The San Antonio Spurs continued their road warrior ways once again, this time beating the 11th place New Orleans Pelicans in huge game for seeding purposes, earning the series tie-breaker and what is essentially a six-game difference in the standings. Although another let-down third quarter nearly cost them, the Spurs were the better team when it mattered most, earning the 110-108 win.
DeMar DeRozan was huge in the fourth quarter and led the Spurs with 32 points, followed by 22 from Derrick White. Zion Williamson led the Pelicans with 33 points, while Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram each scored 24.
- For some reason League Pass was initially having trouble connecting to the Spurs broadcast, so during the pregame only the Pelicans broadcast was available, and I found myself listening to none other than Bill Land’s predecessor for the Spurs, Joel Meyers, and former Spur/fan favorite Antonio Daniels. Normally I’m not too big on listening to the opposing team’s broadcast, but I was intrigued to see what a group with plenty of Spurs knowledge had to say. They were more than complimentary of the young guys and the Spurs developmental system before I eventually switched back over to Bill and Sean in the second quarter.
- The Spurs continued their trend of starting games strong, getting out to an early lead with active defense and good ball movement, getting the lead as high as 23-14 early. The bench came in a little slow and allowed the Pelicans to get back within three points, but they recovered enough to stretch the lead back out to 31-24 at the end of the quarter.
- If DeRozan is the Spurs’ MVP, then Jakob Poeltl is MIP, but not the one you’re thinking. He’s their Most Important Player. Not only is he their anchor on defense who holds down the fort and allows the perimeter to stay home and avoid double-teaming, but his improved offensive game has made him more of a two-way player, or at least less of a liability on that end. To me, it’s no coincidence that the Spurs’ second unit was the strongest early in the season when he was coming off the bench, and then the starters became the stronger unit once he became the fulltime starter. (Although it’s worth pointing out that Derrick White’s return roughly coincides with the same timeframe.)
- Lonnie Walker got benched early in the second quarter after three turnovers consisting of driving and leaving his feet with nowhere to go and throwing the ball away, but he was far from the only one with turnover issues. The Spurs had 10 at the half and the Pelicans 12, mostly consisting of errant passes and stripped dribbles for both sides.
- Fouls were also an issue in the first half. With Walker still on the bench, Devin Vassell already playing in the place of Rudy Gay (who was out with a sore back), and Keldon Johnson dealing with three early fouls, Luka Samanic got some second quarter minutes. Although he unsurprisingly got bullied a bit on defense by Zion Williamson, he still had a pretty and-one on a driving baseline dunk and limited the mistakes. The entire second quarter was a slow affair due to 15 total foul calls, which was mostly to the benefit of the Pelicans, who had a 19-9 advantage in free throw attempts in the first half. Fortunately for the Spurs, they weren’t shooting them well, only hitting 8, and the Good Guys entered halftime up 61-52.
- The Spurs had another one of their “bad” third quarters, getting the lead as high as 11 before allowing New Orleans to come all the way back and tie things up as the offense went cold for the majority of the time. The Spurs ended quarter up 85-84, but this has been a concerning trend for a few weeks now. The Pelicans got their first lead since early in the first quarter with about five minutes left after a 7-2 run for a 101-96 lead, but fortunately for the Spurs, they are not a good last-three-minutes team. Fourth Quarter DeMar took over with some huge shots after a couple of Derrick White baskets, Dejounte Murray hit two huge free throws to make it a five-point game with less than 20 seconds to go, and that was the ball game.
- One interesting call that went the Pelicans way inside three minutes left was a double-lane violation was called during an Ingram free throw on both Poeltl and Steven Adams, resulting in a jump ball that New Orleans won. It looked as if New Orleans was going to benefit from a quirky extra possession with Ingram getting another two free throws on White’s fifth foul, but he again went 1-2, basically making the extra possession for naught.
- The biggest thing the Spurs did to win this one was make their free throws, hitting 27-32 on the night while the Pelicans hit just 17-32. Now with a five-game advantage in the loss column and the series tie-breaker, the Spurs would either really have to blow things to not make the playin tournament, or New Orleans would have to be red hot the rest of the way. Neither seems overly plausible at this point despite the difficult schedule, mainly because most of the Spurs remaining games are on the road, and they have just been a different animal away from the AT&T Center this season (17-10 vs. 13-19).
- White became just the fourth Spur with 2000 points, 600 rebounds and 600 assists in his first 200 games, joining elite company Willie Anderson, Alvin Robertson, and Manu Ginobili.
For the Pelicans fans’ perspective, visit The Bird Writes.
The Spurs are now off to the nation’s capitol to take on the rapidly rising Washington Wizards, who have won nine of their last 10 and seven in a row to work their way into the East’s 10th seed. Tip-off will be at 6:00 PM CT on CW35.