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Spurs get embarrassed by hot-shooting Pelicans in blowout loss

The Spurs were just outclassed by a Pelicans team that could not miss from outside and knew how to get stops when it needed them.

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

After snapping their losing streak against the Lakers on Friday, the Spurs couldn’t string wins together. Worse yet, they looked as helpless as they did in the darkest moments of the season in what turned out to be an absolute beatdown at the hands of the Pelicans, who made three after three en route to an easy 146-110 blowout.

The Spurs took advantage of a good matchup by feeding Victor Wembanyama early, as he was being guarded by a wing by a Pelicans team that decided to place Jonas Valanciunas and Zion Williamson on other players. San Antonio was smart for the first couple of minutes on offense, but as has happened many times this season, they made a couple of turnovers and got discombobulated. They stopped going to Victor and started forcing up bad jumpers and the momentum swung to the Pelicans’ side. New Orleans went inside, the defense collapsed, and they found open shooters who rained threes. They quickly got a lead and built on it, as the Silver and Black’s attack couldn’t get a rhythm going and even the open looks were not falling. After one, the visitors were ahead by 13.

The issues from the opening frame didn’t go away in the second quarter. San Antonio’s defense — both man-to-man and zone — was not physical enough, allowing drives and offensive boards. Keldon Johnson and Cedi Osman got some drives going and eventually the Spurs found some stability, but they were already down by 20. A two-big lineup featuring both Wembanyama and Zach Collins provided more resistance at the rim in the second half of the period, and the rotations started to be more timely, but the Pelicans still managed to keep their opponent from erasing the deficit completely. Inconsistency was an issue throughout the first half for the Spurs, which somehow only trailed by 10 heading to the locker room despite being heavily outscored from beyond the arc and not controlling their defensive board.

The way the first half went suggested that San Antonio would not win this one, but it didn’t foreshadow the return of the third-quarter collapse. Alas, fans got to see a familiar sight, as the Spurs completely fell apart on both ends after the break. After a couple of buckets from both teams, the Pelicans locked down on defense and the guys in Silver and Black seemingly panicked and started rushing shots instead of trying to move the ball. New Orleans got whatever they wanted on offense as well, as they continued to rain threes against a defense that was too flat-footed to rotate in time and slow to get back on defense after misses. Every bad thing that was painfully common during the worst parts of the losing streak reared its head just one game after it was snapped. New Orleans led by 27 after three.

There were not enough stops to even attempt a fake comeback, as the Pelicans continued to hit outside shots every time the Spurs got a bucket. Julian Champagnie was a garbage-time All-Star thanks to his effort on defense and his efficiency from outside and Devonte’ Graham, simply by knowing how to dribble and set up an offense, looked good, but nothing felt meaningful in the final period. As Gregg Popovich said in his short statement after the game, the Spurs got whooped. The hope is that this time they will learn some kind of lesson from it.

Game notes

  • Victor Wembanyama got an easy double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds and he also dished out four assists and blocked four shots. It was clear to everyone else that his future was going to be at center, but it’s a good thing that he’s seeing the results of moving up a spot and dealing with more physicality after being reticent to leave the power forward position before the season.
  • Devin Vassell had as many shots as points and didn’t make a mark on defense. Keldon Johnson had 13 points in 18 shots, missing all four of his threes, and struggled against Zion Williamson. Both had good stretches but they didn’t look like consistent secondary offensive options or reliable defenders, which has unfortunately been the case too often this season.
  • In the last five games, Jeremy Sochan has averaged 6.4 points on 30 percent shooting from the field, 14 percent from beyond the arc, and 57 percent from the line. He has logged 34 assists and 24 turnovers. What does he do on offense now that he’s not the main ball handler? Pop needs to figure that out. He always tries on the other end but he can’t defend guards. Sochan is too talented to not fit. He just needs a defined role.
  • C.J. McCollum is Malaki Branham’s best-case scenario, so it was interesting to see them match up. McCollum dominated, although he didn’t do it by attacking Branham. Hopefully one day Branham will be able to return the favor, but he’ll need to become a better outside shooter to do so.
  • For such a fast-paced team, the Spurs often have trouble getting fastbreak points. They only had three against the Pelicans and wasted a few opportunities with poor transition offense. The idea that whoever gets the board should be the one to push the ball upcourt is intriguing, but too many Spurs just don’t know how to run a break.
  • The Cedi Osman-Zach Collins-Tre Jones bench trio did well, to different extents. They are solid role players who can provide shooting, inside play and playmaking, respectively. After those three, the bench doesn’t look good. McDermott goes hot and cold from outside and Champagnie is inconsistent in all areas. Wouldn’t it make sense to give their minutes to Devonte’ Graham, just to see what he does with them?
  • As discouraging as this loss is and as real as San Antonio’s issues remain, the Pelicans did break a franchise record on made threes. The Spurs are probably better than this, as Osman said postgame.

Play of the game

Look how close together and far out on the perimeter the two Pelicans defenders are. It’s encouraging to see Vassell use both his and Wemby’s gravity to his advantage by passing and cutting instead of just going into a pick-and-roll. Good improvisation by Vassell and a crisp pass by Sochan. Sometimes simple is better.

Next game: at Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday

It’s unlikely the Spurs will beat Milwaukee, even if they play with energy after this blowout, but we might get some Giannis vs. Wemby minutes, which should be fun.