Following their victory against the Raptors on Saturday night, the Spurs experienced their first loss of the season in a wild back and forth battle against the Pelicans. The end result wasn’t what the team wanted, but there are still many positives that can be taken away from the match.
Keldon Johnson started the first quarter off with a bang, converting on his first two shots and scoring five quick points in the process. San Antonio’s ball movement led to some easy layups and the team shot threes on seemingly every offensive possession. However, the scoring dried up for both teams a few minutes into the game, and the clanking of rims was unmistakable in a largely empty Smoothie King Center. The opening quarter ended with the Spurs up 18-16 and it seemed like the slugfest would continue all night long.
Instead, the game started to normalize in the second, as the scoring picked up from both sides. With the Spurs’ starters struggling to shoot, the second unit picked up the slack and kept them in the game. Patty Mills had three quick assists and Rudy Gay shot well from long distance to provide the team with some energy off the bench. Going into halftime, the trio of Mills, Gay, and Poetl had 23 points, which was one more than the entire starting five combined.
Things got ugly in the third with the Silver and Black down by two. New Orleans found their offensive rhythm and scored a number of easy baskets off of their fluid ball movement, leading to a 21-8 run. As a result, the Spurs were left scrambling and went down by as much as 14 points. The only player keeping them in the game was Lonnie Walker IV, who found his shooting stroke and converted on a couple of threes. Thankfully, San Antonio went on a small scoring binge of their own to close out the quarter and began the final frame only down by eight.
The Spurs maintained their momentum early in the fourth, turning the tide by starting the quarter on a 14-3 run. An aggressive Dejounte Murray hit a few mid-rangers to help San Antonio regain the lead, and the game was tightly contested from that point on. With two minutes left and the Spurs down by two, Pop elected to go small and took LaMarcus Aldridge out of the game. This helped the team attack a slow-footed Steven Adams, but it also allowed the strong Aussie to grab some easy boards, including one on the offensive end that led to an easy dunk and a six point advantage for the Pelicans. Down by three with ten seconds left, San Antonio had a chance to tie the game following a timeout. Unfortunately, the set play was broken up by a good block from Eric Bledsoe, and the game ultimately ended in a 98-95 victory for New Orleans.
It was disappointing to lose such a close game, but there are still a number of positives that can be taken away from the match. For one, it’s a good sign that the team was able to keep the score close even though Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan only combined for 12 points on the night. The Spurs also displayed great resilience by fighting back from a poor third quarter, and it’s comforting to see the bench provide reliable secondary scoring when needed.
- Aldridge struggled with his shot, only converting two of his seven field goals for four points. However, his defence might’ve been more concerning; he was constantly burned when using drop coverage, as opponents were either given a wide-open mid-range shot or a clear runway to the basket.
- Jakob Poeltl was better defensively but also struggled at times, especially in the fourth. He dropped on many possessions as well, which gave Brandon Ingram easy shots at the top of the key that helped New Orleans regain the lead during crunch time.
- Speaking of Poeltl, he took advantage of Jaxson Hayes’ inexperience in the first half by scoring eight easy points on the sophomore. It’s a small sample size, but Poeltl seems to have expanded his offensive game, and there's no doubt that he’s one of the better backup centres in the league.
- Devin Vassell struggled offensively but showed that he belongs on the team. Even though he was scoreless on four field-goal attempts, his confidence never wavered and he kept shooting when given wide-open looks. More importantly, he hustled on defence and was one of the first players back on several possessions.
- This team is DEEP. San Antonio has 10 rotation players who can all play meaningful minutes, and eight of them played over 20 minutes this game. Trey Lyles played the least with only six minutes of action today, and he started the majority of games last season.
- As previously mentioned, the compete level of this team is impressive. The young players never folded even though DeRozan and Aldridge both had two of their worst games in recent memory.
- DeRozan, however, still impacted the game in other ways. He dished out 10 assists and was able to create many good looks for his teammates due to his gravity in the mid-range. He also attempted four threes, which is a good sign considering he went 3-4 from long distance last night.
Next game: Lakers on Wednesday
San Antonio will face a much stiffer test on Wednesday when they return home to play against the Lakers, which will be the first of two straight games against the defending champs.