That was not the follow up to the great win against the Warriors that Spurs fans were expecting. After leading by as many as 23 points in the first half, San Antonio completely fell apart in the second, allowing the Hornets to complete the comeback and take the game 91-88.
Jeremy Lin had 29 points for Charlotte, including 15 in the final period. Tony Parker had 19 points and seven assists on one of his better games in a while.
A traditional letdown game would have been too predictable for the Spurs. That's why instead of starting the game lethargically and getting themselves in a big hole, they held the Hornets to seven first-quarter points, the lowest in the league for a single period this year. Tony Parker was inspired early on, dropping 15 points in the frame and dishing out three assists. San Antonio was up 21 points after one and some boo birds started singing in the Time Warner Cable Arena.
That reaction was surprising, because the score was a bit misleading. The Spurs couldn't miss while Charlotte had five turnovers and three airballs on shots that weren't contested enough to cause them. It's not rare for the Hornets to have slow first quarters, either. They typically make up for them in the second and Monday was no exception. When the benches checked in, they started to execute better than San Antonio and with Lin leading the way, managed to get the deficit down to 11 before the starters checked back in and got it back up to 15.
The Spurs were 52-3 in games in which they went into the half leading. The Hornets 6-23 when trailing. I didn't know the numbers while watching but a loss didn't seem likely, unless San Antonio played particularly poor basketball the rest of the way and the Hornets got a huge boost from an unexpected source.
That's essentially what happened, unfortunately. San Antonio's offense got sloppy and everyone got lazy on defense and on the boards. Charlotte obviously does deserve plenty of credit for mountain the comeback, too. Courtney Lee caught fire in the third and they made the Spurs pay for their turnovers and the second chances they allowed. That huge double-digit lead was a distant memory, as the momentum shifted.
There were enough random good plays during the third quarter collapse to allow San Antonio to stay ahead going into the fourth quarter. The chance to pull off an ugly win was there, even after the Hornets wasted no time getting their first lead since Nicolas Batum got the first bucket of the game. They couldn't get separation and the score was close throughout.
To their credit, the guys in Silver and Black battled. They just couldn't make enough plays. Aldridge had a couple of big buckets and Tim Duncan tipped in a miss to give them the lead with a little over a minute to go but they would not score again. Lin hit the go-ahead bucket for the Hornets on a stepback with 48 seconds to go, Leonard missed two heavily contested jumpers and the Spurs had to foul. Lin hit both and Danny Green and Patty Mills couldn't tie it.
The Spurs lost one that they shouldn't have given away, but after such a great win a couple of days ago, no one can be too heartbroken.
- A 15-point, six-rebound, two-steal game is now a bad game for Kawhi Leonard. That's where we are in his development. He simply wasn't the beast he's been for most of the season on either end against Charlotte. No assists, either. Not a terrible outing for Kawhi but not what we've come to expect from him.
- LaMarcus Aldridge, on the other hand, followed up a great game against the Warriors with a solid outing. He had 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and made big buckets late. It would be great if he could get to the line more often but that's just nitpicking.
- Tim Duncan returned to the starting lineup and logged 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks that I'm pretty sure he got without jumping. The rest did him good. Tony Parker, meanwhile, proved he can still be the engine that drives the offense with a killer first half. Good night for two of the vets.
- Welcome back, Bad Danny Green and Bad Boris Diaw! Can't say we missed you. Danny went 0-for-7 from the floor and Bobo was 0-for-5. Neither made much of an impact elsewhere. That was a problem on a night in which Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills weren't sharp either. That's too many rotation players having off nights at the same time.
- Two guys who did well off the bench? Davis West and Kevin Martin. West has been solid all season, so no surprise there. Martin moved better without the ball than I remembered him being able to in the past. He ate up some of Kyle Anderson's minutes and got buckets (seven points in 10 minutes), like he always has. Bold prediction: Pop is going to rest guys one night and Martin will drop 30.
- In case you haven't watch them play much this season, the Hornets are actually good. They had a terrible stretch in which they had losing streaks sandwiched between the occasional overtime win, but there's talent there and it fits well. Batum has been better than he was for Portland last season, Kemba Walker has broken out after a mediocre start to his career, there's shooting and length in the roster and Steve Clifford is clearly a good coach. The middle of the East is so close in terms of talent that a first-round exit is not out of the question but if a couple of things break the right way, they could give Toronto or Cleveland a scare.
On Wednesday the Spurs will host another solid East team: the Heat. A win against a former rival would make us all forget this loss rather quickly.
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