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Spurs bounce back with no-frills win against the Pelicans

The Spurs took care of business against the inferior Pelicans at home by stepping on the gas in the fourth quarter.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs bounced back after taking a drubbing from the Nuggets by handling their business at home against the lowly Pelicans. The 112-97 win wasn’t the result of a particularly impressive performance by San Antonio, but it was more than adequate by a team that was on the second game of a back-to-back following a blowout loss.

After Saturday’s game, Gregg Popovich praised the Nuggets for coming back with a vengeance after losing to the Spurs, clearly trying to send a message to his own players. Early on, it seemed to work, as the Silver and Black were the aggressors on offense and energetic on defense. Derrick White continued his excellent play by getting into the paint, while the pick and roll routinely resulted in good inside looks for Jakob Poeltl. New Orleans was staying in it thanks to some good outside shooting, but when Lonnie Walker IV came in hot off the bench, it felt like a run would be coming. Alas, the Pelicans maintained their composure and San Antonio went into one of its typical offensive droughts, which kept the game close.

The start of the second quarter was sloppy, which wasn’t a big surprise. So far this season, units featuring Derrick White but not Dejounte Murray have struggled on the offensive end, and that was the case on Sunday, at least for a while. Fortunately, White’s individual play was enough to keep the team afloat while the jumpers weren’t falling. Once Murray checked back in, San Antonio immediately got a few easy buckets, but New Orleans remained unfazed. They still allowed inside looks but did a good job of contesting outside shots, which were simply not falling for the Silver and Black but were going in for the visitors. The three point shooting discrepancy wasn’t huge at the half, but it was enough to keep the Pelicans close, as San Antonio couldn’t get on the break or to the line, either.

The third quarter has often determined how the Spurs do, and the start was promising enough. They were still getting to the paint with ease and were even getting to the line. The problem was on the other end, where San Antonio has not performed as well lately. The trend continued, as they struggled to cause turnovers and were conceding just enough buckets for the Pelicans to keep the game tied and even take the lead for a few possessions. New Orleans wasn’t doing anything too sophisticated on offense, but by running whenever the Spurs were a little slow to get back and attacking the gaps that the defense was allowing, they managed to put 30 points on the board in the frame and go into the final period down just one.

The blowout against the Nuggets allowed Pop to rest some of his players, but going into the fourth with such a close score was dangerous, as it wouldn’t have been surprising to see some player run out of gas. Those concerns were eased almost immediately, as Tre jones made a couple of big plays by leaking out for an open layup and drawing an offensive foul and Derrick White continued his onslaught. Instead of tired, the Spurs looked surprisingly energized, not only on offense but also on defense. They suddenly became disruptive, getting several steals in the opening minutes of the frame and capitalizing in transition or against a scrambling defense. They quickly carved out a double-digit lead that they would manage en route to a rather ordinary but still valuable win.

Game notes

  • Tre Jones made his first three-pointer of the season. The only reason not to play Jones regular minutes is that he’s been a reluctant shooter, but if he can continue to at least let corner threes fly, he could carve out a permanent spot in the rotation. He does a lot well already, so he doesn’t have to become a sniper. Just a threat.
  • The bench, outside of Jones, struggled. Lonnie started out hot but fizzled out, Devin Vassell played really good defense but wasn’t feeling it on offense and Drew Eubanks ate up some minutes, but didn’t make a difference. The starters carried the team this time.
  • Shooting specialist Keldon Johnson made three of his five outside shots. At some point the threes will probably stop falling at such a high rate for Keldon, but that’s not something we should worry about right now. What’s a little concerning is his ocasional lack of aggressiveness. To an extent, it’s good that Johnson is not trying to force things, like he did earlier in the season, but he can’t just be a spot-up shooter. That’s not what makes him special. There are still stretches in which Keldon is in attack mode, so he still has that gear, but it could be nice to see a better balance between fitting in and standing out from him.

Play of the game

Nothing like a nice Derrick White spin move on a Sunday night to end the weekend on a high note.

SVP awards

We didn’t hand out points for the Nuggets game, so we’ll do it quickly here.

3rd - Devin Vassell | 15 points, five rebounds, four assists

2nd - Lonnie Walker IV | 16 points, three rebounds, three assists

1st - Keldon Johnson | 14 points, all in the first half, when the game was close

And now, we get to Sunday’s game

3rd place (1 point) - Dejounte Murray | Triple double, 10 assists to one turnover

Murray didn’t have to do the heavy lifting when it came to scoring against the Pelicans, but he still stuffed the stat sheet by getting 10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. It’s good to see that Dejounte can cede the spotlight when someone else has it going while still remaining productive.

2nd place (2 points) - Derrick White | 24 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, four steals

White could easily be slotted at first, because he was a monster on this one. The outside shot is still not falling (1-for-6 for the night) but it doesn’t matter. He’s been playing aggressively lately and it has made a world of difference for the Spurs. White tried to get to the paint as much as he could to either shoot or set up Jakob Poeltl and was a pest on defense as well. This version of White gives the Spurs a second player who can play like a star on any given night, even if they are not necessarily one, which is just what was needed.

1st place (3 points) - Jakob Poeltl | 24 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks

As mentioned, first and second could be flipped and I wouldn’t mind, but Poeltl does deserve some credit for a fantastic offensive performance to go with his usual elite defense. Poeltl had to battle with Jonas Valanciunas, one of the biggest centers in the league but someone who can also hurt teams from outside, and won the matchup. His seven offensive boards were huge and the way he punished the Pelicans for not sending extra help on drives was game-changing. The team as a whole bounced back, but after struggling with Jokic, Poeltl looked extra motivated and it paid off.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 43pts

2nd - Derrick White - 24pts

3rd - Devin Vassell - 21pts

4th - Keldon Johnson - 18pts

5th - Jakob Poeltl - 17pts

6th - Thaddeus Young - 9pts

7th - Doug McDermott & Lonnie Walker IV - 7pts each

8th - Bryn Forbes - 5pts

9th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

10th - Jock Landale, Josh Primo & Keita Bates-Diop - 1pt each

Next game: Vs. Hornets on Wednesday

After playing five games in seven nights — the dreaded FIGASENI — the Spurs will get to rest for a couple of days before taking on the Hornets. A victory would give them a winning record on their five-game homestand, which would be encouraging to see before embarking on a four-game road trip.