There’s nothing like a good old fashioned blowout to ease any concerns about a team’s recent uneven play. The Spurs were expected to beat the extremely shorthanded Pelicans on Saturday, but the fact that they did so while always looking in control despite having absences of their own is enough to turn a seemingly easy win into one that provides reasons for optimism.
The final score of 126-114 doesn’t really do justice to how comfortable the Spurs looked for most of the game. Even in the first half, when they were playing with low energy and letting a New Orleans squad missing Anthony Davis, Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic hang around, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the game would break open for San Antonio. The Pelicans deserve credit for delaying the inevitable thanks to some good play by Jahlil Okafor and Jrue Holiday, but they simply didn’t have the perimeter shooting to survive the occasional dry spell inside or the defensive acumen to hold even the DeMar DeRozan-less Spurs in check for the full 48 minutes.
It’s not like San Antonio was brilliant or looked unstoppable at any point. It’s just that in a duel between injury-ravaged teams, they had more offensive weapons and more depth. The Spurs could mask DeRozan’s absence by starting future Hall-of-Famer Pau Gasol, who had a very solid game, and have enough shooters to be able to survive without Davis Bertans. More importantly, they had LaMarcus Aldridge to run their offense through. The Pelicans, on the other hand, were missing their main offensive hub in Davis and had to give Jahlil Okafor and Solomon Hill over 30 minutes each to plug the gigantic hole in their rotation created by the loss of their three best big men. It wasn’t a fair fight.
The Spurs unsurprisingly cracked the game open to start the second half, getting a few stops and hitting some threes. All of a sudden the same team that had to go deep into its bench earlier to find some energy in Quincy Pondexter and Lonnie Walker IV looked to be playing with urgency, as if someone reminded them during the break that the bout in New Orleans was the first game of a back-to-back. The lead after three quarters wasn’t huge, but for once it didn’t need to be to feel safe. The Pelicans had already made their mini runs earlier and had no answer on defense for an offense that had too many ways to put points on the board to be shut down with the personnel Alvin Gentry had available. The final period was garbage time.
It would be foolish to be too encouraged by this performance, since it came under such strange circumstances. As if we needed a reminder that injury luck is fickle, the basketball gods saw it fit to have Rudy Gay twist his ankle, putting a damper on things while making Spurs fans empathize with the Pelicans faithful. Yet even the games that looked to be there for the taking need to be actually transformed into Ws, especially in the unforgiving West, and San Antonio did just that in decisive fashion. It wasn’t the prettiest of performances and it didn’t reveal any hidden strength, but not every matchup has to be special. Some only need to be won and that is exactly what the Spurs did.
That’s not nothing, considering how prone to lapses in focus the team has been at times this season, and as recently as Wednesday. Hopefully this business-like approach to beating inferior or wounded opponents carries over to the coming four-game homestand and into the long road trip that waits on the other side of it.
- In DeRozan’s absence, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay where expected to handle the scoring. They both delivered, combining for 50 points while also pulling down 12 and 11 boards, respectively, and only turning the ball over once each. Terrific offensive performance for those two. I wouldn’t be surprised if they both rest on Sunday, though. Gay rolled his ankle pretty badly (the X-Rays were negative, fortunately) and Aldridge was doubtful to play on Saturday with a sore wrist.
- Pau Gasol deserves credit for always being ready to fill in when a starter is out. He attacked the smaller defenders the Pelicans threw his way en route to 13 points on eight shots to go with four assists. He was also a presence on the boards, pulling down eight. Gasol played well enough to force Pop to only give Jakob Poeltl five minutes of playing time. I can’t complain about that decision tonight, even if the prospect of Pau getting back in the rotation scares me.
- Lonnie! The rookie was called upon to provide some energy in the second quarter and he did, along with Quincy Pondexter, of all people. He didn’t look afraid at all to be playing minutes that mattered, which is very encouraging. And he even had a highlight!
- Derrick White was key to that third quarter run that cracked the game open by playing some good defense on Jrue Holiday. Coincidentally, I can’t help but see the Pelicans’ point guard as the perfect archetype of player I’d love for White to eventually become.
- Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli combined for nine assists. The ball moves when those two are on the court.
- Bryn Forbes didn’t have a particularly good game, but he still managed to score 11 points and dish out three assists. He would have had 13 points had he not lost a shoe at the worst possible time.
- Dante Cunningham swished a corner three not long after checking in, and for a second I thought he was about to go crazy from outside, like he did in the first game in New Orleans early in the season. Alas, it didn’t happen, but Dante gave the team some solid minutes anyway.
- I feel bad for Pelicans fans. They are currently out of the playoffs and it’s hard to see them make a push without Davis. If they don’t make it to the postseason, Davis is probably gone, but trading their pick for help is risky, since The Brow might leave anyway. It’s such a tricky situation.
Up next: Vs. Wizards on Sunday
The Spurs kick off a four-game homestand by hosting the Wizards. It should be a winnable game, as long as at least one of Aldridge or DeRozan plays.