Entering their third game of the Rodeo Road Trip and playing in a back-to-back, the Spurs entered the Big Easy for an important game against divisional foe and rival for a play-in spot, the New Orleans Pelicans. The Spurs started this game right where they left off last night in Atlanta: red hot on offense. They scored the first seven points of the game and never trailed, but if there was one thing to be wary of early, it was that the officials were calling a very tight game. That quickly became a concern as Jakob Poeltl had to sit early with two fouls, and Zach Collins is not yet cleared to play in back to-back games.
Fortunately, Jock Landale came in with his strongest performance in a month with 8 of his 10 points coming in the first quarter. It was a good sign that both he and Lonnie Walker, who has been in a serious slump of his own lately, hit their first threes, and together they combined for 17 points in the quarter, which ended with the Spurs up 37-33 thanks to 57% shooting, and despite the Pelicans having an eight-point edge at the free throw line.
Both teams cooled off to start the second quarter, combining for just four points in the first three minutes. However, the Spurs got going again thanks to back-to-back threes from Doug McDermott to trigger a 9-0 run and get them up by double figures at 46-36. The Pelican respond with 7-0 run of their own, and the quarter remained tight the rest of the way as the two teams played evenly, but the Spurs still entered halftime up 59-53 and feeling relatively in control of the game.
The third quarter started with the Pelicans coming out of the locker room a little more focused and got the Spurs’ lead down to just one, but in doing something they have struggled with in the past, the Spurs responded, using a 13-2 run to push the lead back to 12. After a slow first half by his standards, Dejounte Murray took over at the tail end of that run and scored 11 straight points for the Spurs as they pushed the lead as high as 18 and ended the quarter up 98-82.
The Spurs had done their job so far, now they just needed to avoid one of their infamous fourth quarter collapses, and new Pelican CJ McCollum briefly looked like he was going to be a catalyst with 8 of his 36 points to start the quarter. That, combined a Gary Clark three to get the Spurs lead down to 10, forced a Gregg Popovich timeout to stop the bleeding. Again, the Spurs responded led by eight points in the quarter from Murray, with his last being the dagger that put the Spurs up by 16 with under four minutes left. From there the teams traded buckets, with the Pelicans hitting some meaningless threes to make the final score look a little better, but the Spurs still walked away with the important 124-114 win.
- This game had a playoff feel to it due to the possible play-in implications. Coming into this game, the Pelicans sat in the 10th seed, with the Spurs one-and-a-half games back in 12th. Trading for McCollum showed their goal is to make the play-in tournament (and likely build a good enough team to convince Zion Williamson to sign an extension when the time comes), so every remaining game the Spurs have with teams currently in the 10-13 seeds is going to be important assuming their goal remains the same. Tonight’s win was big not just because it got them a game closer to the Pelicans in the standings, but it’s also one step closer to owning the tiebreaker, with the Spurs having won both meetings so far this season.
- The bench was huge for the Spurs in this game, especially in the aforementioned first quarter when the Spurs could have easily fallen behind without the early heroics of Landale and Walker. Combined with Tre Jones and Josh Primo (Devontae Cacok played 8 minutes but did not get a shot up), the bench scored 41 points on 16-29 shooting. They’ll get some reinforcements soon when Josh Richardson joins the team, but with Vassell now likely permanently inserted into the starting lineup, they’ll need more performances like this from their second unit.
Play of the Game
Well, there weren’t any Poeltl halfcourt heaves in this one, so how about this beautiful two-on-one play on the break between Jones and Walker (with a bonus play from before)? Too often it feels like the Spurs are victims of alley-oops, so it’s nice to see them do it to someone else.
Spurs Valuable Player (SVP)
3rd place (1 point): Keldon Johnson | 16 points, 6-13 shooting (2-8 from three), 2 steals
After hitting 6 of 8 threes in Atlanta the night before, Johnson averaged back to the mean tonight, but he was still a force from inside the arc and was a menace on defense. (Plus, if we’re being honest, he should have had four, possibly six more points after what should have been a couple of and-one opportunities were inexplicably called as fouls on the floor.)
2nd place (2 points): Lonnie Walker | 17 points, 8-13 shooting (1-5 from three), 2 assists
Like Johnson, Walker had an off night from three, but he was on fire from everywhere else, and boy did both he and the Spurs need this performance. The Spurs needed a big showing from their bench while being shorthanded from trade season and on a SEGABABA, and Walker badly needed to break out of what had been a horrific four-game stretch for him. Hopefully this game gets him going again.
1st place (3 points): Dejounte Murray | 31 points, 13-22 shooting, 12 assists, 7 rebounds
After only scoring 8 points in the first half, Murray came on strong 15 points in the third quarter and 23 overall in the second half to keep his team up. There’s not much more that can be said about the All Star that hasn’t already, but if he can remain this reliable when the Spurs need him to step up, maybe they will start winning more games in the clutch (or they could keep blowing teams out, that would work too). Also, there’s this:
1st - Dejounte Murray - 90pts
2nd - Jakob Poeltl & Derrick White - 51pts
3rd - Devin Vassell - 38pts
4th - Keldon Johnson - 37pts
5th - Lonnie Walker IV - 21pts
6th - Doug McDermott - 14pts
7th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts
8th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts
9th - Keita Bates-Diop - 5pts
10th - Jock Landale - 4pts
11th - Josh Primo - 3pts
12th - Drew Eubanks & Tre Jones - 2pts
13th - Devontae Cacok - 1pt
Next Game: Monday at Chicago Bulls
The Spurs are headed to Chicago to take on DeMar DeRozan and Bulls with the hopes of continuing their winning ways on the Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs won the home matchup a couple of weeks ago, but we all saw what DeRozan would do to the Raptors when they came to San Antonio the last three seasons, so the Spurs better be ready for the Bulls’ best when they arrive on Monday.