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Shorthanded Spurs can’t keep up with the Pelicans, lose 10th straight

The injury-riddled Spurs fought hard but were just outclassed by a more talented opponent.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs’ losing streak has reached double digits. After a solid first half, the Silver and Black simply had no answers for Zion Williamson and the Pelicans in the second and dropped their 10th straight game in what turned out to be a blowout 117-99 loss.

At this point it feels futile to try to break down things in too much detail, because not only are the Spurs’ strengths and weaknesses known, but it’s also impossible to ignore the many major absences they are experiencing. Even Gregg Popovich had to miss this game, along with their two starting big men, their two veteran bench shooters, and their backup point guard. Even at full strength the home team would have not been favored, so the fact that San Antonio could match the mini runs the Pelicans made in the first and second quarters and turned double-digit deficits into a close game is impressive, especially considering they had no way from keeping Zion Williamson from the line and had to deal with another poor performance from Keldon Johnson.

To be fair, part of why the first half was close and the Spurs actually came back to take the lead before the break had a lot to do with the Pelicans, which seemed to be aware of their superiority even while missing Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones. Their guards were not having good nights but their main issue was that their energy level was low for long stretches, something San Antonio took advantage of to close the gap that always appeared when Williamson decided to attack and New Orleans took the game seriously. The shorthanded Spurs do deserve credit for fighting to stay in the game, with guys like Charles Bassey using their hustle to try to make up for a general disparity in talent, but it was going to take a remarkably poor effort from the Pelicans to let this injury-decimated version of the Silver and Black steal the win.

Alas, New Orleans finally decided to play with more urgency in the second half, and that was it. Zion continued to do his thing and Jonas Valanciunas feasted like he normally does against the Spurs, but it was a pair of guards who changed the game for the visitors. Jose Alvarado injected some energy and perimeter scoring into the lineups he was a part of in the third quarter and Trey Murphy III made a few timely threes in the fourth to make sure no comeback was possible. Like it’s happened a lot of times this season, the Spurs tried even while dealing with adversity to stay close through hustle and willpower, but in the end they were simply outclassed by a better opponent. It’s what most people expected to happen during this rebuilding season, but it can still be frustrating to watch at times.

Game notes

  • Keldon Johnson scored 15 points on 23 attempts and missed seven of his eight three-pointers. It’s extremely tempting to just hope he stops taking as many shots, but there’s really no one else to defer to right now and the only way Johnson is going to break out of his slump is to continue to take some risky shots, since no one is going to feed him open looks consistently. As long as this tough stretch doesn’t ruin his confidence, the rough stat lines shouldn’t matter too much.
  • One of the negative things about the past few games (aside from all the losing) is that no one of the players who were buried in the rotation when everyone was healthy has made a case for more minutes, except Charles Bassey. The big man doesn’t bring much more than energy and athleticism, but that has been enough to make him stand out a few times. In a game in which Zach Collins really struggled, having a backup who could make some plays on both ends was valuable.
  • Tre Jones came into the season with the label of risk-averse floor general but has looked more and more like a great chance-fo-pace backup who pushes the ball and keeps everyone organized. He’s forced to play a bigger role than he should, not unlike his backcourt partner Devin Vassell who is suddenly the first option, but it’s possible to see a future for him with the team long term, despite his flaws, as a key reserve.
  • The less we talk about the defense the better, so instead let’s focus on the Pelicans. How good can they be? They still seem to be a player away from being contenders, but if Zion stays healthy, they are going to be a tough out for a while. Their front office deserves props for putting this group together, but so much of having success in the NBA comes down to having a superstar, and they have one.

Play of the game

Yes, Dyson Daniels gets caught sleeping here, but that’s good offense by the Spurs, great recognition by Vassell and a good pass from Collins. It looks like they are trying to set up staggered screens for Devin to spring open for a wing three, the defense overplays it, KBD clears to the corner and Vassell sees the clear path and attacks it. Good stuff.

Next game: Vs. Phoenix Suns on Sunday

The best team in the West will visit San Antonio. Stranger things have happened, but it would be a shock if the losing streak ends this week.