San Antonio concluded its brief road trip with more continued hot shooting and a yeoman’s performance by its bench in its hard-earned win against New Orleans. The Spurs were bolstered by LaMarcus Aldridge (32 points and 14 rebounds), DeMar DeRozan (20 points and 5 rebounds), and 40 points from the bench. New Orleans was led by Brandon Ingram (22 points) and rookie Zion Williamson (22 points and 7 rebounds).
- Zion Williamson made his season debut in the Pelicans’ starting lineup. Williamson deftly found a cutting Brandon Ingram with a touch pass for a dunk early. Zion later bodied Jakob Poeltl out of the way for a defensive rebound, pushed the ball in transition, and found a teammate for a three-point play. I tried thinking of comparisons by physical stature for Zion, and all I could think of was mid-90s Charles Barkley, Derrick Coleman, John ‘Hot Plate’ Williams, and 80s journeyman Mike Brown.
- LaMarcus Aldridge took a kickout from Dejounte Murray and connected on his first three from straightaway. This is the new normal! Murray’s pull-up from straight on looks smooth and true. Murray later added a shot-clock beating three that swished cleanly.
- Because of how quiet Smoothie King Arena tends to be, the heckling on the Spurs end bordered on hilarity - there was a woman cackling undecipherable sounds when different Spurs shot free throws. She was joined by a man that sounded like Kevin from ‘The Office’ yelling the player’s first name as they shot (“DERRICK! DERRICK! DERRICK!’)
- Mark Jackson claimed that one of Spurs Assistant Coach Chip Engelland’s first clients was Steve Kerr.
- I don’t fault Bryn Forbes’ defensive effort or motor, but he can’t move laterally well enough. However, in a move that needs to happen more often, Forbes, when driven off the three point line, darted into the middle and dished to a cutting Trey Lyles for a dunk in the second half. Also, does he shoot better going to the right than left?
- San Antonio inexplicably fouled twice in the first half closing out on three-pointer shooters.
- Lonnie Walker IV converted a gliding reverse layup late in the first, but more importantly, he prevented the much taller Ingram from getting to the rim at the other end and forced a miss.
- While the ESPN announcing team spent considerable time lauding Zion’s first NBA basket, Derrick White risked his much lighter frame in drawing a charge on Williamson on the next possession.
- Opposing team’s players that would have made productive Spurs at some point? JJ Redick and Jrue Holiday. Holiday continues to be one of the league’s underrated playmakers and goes virtually unrecognized on the national scene. Redick could have helped on many San Antonio bench squads.
- At some point in the future, the NBA should consider restoring the ‘Jazz’ moniker to the New Orleans franchise.
- San Antonio and New Orleans came out with palpable nervous energy, which resulted in sloppy play and misses early and often. Aldridge paced the Spurs from distance and in the paint, while New Orleans seemed to struggle to hit anything outside of the paint. Late in the stanza, Patty Mills found a cutting Jakob Poeltl for a jam to push the lead out to 31-24. White, Mills, and Marco Belinelli spearheaded the San Antonio offense while Poeltl protected the rim to help the Spurs extend to a 15 point lead temporarily at the start of the second. The Pelicans guards began connecting on their jumpshots to pull within five. San Antonio surrounded Aldridge with four guards late in the quarter, and went heavily to the big man in the post who put Favors in the grinder a time and time again. The Spurs left the half ahead 60-51.
- The two teams traded three point shots to start the third period. Aldridge drew Favors’ fourth foul and the Pelicans started doubling him to force the ball elsewhere. Ingram made up for an ice-cold first half and found his stroke in and around the paint. In a tough sequence late in the period, Aldridge whiffed on a dunk over Pelicans rookie Jaxson Hayes, while Hayes responded with a up-and-under layup at the other end. Though New Orleans kept up the pressure throughout, the Spurs bench executed well in the halfcourt and left the quarter up 12.
- Williamson went on a personal rampage during the fourth quarter against the Spurs with conversions from all over the court, while DeRozan and White did their best to counter. Zion’s fourth three pointer briefly gave New Orleans their first lead since the first quarter. Williamson exited the game for load management, and DeRozan took over the scoring load - converting on several balletic makes. The Spurs’ closing lineup, which included Murray and White, was able to maintain a precarious lead by making just enough stops. Aldridge’s stepback jumper and conversions from the free throw line proved enough to counter New Orleans’ suddenly hot outside shooting. White walled off an Ingram drive at the rim with what Jeff Van Gundy gushed as ‘great verticality’ to preserve the final margin.
- Playoff Watch: The Spurs are now 20-23 and pulled percentage points ahead of Memphis for the eighth seed.
For the Pelicans fans’ perspective, please go to The Bird Writes.