In a game with postseason implications and an atmosphere that matched it, the shorthanded Spurs rose to the occasion and got revenge against a New Orleans Pelicans team that absolutely embarrassed them a week ago to win their third straight, 107-103. After a slow start, the Spurs used a strong second quarter along with fourth quarter heroics from an unexpected source — Jock Landale — to get within a game of the Pelicans in the standings and earn the tie breaker for the season.
Keldon Johnson led seven Spurs in double figures with 21 points, while Josh Richardson scored 18, and Dejounte Murray had a quiet 15-13-11 triple-double. CJ McCollum had 32 points for New Orleans, while Jose Alvarado continued to be a thorn in the Spurs’ side with a career-high 23 points.
- With Devin Vassell was a late scratch with a sore Achilles and Lonnie Walker still out with back soreness after taking a knee to the ribs a week ago, the Spurs’ depth chart to a big hit heading into this game. Richardson returned to the starting line-up, and it appeared Gregg Popovich’s approach was to stagger his starters, with Johnson subbing out early before returning with the second unit. Landale even got some time at power forward, sharing the court with both Jakob Poeltl and Zach Collins.
- Both teams opened the game playing like they wanted it, with tough defense and attacking the offensive glass, but eventually the Pelicans found their outside shot while the Spurs struggled for the entire first quarter in the shooting department. They got sloppy with the ball, and defensive rebounds kept ping-ponging off of Spurs players into the Pelicans’ hands. The quarter ended with Naji Marshall getting an end-to-end layup off a missed Murray free throw to give New Orleans a 30-20 lead. The most telling stats of the quarter were 4 made threes for the Pelicans vs. none for the Spurs, plus a four-point advantage on second chance points.
- The double-technical is probably the weakest call in the game since it’s usually a copout call or the refs just want to make a point. That appeared to be the case late in the first quarter, when Marshall and Collins were talking to each other during a Pelicans free throw. It was likely trash talk, with Marshall pointing to the scoreboard, but it appeared calm, and nothing was escalating from it. Still, apparently the refs had heard enough of whatever they were talking about, teed them both up, and both players just shrugged. My opinion: if a fight isn’t about to break out, let the players talk to each other, or at least give them a warning first.
- The Spurs used a strong second quarter to get back into the game, outscoring the Pelicans 36-25. It started with NOLA stretching the lead to 12 before 6-0 Spurs run briefly stopped the bleeding. The Pelicans respond with 6-0 run of their own, but finally, with the Spurs down 40-30, Richardson hit Spurs’ first three of game (on their ninth attempt with 8:08 left), and that kicked off a 20-4 Spurs run, which included a Johnson three, another from Richardson, as well as three free throws on a McCollum foul. The Spurs got up by as much as four before a 7-0 Pelicans run, but San Antonio scored the final four points of the half to lead 58-57.
- The third quarter was mostly back-and-forth, with neither team leading by more than four at any point. CJ McCollum had 12 points in the quarter for the Pelicans, while the Spurs were more offense-by-committee. The quarter ended with both teams tied at 84-84. One thing that was noticeable throughout this game was while Murray had a bad shooting game, hitting just 4-19 from the floor, the Spurs offense really suffered when he rested. Having such an off night but still being such a positive impact is the sign of a well-rounded player.
- The Collins-Marshall rivalry continued into the fourth quarter when a minute in, Marshall reached backwards and smacked Collins in the face during a screen out above the arc. A flagrant 1 was called on the play. (In my mind a flagrant counts as a technical, but clearly not, otherwise he would have been ejected since it would have been his second of the game.)
- The three players who benefitted the most from the Spurs injury issues were Joe Wieskamp, Jock Landale and Keita Bates-Diop. KBD had brought his usual energy and hustle but wasn’t overly sharp (not too surprising since he’s just returning from back issues), and Wieskamp way overshot his only two three-point attempts of the game (maybe the moment was too big for him), but Landale made a statement in the fourth quarter with eight points amidst a 13-0 Spurs run to get their first double digit lead of the game. Overall, he had all 10 of his points in the quarter, and 6 of his 7 rebounds, and he was a team-high +17 when on the court. The Spurs needed someone to step up in the depth chart, and it was the big Aussie tonight.
- The Pelicans went on a 7-0 run to get the Spurs’ lead back down to three with less than two minutes left. New Orleans then gifted the Spurs an extra point with their second delay of game warning of the game, and the Spurs held on for the final stop before Johnson scored on a breakaway dunk with 0.1 second left — their only fastbreak points of the game — for the 107-103 win.
For the Pelicans fans’ perspective, visit The Bird Writes.
The Spurs are headed to Houston to take on the bottom of the cellar-dwelling Rockets to conclude their four-game road trip. Tip-off will be at 7:00 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.