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Spurs start strong, then run out of gas against the Pelicans

Anthony Davis and friends were simply too much too handle for a tired San Antonio team on the second game of a back-to-back.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Some losses are more painful than others. The Spurs have had their share of bad ones this season, but Monday’s against the Pelicans was not one of them. San Antonio simply ran out of gas on the second second night of a back-to-back against a good team.

The 140-126 defeat in New Orleans was predictable from the moment the schedule was released. That the Spurs managed to keep it close for a half was a nice surprise. The loss drops San Antonio to an 8-8 record for the season, but it’s not really a cause for concern at this stage.

The Spurs probably shouldn’t have been in the game for as long as they were, really. Some extreme early sloppiness from the Pelicans and some unusually hot shooting powered San Antonio to a quick start. Neither team could really stop the other consistently, but with Anthony Davis struggling out of the gate, New Orleans couldn’t keep up on offense. After a scorching first 12 minutes of high scoring basketball, the Spurs led 39-30.

Unfortunately Davis’ lull would only last one quarter. The best big man in the league came alive in the second frame and took over the game. He got whatever he wanted against anyone the Spurs threw at him. Julius Randle, a ball of energy that caused all sorts of trouble for San Antonio all night long, and E’Twaun Moore joined in on the fun, exposing a Spurs defense that was a step slow. Only four second-quarter three-pointers, from Dante Cunningham, of all people, kept the Spurs within shouting distance.

Once the second half started, it was obvious that the Pelicans were ultimately going to emerge victorious. DeMar DeRozan, who was extremely quiet on offense early, tried to carry the Spurs on that end with some help from Rudy Gay. The two had some success, but the defense continued to get worse. Davis took a backseat on offense as Nikola Mirotic heated up and Randle and Moore continued to do damage. Pop dug deep on his bench hoping for an injection of fresh blood and athleticism to hold off the Pelicans’ surge, dusting off Chimezie Metu for some third-quarter minutes.

Unfortunately the gambit didn’t pay off. Metu was fine in his stint but failed to energize the team. The shooting that had kept the offense afloat disappeared. San Antonio continued to fight but the legs weren’t there for most players and without doing anything spectacular, New Orleans ran away with the game late. After taking that initial punch from the Spurs early, they were always in control, really. In past years they might have folded, but this version of the Pelicans has some valuable experience to go with its talent. They cruised to the win.

The loss in New Orleans would have been painful had the Spurs lost to the Warriors at home on Sunday. They would be on a five-game losing streak right now, and boasting a 7-9 record for the season had they dropped that one. Instead, they are at .500, showed some fight on a road SEGABABA and will have a home game on Wednesday to regroup before heading out on a tough road trip. Considering how dire things looked a few days ago, I’ll take it.

Game notes

  • These will be shorter than usual, since it’s hard to take much from games like this one. The best thing about it might be that LaMarcus Aldridge got some rest, logging fewer than 30 minutes for just the third time this season.
  • The Dante Cunningham three-point barrage was super fun to watch. His teammates kept finding him and he kept sinking them, finishing the game 5-for-5. Bryn Forbes also had a crazy night from downtown, but it’s expected of him. Watching Cunningham knock down threes with confidence was something else. Maybe now that he’s seen a few shots in a row go in he’ll let it fly more often.
  • DeRozan and Gay did the volume shooting thing, combining for 38 points on 37 shots. Their gunning came when no one else could get anything going, so it’s forgiven.
  • Patty Mills played below 14 minutes and struggled. Not too long ago he used to be a spark plug on games like this one. I miss that version of him. The hope is that playing next to Derrick White, who also struggled in this one, will unlock Mills’ offense. We’ll see.
  • Jakob Poeltl is slowly finding his bearings. He finished with double digits in points for the first time this season, logging 11 to go with four rebounds in 15 minutes. With Cunningham struggling with Randle’s physicality, Pop turned to Poeltl, who didn’t contain the former Laker but didn’t get embarrassed either. The one good thing to come from Pau Gasol’s injury is that Poeltl is gaining some confidence.
  • Pop said before the game that Lonnie Walker IV is still a couple of weeks away from returning but has already started to run. The Spurs could have used him in a game like this one. If nothing else, I’d love to watch all the youngsters out there together in garbage time instead of poor Quincy Pondexter, who is too old for clean-up duty.

Up next: Vs. Grizzlies on Wednesday

Slow Mo returns! The Memphis Grizzlies have been surprisingly good this year. Their defense has carried them, so don’t expect another high scoring game.