It wasn't a fair fight as Gregg Popovich noted postgame (the Pelicans missing Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Quincy Pondexter), but the third game of the 2016-17 season went well for the Spurs, especially considering that this game was the first game of a back-to-back that sends the silver and black to Miami tomorrow night. No player logged more than Kawhi Leonard's 28 minutes and veteran leaders Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili got the entire night off.
Anthony Davis came into the game having scored 50 and 45 in his first two games of the season but tonight he was held to just 18 points on 40% from the floor. This was the Pelicans third game in four nights so you'd expect the big man's production to slide some but credit must be given to LaMarcus Aldridge, who was given the task of guarding Davis one-on-one, a tactic that Gregg Popovich thought worked well tonight saying, '[Aldridge] did a great job. You know, Anthony is obviously a great player. We just wanted to work on individual defense, so we didn't give him any help. We just let him guard him."
That's a great sign for the team as they move on post-Duncan, and gives the team at least some idea of what they have in place of the all-world defense that Duncan brought even in his later years.
LaMarcus didn't light the world on fire with his offensive game, scoring 13 on 4-of-13 from the floor but San Antonio didn't need much on that end from the all-star big man. This is because they had Patty Mills, who was great as the starting point guard in place of Parker.
Mills finished with 18 points on just nine shots and dished five assists to only one turnover. He looked comfortable running the offense and was more than comfortable running to his spots to drain threes as Pau Gasol worked inside.
Pau put up his season-high of nine in the game, noting afterward that it was a different experience and that he was starting to get comfortable with the team and that's what's important. The team is winning after all. Fans will remember that it took LaMarcus a bit of last season to settle in before returning to his previous form. It'll take a while with Pau as well but the big Spaniard is such a smart player and great passer that I have little doubt that he'll be a great fit.
The first half was a fairly tight affair, with the Spurs hovering around a 7-10 point lead, but there was a feeling that at some point the Spurs would go on a run and put the game out of reach. It didn't come in the first half and the lead at the half would have been just seven, but the Pelicans defense didn't pick up Mills at the close of the second quarter and he sank a triple at the horn to put San Antonio up 55-45 at the break.
The third quarter was where any doubts of the outcome were put to rest with San Antonio tightening up defensively and holding New Orleans to just 15 points in the period. A 14-4 run put the game out of reach and at one point the Spurs built a commanding 27-point advantage.
The third quarter is also when the Pels loosened up their hold on Kawhi Leonard, who had been doubled almost every time he touched the ball in the first half and limited to just four points. The result of asking defenders to guard Kawhi one-on-one: Leonard outscored the Pelicans by himself in the quarter, 16-15, before checking out with two minutes remaining in the quarter. With the game in hand and another game less than 24 hours away that was the last the AT&T Center would see of their young superstar.
And with the Spurs' win Kawhi set another milestone in his young career:
Most wins by player in first 300 starts:— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) October 30, 2016
1. Kawhi Leonard - 235
2. Byron Scott - 231
3. Danny Ainge - 229
Let's toss in a Kawhilight for fun.
So the good guys got their third win in as many games and join the Cavaliers as the only teams in the league that can boast that record.
For me, the most interesting part of the game was getting to watch Nico for 22 minutes. The 26-year old is ready for the show, he's a veteran pro who's quick, is fearless and has good court vision. He stepped in tonight as Patty's backup and played a heck of a game in his first real minutes in the NBA. He's got handles, wowing the crowd with a couple of nice crossovers, and certainly has a knack for passing. He tallied four helpers in this one to just one giveaway with this 3/4 court chest pass highlighting his night.
Two things from the postgame interviews. When asked if he could pronounce Laprovittola's name Patty Mills did not hesitate before coolly saying, "Nico." then he paused briefly for the abundant media laughter before adding, "nailed it", and just walked out. Great stuff from the Aussie all around tonight.
And Nico, when asked if Manu was like an older brother said, "for me it's not like a brother, it's like...god." He's going to do so well here. Book it, he'll be a fan favorite in no time. He's a nice, earnest dude and he can ball. I'm really happy that San Antonio picked him up.
- Kyle Anderson posted a +23 and a 5-7-1-1-1 line in 26 minutes. Who would have guessed that Slo Mo won the plus/minus game? The kid's been pretty good in place of the injured Danny Green. The numbers don't pop out but he's put in a solid 22+ minutes in each of the three games thus far. Considering that he's the eighth or ninth man, the Spurs look deep.
- Dejounte Murray made his NBA debut in the fourth quarter against the Pelicans. It didn't take him long to take an attempt, the young man is certainly eager, but he was fouled and missed his first two free throws as a pro. He also missed his two field goal attempts in the game. He's the fifth point-guard on the roster and this isn't going to be his year, he'l likely spend much of he season in Austin, but my money would be on him developing into a legit rotation player.
- Dewayne Dedmon is fun. He's everything that was advertised -- a big, athletic defensive-minded center. Even though the roster is full of new guys, the Spurs seem to be about as deep as they were in recent seasons, at least for the regular season.
The Spurs will try to keep 82-0 in play as they travel to Miami to complete an early-season back-to-back. It's a tough five-game-in-eight-nights stretch for the Spurs but they're in good shape to start with no Spur playing more than Kawhi's 28 minutes. Expect the team to try to put the Heat away early with Pop certainly looking to keep minutes as limited as possible.