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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Pelicans

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Unable to sustain their hot start, the Spurs fall to Anthony Davis and the Pelicans.

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

At one point in the 2nd quarter of this game, the Spurs were up 10 points and their best scorer, DeMar DeRozan, had yet to record a single bucket. I kept thinking to myself, “this seems too good to be true.” I regret to inform you guys that, in fact, things were a little too good.

Anthony Davis shrugged off a woeful start and played as if he were engulfed in flames for the rest of the evening. The Pelicans outplayed the Spurs pretty much from the middle the 2nd quarter on. Seriously, look at that graphic:

Via NBA.com

That’s a real horror show right there. It’s hard to figure out exactly what went wrong, but it sure is easy to pinpoint where the wheels fell off. All of a sudden, the Spurs couldn’t seem to get a stop and the offense wasn’t able to keep pace. They were on a rapidly sinking ship, trying to bail the water out with just a tea spoon.

Now, the Spurs had played the night before and are in the middle of a very busy stretch in the schedule (so busy, in fact, that there’s an acronym to describe it: FIGASENI), so there was a high probability that this game would feature a lackluster performance from the visitors. However, this was still a bit dispiriting. Sunday night’s win over the Warriors had looked like it might be the the start of nice little momentum shift, but in the cold light of day it’s obvious that things were never going to be that easy.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: there’s not going to be some miracle game where everything clicks and we all ride off into the sunset together. There’s bits of progress here and there every single game and we’re just are going to have to be patient with the results as the season goes along. What’s that phrase we love so much around here again? Oh, yeah, Pounding the rock.

Along the way, there will be good nights and bad nights and, unfortunately, tonight was one of the bad ones. On to the next.

Takeaways:

  • For a brief period, this looked like a game that would be written into the history books as The Dante Cunningham Revenge Game. The former Pelican came out and simply could not be stopped. He had 19 points in the 1st half on (this is not a typo), 100% shooting. He was literally perfect. In all my years of watching the Spurs, nothing had prepared me for Dante Cunningham morphing into the greatest offensive player in the world and visions of him carrying the Spurs to their 6th title. I spent the entire halftime break scrambling around my house boarding up windows, replacing the batteries in flashlights, and getting my mind ready for the next evolution of Spurs basketball and then... a funny thing happened. Dante didn’t take another shot the rest of the game. Not a single one. In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not the end of the world that Cunningham wasn’t the focus of our offense but....guys, he was pitching a perfect game. How did we not try and keep that going? Not one shot! How???
  • The Spurs gave up 140 points in this game, the most they’ve given up all year in regulation, and I think it’s safe to say that they probably won’t win too many games doing that. The Pelicans shot lights out and Anthony Davis is just this side of unstoppable when he gets going like that. There’s no player in the league, outside of maybe the one named Antetokounmpo, who can do what he does. It’s almost hypnotic to watch him grab a rebound and then bound down the court and be at the rim in the three gigantic steps. The Spurs only hope was to try and shut everyone else down and that just didn’t happen. E’Twaun Moore and Jrue Holiday both ran amok and Julius Randle logged a triple double. The Spurs just looked unable to muster the type of effort required to slow this team down even a little bit.
  • It was overshadowed by what will henceforth and forevermore be referred to as Dante Cunningham’s Perfect Game, but while the Spurs were still being competitive in the first half, Bryn Forbes was also lighting it up. He drained 5 threes on the night and took advantage of the New Orleans defense collapsing on DeMar driving into the lane. Even though Bryn is, in all likelihood, not going to be the Spurs point guard of the future, he continues to cement himself as an invaluable contributor to this team and a pretty great fit in the current version of the offense.
  • In the 1st quarter, it felt like the Spurs were absolutely cleaning up on the glass. They were getting tons of boards on offense and defense while also snagging every loose ball in sight. Even though other factors played a role, a huge part of the Pelicans comeback was that the Spurs were unable to continue that rebounding as the night wore on. Every single time the Pelicans were able to convert on a 2nd or 3rd chance you could see a little more life drain out of the Spurs. I know, SEGABABA and all that but, still, it’s something that feels representative of the way this game turned on its head so quickly. The car didn’t break down all at once — a bunch of little pieces broke along the way.
  • For the life of me, I’m not sure how DeMar DeRozan managed to scrape out 21 points tonight. He was on the schneid for so long that I honestly thought something might be wrong with him. Usually when he can’t get a bucket, he goes out of his way to draw a shooting foul or something, but tonight I guess he was content to let the ghost of Steph Curry inhabit Dante Cunningham for a while. He eventually added another highlight to his Rad Spin Play Mixtape. As the 1st half drew to a close, he found himself out on the wing one on one with Jrue Holiday. After one baseline dribble, he quickly spun back toward the paint, losing both his defender, and his balance. Somehow, he managed to get his off hand on the floor and gather himself enough to spring up at the rim and slip the ball past an oncoming swat from Anthony Davis. It was a marvel of ingenuity and skill. There might’ve been a healthy dose of luck thrown in too for good measure, but who’s keeping track of that?