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Shorthanded Spurs persevere to squeak past Pelicans

Another San Antonio game came down to the closing moments, but this time there was no collapse.

New Orleans Pelicans v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

After a last-second loss to the Thunder, the Spurs proved that they can still win close games. In large part thanks to a fantastic performance by DeMar DeRozan in his return, San Antonio beat the Pelicans 117-114 at home in another matchup that came down to the wire.

It didn’t look like the still severely shorthanded Spurs were even going to force a close ending early in the game. Neither team was playing good defense to start the night, but San Antonio simply had no answer for Brandon Ingram. The young All-Star wing dropped 15 points in the first frame to push his team ahead by as many as eight. Fortunately San Antonio ramped up the defensive intensity on the perimeter while keeping Zion Williamson under control. Once the second units checked in, the Silver and Black found the edge they needed to fully get back into it, with a lot of credit due to LaMarcus Aldridge’s aggressive play off the bench.

With Aldridge and DeRozan leading the way on offense and an inspired Dejounte Murray wreaking havoc on both ends, the Spurs showed more poise in the second quarter. Luck was also in their favor, to be fair, as they got hot from outside at the right time while the Pelicans struggled with the long ball. Had new Orleans been able to capitalize on the open looks San Antonio was conceding by doubling Zion and packing the paint on drives, the score at the half might have been different. Unfortunately for the visitors, the Spurs did a good job of bothering some of their shooters with strong closeouts, which resulted in a 1-for-7 quarter from beyond the arc for the Pelicans. After a strong closing stretch by San Antonio, the lead was six going into the break.

The Pelicans had their chance to regain control in the third quarter after some strong plays from Williamson, but they made mistakes that prevented them from capitalizing from the usual post-halftime lull by the Spurs. After a chaotic first couple of minutes, San Antonio went back to limiting Zion’s impact and controlling the pace. On offense they had Trey Lyles fill the role of X-factor that Lonnie Walker IV played in the second quarter, but the work of DeRozan, who did a good job of orchestrating the attack, was really the biggest reason for their success. Both teams got cold from outside and every point was harder to come by, but by virtue of having an accomplished half-court creator the Spurs came out on top and extended their lead to nine going into the final period.

The DeRozan dependency that helped them early on came back to haunt the Spurs in the fourth quarter. After thriving with an ISO-heavy attack in the second and third frames, the offense dried up. The role players couldn’t hit their shots and unless DeRozan got himself to the line, there was nothing easy. Fortunately for the Spurs, the Pelicans simply couldn’t make that final push. Zion had some terrific moments and the entire team deserves credit for cutting the deficit to three several times in the last few minutes. But every time they got close, they either couldn’t close the gap by missing a shot or having a breakdown on defense.

Game notes

  • DeMar DeRozan returned with a vengeance, logging 32 points and 11 assists. It was a tremendous performance that carried the Spurs through the toughest stretches of the game. DeRozan won’t be in Atlanta, but everyone should know by now that he’s an All-Star level player.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge once again came off the bench and did a good job of providing offense. After missing a couple of jumpers he was more aggressive and ended up shooting 10 free throws. As a bench scorer that can punish second units, Aldridge could be quite productive going forward.
  • Does anyone in the league get called for so many soft offensive fouls while screening as Jakob Poeltl? It’s bizarre. Despite foul trouble Jak managed to still pull down 11 boards and block three shots in a win, so I’m sure he’s not too bothered by it, but I can’t wait until he gets the officials’ respect.
  • Dejounte Murray filled the stat sheet, flirting with another triple-double, while also doing a good job of containing Ingram after his initial barrage. Murray did most of his damage in the first half, but still found ways to contribute when the ball wasn’t in his hands after the DeRozan takeover. It’s great to see how dependable he’s becoming.
  • Trey Lyles and Lonnie Walker IV were asked to fill in as starters once again. As mentioned, both had their moments, but they also simply helped out in their areas of expertise. Lyles pulled down seven rebounds and kept the ball moving while Lonnie poured in 17 points. Those two will likely continue to get big minutes until everyone is back, so it was good to see them play well despite having tough defensive assignments.
  • Patty Mills was hot in the first half but cold in the second. He still played well on both ends, so it’s hard to complain.
  • Luka Samanic came off the bench this time, but had one of the most encouraging zero-point, three-rebound games I can remember. He simply looked like he belonged, and played good defense, for the most part. He also almost had a monster putback dunk that unfortunately rimmed out. We are seeing progress from Luka.
  • The Spurs’ entire game plan was centered around stopping Zion Williamson, and he still got 23 points. Even if the defense forces him into a bad shot, Zion is so strong and has such a great second jump that he can snag his own offensive board and get the putback. That’s how he grabbed at least four of his eight offensive rebounds against the Spurs. Just a beast of a player.

Next game: Vs. the Nets on Monday

The Nets will visit the AT&T Center next. The Spurs’ perimeter defenders will face another tough challenge. If they can stop James Harden, the Silver and Black should be able to get their second win in a row.