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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Pelicans

San Antonio avenges a disheartening loss on the second leg of a back-to-back.

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

San Antonio continued inching towards respectability as they dispatched the last-place New Orleans Pelicans in the penultimate matchup of their five-game homestand. While Brandon Ingram and company threatened to make things intriguing in the third quarter, the Spurs rose to the occasion, ramped up their defensive intensity, and blew out their division foe.

Derrick White led the way for the Silver and Black, packing the box score with 24 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, and four steals. Jakob Poeltl also scored 24 points along with 12 boards. Keldon Johnson pitched in 17 points, and Dejounte Murray racked up ten points, 12 rebounds, and ten assists on the way to his fourth triple-double of the season.

The Spurs have won six of their last nine contests. And considering Zion Williamson hasn’t played a single second of basketball this season, it isn’t all that shocking head coach Willie Green continued struggling to find a winning formula on his first trip to the 2-1-0. All-Star Brandon Ingram was fantastic, but he can only go so far with a suboptimal supporting cast.

A confident Derrick White makes the Spurs a dangerous opponent

Derrick White put forth his most complete performance of the season on Sunday night, logging 24 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, four steals, and one block as he continued shaking off the rust from a sluggish start that marred his first full-time opportunity as the second option.

The fifth-year combo guard is among the most dangerous scorers on San Antonio’s roster when he plays with unbridled confidence, and he was the zone versus the Pelicans. White was as decisive as fans have seen him all season, and he looked a step ahead of the New Orleans defenders.

Derrick pulled off a filthy spin move against a helpless Tomas Satorasnky, connected with Tre Jones on an excellent outlet pass, fearlessly finished in traffic, and converted an and-one after getting Willy Hernangomez off his feet with a savvy up-and-under move inside the paint.

When the 27-year-old swingman is healthy and doesn’t second guess his instincts on the offensive end, there are times he legitimately resembles a perennial All-Star. His impressive showing in the NBA bubble immediately comes to mind, and his recent play is approaching that territory.

If the Colorado alum can find more consistency, the Spurs might have a top ten backcourt on their hands. Phoenix, Golden State, Chicago, Utah, and Charlotte sport star pairings, but the PG-13s, Morants, Doncics, and Beals of the world are too one-sided to enter the conversation.

Jakob Poeltl has established himself as a staple of San Antonio’s success

From finishing at the rim and finding open teammates out of the short-roll to setting impeccable ball-screens and protecting the paint, Jakob Poeltl is instrumental in almost everything San Antonio does on both ends of the court. And the seven-footer again showed his worth versus the Pelicans.

Poeltl scored most of his 24 points out of the pick-and-roll, fired precise passes from the high post, notched a league-high six screen-assists, and blocked two shots. He also held Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Ingram, and Devonte’ Graham to a combined 6-of-22 shooting from the field.

The sixth-year center drawing even in the battle of the boards with Jonas Valanciunas was perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the night. His former Raptors teammate came into the matchup as the fifth leading rebounder in the NBA, but that didn’t stop Poeltl from cleaning the glass.

Jakob threw around his 245-pound frame, exceptional timing, and seven-two wingspan to walk away with 12 rebounds, and even when he couldn’t reel in the rock, he gave Spurs extra possessions by tapping it back out. He also added seven offensive boards, further padding his league lead.

The Silver and Black are learning how to respond to runs

Defeating the last-place Pelicans within the friendly confines of the AT&T Center isn’t exactly an accomplishment worth bragging about. Per Synergy, New Orleans owns the fourth-worst offense and second-worst defense in the NBA this season. Regardless, a win is a win, and there wasn’t much to pick apart.

San Antonio should probably win this matchup handily nine times out of ten, and despite playing the Denver Nuggets less than 24 hours before tip-off, it would have been tough to excuse a loss. Thankfully, the Spurs took care of business at home and inched closer to .500 in the process.

But their victory didn’t come without a dose of adversity. After leading for most of the evening, the Pelicans went on a determined third-quarter run to recapture the lead. The Silver and Black replied with a massive final frame, showing off their resilience with their backs against the wall.

This team might have folded in crunch time once relinquishing a sizeable deficit earlier this season, though it appears they have learned from their losses. Instead of giving fans a reason to fret, San Antonio steamrolled their lowly opponent the rest of the way and eliminated the possibility of a nail biter.