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Spurs flipped the second half switch to light up the Hornets

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A much anticipated lineup change did wonders to pick up the slumping Spurs in the second half.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs were well on their way to another disappointing home loss. After a catastrophic 2nd quarter fueled by turnovers and poor decision making, the Silver and Black came out of halftime staring up at a 13 point deficit and proceeded to dig the hole even deeper. Just 2 minutes into the 3rd quarter, the Hornets held an 18 point lead and seemed destined for their 17th win of the season. But destiny is fickle and fortunes can change in an instant.

Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl checked in at the next dead ball and turned the game on its head. With those two on the floor alongside Dejounte Murray, the Spurs’ defense gained teeth. Open passing lanes turned into deflections and steals. Easy putbacks turned into boxouts and backdoor cuts into switches. The Spurs locked in the rest of the way at a level they simply haven’t reached the last season and a half.

The Hornets managed just 22 points the rest of the game, which is barely a point a minute. Spacing concerns, the only somewhat reasonable explanation for why Derrick and Dejounte don’t share the court more often, were irrelevant. It simply didn’t matter with how well the defense was playing.

The Spurs kicked off their comeback with a 25-2 run to take a 4 point lead 76-72, then simply walked their advantage out, possession by possession, for the rest of the game. When Coach Gregg Popovich pulled the plug with 1:59 to go, the Spurs had just stretched the gap to 21 points, capping a 56-16 mauling over the course of less than 20 minutes of game time.

Unsurprisingly, DeMar DeRozan scored the first and last buckets of that run, and several in between. The changing of months did nothing to soften the brilliant efficiency of his scoring binge over the last 6 weeks. With 24 points on the night on 10 of 15 from the floor and 4 of 5 from the free throw line, DeMar continues to operate at a level very few players have ever reached over such an extended period of time, as noted in the pregame coverage.

On the other end of the spectrum, Bryn Forbes didn’t play a single second of the Spurs comeback. Given that the focal point of the turn around was defensive intensity and execution, that makes sense, though it will be interesting to see whether the team’s solid play during that stretch leads to an adjustment in the rotation.

It may get lost in the excitement over the team playing nearly two quarters in a row of excellent basketball, but it’s worth mentioning that the Spurs never should have needed a comeback to win this game. They remain inconsistent, capable of playing as well or as poorly as nearly any team in the league on a nightly and even quarterly basis.

As they embark on this year’s Rodeo Road Trip, with 8 straight games on the road, including 7 against teams above them in the Western Conference standings, they’ll need to find a way to sustain the kind of play that won this game.

Game Notes

  • This was one of the most fun Spurs’ games in a while. Comeback aside, Jakob drove from the top of the key for a towering left-handed dunk, Lonnie Walker IV made a sweet scoop layup while fading away from the basket, Jakob Euro-stepped into a layup, and there were a couple instances of the old ball movement magic. But the craziest thing of all was Dejounte trying to throw an alley-oop to Bryn Forbes in transition early in the 2nd quarter. To be fair, it nearly worked (!?!) and, in the biggest upset of the night, Dejounte didn’t get benched for it.
  • The Spurs weren’t exactly locked in to begin the game but scored well enough to win the 1st quarter 30-28. They came out to start the 2nd quarter with exactly zero composure, though. With 3 turnovers on their first 4 possessions, they seemed intent on giving the game away. They played the rest of the half with slightly more focus, but not enough to keep up with a Hornets team that suddenly held the upper hand on both ends of the floor.
  • Cody Zeller won the head to head matchup with LaMarcus Aldridge. It was LMA’s first game back from injury, so maybe he wasn’t feeling great, but watching Zeller put up 14 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists against the big Texan was a strange sight to behold, especially as LaMarcus managed just 8 points on 4 of 10 from the floor.
  • Miles Bridges led the Hornets in scoring, with 25 points, but the key to their 2nd quarter run, aside from the Spurs’ turnovers, was passing. Zeller’s interior touch along with Devonte’ Graham’s ability to penetrate and find the open man repeatedly compromised the defense and turned that end of the court into a layup line.
  • Jakob’s defense was fantastic, as usual, but he provided a scoring punch, too, setting a new season high with 17 points. He also extended his streak of consecutive games with a block to 13.

Next game: At the Clippers on Monday

The Spurs kick off the RRT with back to back games against two of the best teams in the league. The Clippers and Lakers combined have lost the same number of games as the Spurs have this year, so it might be a rough start to the week.