It wasn't pretty but the Spurs extended their winning streak to seven after beating the Pelicans in New Orleans. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge took over in the fourth quarter to power San Antonio to a victory that didn't seem in the cards earlier in the game. Leonard led all scorers with 30 points while Anthony Davis had 17 points and 13 rebounds in the losing effort.
It's hard to tell good games from bad ones at this point in the season. The Spurs are clearly in cruise control, the Thunder too far behind to catch up with them and the Warriors playing too well to appear vulnerable. A mediocre effort on the second game of a back-to-back against an opponent that, for some reason, gives them trouble is not a cause for long term concern. Yet it was hard to watch the Spurs play most of the game with no sense of urgency at all.
Pop is great at sensing when a letdown game will come and he tried to put a stop to it early on. He called a timeout after a little over a minute had passed and benched Tony Parker in favor of Patty Mills. The shake up was big enough to create a response early but the Spurs never seemed sharp and a late-quarter flurry got the Pelicans a four-point lead after one period.
Injuries have ravaged New Orleans this year and their lack of depth showed early in the second quarter, with the Spurs' bench taking control of the game without playing at its peak level. Yet once again San Antonio couldn't close the quarter well and allowed a run that erased a lead that one point almost reached double digits. There's something about playing in New Orleans -- where they had lost three straight before this win -- that bothers the Spurs, and that didn't change on Thursday.
The uninspired play continued in the third quarter, as the Spurs could only trade buckets against an inferior team. Part of that was due to a fantastic performance by Eric Gordon, but the defense simply wasn't as good as it has to be to put opponents away. Fortunately the quarter ended on a 6-0 run that tied the game for the Spurs going into the final period, but it was hard to feel good about their chances of escaping with a win.
It's in games like these that having stars comes in handy. The Pelicans made their move early in the fourth and would have ran away with it if not for Aldridge. The big man took over and kept the Spurs at striking distance with 14 points in the frame. Then late in the game Leonard made his mark, first with an assist for a wide open Patty Mills for a three-pointer and then with a dagger of his own to put the Spurs up eight with 35 seconds to go. Those two powered a 20-5 run to close the game and lead San Antonio to its seventh win in a row.
The stretch after the Rodeo Road Trip is typically when we start to see the Spurs round into postseason shape, so to see them struggle on games in which they shouldn't can be frustrating. A look at their record, however, makes the leftover unpleasantness from an ugly Thursday game go away. There will be a time to worry about reaching peak level but this is not it. Once Manu Ginobili returns and the schedule gets tougher, we'll get to see how good this team can be.
- Tony Parker was benched early and didn't finish the game. He wasn't terrible out there but Patty Mills (nine points, eight assists, three steals) was playing better and Pop went with him. That wouldn't have happened a season ago, so it's worth noting. If Parker is fine with staying in the bench late in specific situations, Pop will have more options, which is never a bad thing.
- Tim Duncan played under 25 minutes for the third game in a row. He's only cleared 30 minutes once since returning from injury. Pop is managing his minutes, which is obviously wise. Fortunately LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points, eight rebounds) stepped up and filled in at center well.
- Boris Diaw has seen his playing time evaporate. He was on the court for only seven minutes against the Pelicans, with Pop going small or with David West over him. Hopefully he's just in a funk because he misses Manu, who should return soon. The Spurs will need him in potential playoff matchups against the Thunder and Warriors.
- Danny Green continues to do the little things when his shot doesn't fall. He went 1-for-5 from outside for the game but sopped up minutes and played good defense in the fourth quarter when the Spurs mounted their comeback. Overall a solid game for Danny.
- The Pelicans make me sad. They could have been good this season but injuries just destroyed their postseason chances. They have their own pick in the draft and talent in the roster so they should be back in the playoff hunt next season but a year of The Brow's prime will go to waste, which is just a shame.
The Kings visit the AT&T Center on Saturday on the third stop of a four-game road trip. If the Spurs control Cousins, they should win that one easily.
For the opponent's perspective visit our friends over at The Bird Writes.