the second game in a row, the Spurs were about to pull a shorthanded win before a fantastic performance by a star player denied them. Their record is now 18-13 and December can't end soon enough.
- Tim Duncan logged 20 points, 11 boards , four assists and two blocks on the second game of a back-to-back. That's not normal for any player, much less a 38-year-old with a ton of miles on his legs but we all know Timmy is special. Anthony Davis is one of the most talented players I've ever seen but he should consider himself lucky if he comes close to having the type of career Duncan has had.
- Manu Ginobili has been playing really well lately but he keeps running out of gas in the fourth quarter. His late-game numbers are still stellar because Ginobili always finds a way to contribute. The problems are subtler. A turnover here, a late closeout there. Without Parker, Manu is being asked to be the team's primary playmaker and it takes a toll on him. For now I'm choosing to focus on the good things he does when he is fresh instead of the mistakes he makes when he's drained.
Cory Joseph had a fantastic game, finishing with a career-high 20 points and five assists. Not long ago, there was nothing Joseph excelled at. Now, his defense has finally caught up to the reputation he had among some fans in the past and his finishing is a strength. Cory is showing his doubters -- a group that used to include me -- that patience pays off. He might never be a starter on a championship-caliber team but he has a long career ahead of him.
With Kyle Anderson looking completely overmatched early and Kawhi Leonard out, Marco Belinelli and Danny Green were asked to sop up the bulk of the minutes at the wing and they did very well. Green had a hard time making his two-point shots but he did hit timely three-pointers and filled up the stat sheet with six rebounds and four assists. Belinelli scored 13 on 15 shots but he came through when the team needed him for a final push. Both had shots rim out, so their numbers could have been better with a bit of luck. Alas, the Spurs seem to have ran out of their yearly supply of good fortune long ago.
The bigs all had their moments. Baynes did great in a first half stint in Splitter's stead. Diaw had his second good game in a row, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds and three assists. Splitter had that good stretch to start the second half. The problem has been consistency with the power forwards and centers, Duncan excepted, and tonight was just the latest example. There are too many ups and downs in performance during games from the bigs and good teams take advantage of that.
- I really hope the Pelicans make the playoffs, not only because it would mean the Thunder hadn't but also because I want to watch Anthony Davis play as many games as possible. He's the most obviously special young player since Derrick Rose and it's fun to watch him dominate now that his team isn't a real threat to a healthy Spurs squad. We will suffer him soon since the Pelicans are in the Southwest division. We should enjoy him now.
The Spurs have lost seven of their last ten. They've also not been fully healthy yet. The schedule doesn't get easier for a few more games, so they are in survival mode right now. Going 2-2 in the next four should be enough to stay close to the other Western teams. A win on Sunday at home against Josh Smith's Rockets would be a great way to right the ship.
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