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Spurs boost their play-in chances with big win over Pelicans

The Spurs pulled off a gutsy win to get closer to the Pelicans and the Lakers in the standings.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs needed a win in New Orleans to keep their play-in chances realistic, and they managed to get one in a close, physical game. Thanks to a fourth-quarter run fueled by Jock Landale, they took down the Pelicans in a 107-103 nail-biter that puts a lot of pressure on the teams ahead of them in the standings.

After a disaster of an opening quarter in the previous matchup, all eyes were on the Spurs early on to see if they could hang on this time. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize that they were determined to prevent history from repeating itself, as the effort was there and there was a game plan to follow. San Antonio repeatedly helped inside by leaving Herb Jones open and didn’t pay for it, as the defensive specialist kept missing shots. On the other end the Silver and Black had struggles of their own, as the switching defense they were facing muddled their offense, but did a good job of scoring enough to keep pace for most of the frame. Unfortunately the second unit couldn’t close strong, which allowed the home team to carry a double-digit lead into the second quarter.

With the two teams trading buckets early in the second period, the concern that the Pelicans were simply going to control the game going forward was real. But the Spurs responded thanks to an aggressive Dejounte Murray and a good stretch from Josh Richardson, who hit some outside shots. Halfway through the second quarter the Silver and Black took the lead. They didn’t manage to extend it past four points and couldn’t hold on to it for long, but they once again stuck around, not allowing any big runs. Some untimely turnovers could have hurt them but ultimately didn’t, and the work on the glass on both ends was fantastic, considering how good their opponent is at controlling the boards. It was simply a solid half for the Spurs, which led by one at the break.

The close score after two set up what would end up being a playoff-like second half. Neither team was ready to give up anything easy, and both had a counter for every good stretch by their opponent. The Spurs would defend well for most of a possession, only to see CJ McCollum hit a big three in the final seconds; the Pelicans would wall up the paint, but San Antonio would force its way inside and to the line anyway. Things got physical and downright chippy at times. No one led by more than four points and the score was tied nine separate times during the period. If this was a preview of what a play-in game between these two teams would look like, the NBA would be lucky to see it happen, as it was both fun and intense. At the end, things were even at 84.

The main characters had delivered for both teams going into the final period, so someone unexpected was going to have to provide the boost that helped either squad create separation. It looked like Jose Alvarado was going to be the man for New Orleans, but the game had a final surprise. Jock Landale logged 10 points in a four-minute stretch fo fuel a 14-3 run that got the Spurs their first double-digit lead of the game with under six minutes to go. The Pelicans tried to respond and closed the gap, with Alvarado trying to displace Landale as the unexpected hero of the game, but he ended up doing too much for his own good. A delay of game technical called on the backup guard gave San Antonio an extra point and his would-be game-winning three with 4.2 seconds to go missed, leading to a dunk going the other way.

It was close and not always pretty, but the Spurs escaped with the win they needed to boost their play-in chances, as they are now back just one game back from the Pelicans in the standings while having the tie-breaker.

Game notes

  • Both teams shot horribly from beyond the arc and relied on shots in the paint and trips to the line to make up for it. They combined for 44 free throws in a game in which the officials let a lot of contact go. In many ways it felt like a throwback game, and the Spurs should be commended for playing with the required physicality.
  • Another factor that made it seem like a throwback game? Both teams played two bigs at the same time for long stretches. One of the biggest reasons why the Spurs won was the fact that their three centers performed well on offense, while only Jonas Valanciunas did so for the Pelicans. Landale is the hero because of that crucial run, but both Collins and Poeltl deserve praise as well.
  • A look at Josh Primo’s stat line would suggest he had a mediocre game, as he missed most of his outside shots and didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but the fact that he managed to get the the rim makes up for the outside looks and his defense was good. Another solid outing for the rookie, who logged 34 minutes in Devin Vassell’s absence.

Play of the game

There were probably better plays, but arguably none bigger than this three-pointer to put the Spurs ahead.

SVP awards

3rd place (1 point) - Dejounte Murray | 14 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists

Murray had a dreadful night shooting from the floor, but he partially made up for it by hitting his free throws. More than the scoring, what gets him a spot is his ability to lead the offense. The 13 assists show that, but the fact that the team seemed lost when he was resting is probably the most convincing part of his case. He also had some good moments on defense, showing that he can still be a difference-maker on that end. Richardson, as the savior in the first half, could have gotten the spot, but he faded away late.

2nd place (2 points) - Keldon Johnson | 21 points, eight rebounds, two blocks

Just like Primo, Johnson missed four of his five outside shots, but still put points on the board by aggressively getting into the paint. It’s a huge luxury to have an elite three-point shooter who can also thrive when his looks from beyond the arc aren’t falling, and Keldon has become that type of player for the Spurs. He also had a savvy moment in which he seemingly lobbied the officials for the delay of game technical on Alvarado. Johnson might seem child-like in his excitement during games, but no one should confuse that for naivete.

1st place (3 points) - Jock Landale | 10 points and seven rebounds, all in the fourth quarter

Was Landale better overall than Johnson, or even other handful of Spurs? He wasn’t. Was his good stretch all that different from the one Richardson had in the second quarter to keep San Antonio in it? Not really. But there is something special about seeing a deep bench guy come through in a big moment, and considering this was arguably the biggest game of the season for San Antonio, it’s impossible to pick anyone other than Landale for this spot after that fourth-quarter performance.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 115pts

2nd - Jakob Poeltl - 63pts

3rd - Keldon Johnson - 56pts

4th - Derrick White - 51pts

5th - Devin Vassell- 47pts

6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 37pts

7th - Doug McDermott - 16pts

8th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts

9th - Thaddeus Young - 11pts

10th - Jock Landale - 10pts

11th - Tre Jones 7pts

12th - Keita Bates-Diop - 6pts

13th - Josh Richardson - 5pts

14th - Josh Primo - 3pts

15th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

16th - Devontae Cacok, Zach Collins & Joe Wieskamp - 1pt


Next game: at Rockets on Monday

No game should be considered easy for the shorthanded Spurs, but if they play like they did against the Pelicans, they should beat the Rockets.