The Spurs looked rusty as this game got going. The shots weren’t falling and the Pelicans came out of the gate firing on all cylinders. Before anyone could even settle in, they found themselves saddled with an 11-4 deficit and a visibly upset Gregg Popovich.
That happens in this league. It’s a long season and sometimes the players just have a hard time getting up for certain contests. I get that. These guys are human beings and every once in a while the energy just isn’t in the right place. Maybe you have a weird night’s sleep or maybe your neck is sore or maybe you spent too much time on Twitter and it left you in a bad mood. There’s a million reasons why players might not quite have it together at tip off. Tonight was one of those nights.
Which made it all the more impressive when the final whistle blew and the Spurs had finished off a fairly comfortable 109-95 victory. It’s easy to win when everything is clicking, but being able to do it when you spot the opponent an early lead is the kind of thing you do when you’re a pretty good team.
Don’t look now, but the Spurs just might be a pretty good team.
- I think it’s almost time to reset our panic meters to Normal with regard to the defense. This is now two games in a row holding an opponent under 100 points and every sign is trending in a positive direction. I’m sure we will continue to run into opponents like the Blazers that will be able to take advantage of certain talent shortcomings, but everyone seems to be playing as a unit now which makes up for a lot. They communicate with each other better, they don’t get lost in their rotations, and they aren’t gambling as much. In the early games, it felt like every time you looked up someone would be sprinting out to the three point line because they were late on a rotation or people were getting backdoor cut left and right because they were caught ball watching. This is happening less and less. Other teams are still getting some decent looks, but it feels like no one is getting anything too easy.
- What an incredible pickup Dante Cunningham has been. Everyone in the locker room seems to credit his hard-nose mentality with setting the tone for the “Defensive Renaissance” the Spurs are having. He guards the other team’s best players, and he flies around every second he’s on the floor. Throw in the fact that apparently he’s got a sneaky offensive game hidden in there, and it looks like the Spurs have unearthed a true diamond in the rough. My favorite Cunningham move right now is where he sits out in the corner while the offense gets in motion. Someone eventually drives the lane and when the defense collapses on him, all of a sudden Dante will flash to the basket for an easy weak side dunk. Much like the Spanish Inquisition, no one ever expects Dante Cunningham on the weak side.
- I thought LaMarcus Aldridge did an amazing job on Anthony Davis. Davis is one of those players who has the ability to take over games by sheer force of will and LMA never gave him a chance. He fought him for every inch on defense and repeatedly bullied him down low on offense. Even when his shot wasn’t falling, Aldridge kept going at him every chance he had and never got his head down. Davis finished with 17 points, but he never looked like he was able to get comfortable. I continue to be to be impressed with how LaMarcus has been able to influence games recently.
- Marco Belinelli kind of came in and closed the game down for the Spurs . . . raise your hand if you saw that coming. In the final few minutes, he snagged two steals, hit a corner three, and also pulled off a very cool finger roll. He finished the night with 14 points and my sincerest apologies for continuing to crack jokes about Belinelli. He’s sort of the secret sauce for the Spurs right now and I’m just some guy.
- I may be delusional, but I have a working theory that Pau Gasol might actually be the Spurs’ best defensive player. He’s not the most talented, but he’s just so smart that he finds a million little ways to be effective on that end of the floor. I think he’s been in the league for so long and seen so many different things that it gives him a bit of a sixth sense for sniffing out whatever opposing offenses are trying to sneak by him. He’s still very slow, sure, but he knows where he needs to be a half second before anyone else does, and it gives him the appearance of quickness. He’s also very tall which allows him to kind of be in the way of people. I don’t know. Like I said, it’s a working theory.
- It’s hard to find a lot to get upset about with this game, but there’s a slight chance the Spurs will come to regret their little late game swoon. With the lead as high as 21 points in the 4th, the Spurs had the chance to keep this game completely out of reach and rest their key players for the second straight game. The Pelicans were able to close the gap enough to where the starters were asked to come back in close things out. With their first back to back game against the Magic coming up tonight, you have to imagine Pop would’ve liked to sneak in a little rest if he could. It’s probably too early to be freaking out about a few extra minutes here and there, but the amount of time DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are logging is certainly something to keep an eye on as we go along.
- I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about this play, but the Spurs did a fast break alley-oop tonight, and I just feel like we should celebrate it for a moment. Look how much fun this is!