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Depleted Spurs outplayed from start to finish in blowout loss to the Pelicans

After a historic comeback against the Hawks, the Spurs once again found themselves down big at the break but this time didn’t have the firepower to make it a game late.

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

This Spurs season has not been good by any means, but it can’t be said that it has been boring. The team can go from the lowest lows to the highest highs and back again from game to game and even quarter to quarter, which provides some intrigue most nights.

Even with that in mind, it was hard to not feel the whiplash on Tuesday. After the best win of the season, a historic comeback against the Hawks, San Antonio went into New Orleans missing four starters in the first leg of a back-to-back and got absolutely pummeled by the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans 119-84.

Despite missing Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Zach Collins and Jeremy Sochan, things were not looking too bad early for San Antonio, as Sandro Mamukelashvili was putting points on the board by being aggressive. Both squads were a little discombobulated in terms of execution, so they largely traded good mini-stretches that kept the score close and the game interesting, if a little ugly, in the opening minutes. Unfortunately as soon as Mamu went to rest, the home team stepped on the gas pedal and started to carve out a lead, as the Silver and Black’s second unit went into a long drought caused by some ill-advised dependency on jumpers. Without doing too much at a high level, the Pelicans got ahead by double digits as the Spurs simply couldn’t stop sending them to the line.

New Orleans was smelling blood in the water and with a strong start to the second quarter pulled away. With Mamu missing a few looks, the responsibility to carry the offense fell on Tre Jones, who did his best with nine points on the frame, but keeping up was becoming increasingly hard for a Spurs’ team missing its best weapons. The Pelicans’ defense deserves credit for keeping a bad offense under control, and they did take advantage of some switches that San Antonio shouldn’t have conceded as easily on the other end, but they didn’t have to play at their highest level to outclass the severely shorthanded Spurs in the first 24 minutes. Brandon Ingram was clearly a couple of notches above everyone else in terms of talent, and with him leading the way, New Orleans got a 25-point lead at the break.

Normally that type of deficit would be considered insurmountable, but after the Spurs pulled off the seemingly impossible against the Hawks just the game before, no one could blame fans for hoping for another huge comeback. There were even some moments when it didn’t seem completely out of the question, as a few threes fell for San Antonio. Alas, the defense simply couldn’t get stops, as Ingram punished the drop coverage by hitting mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper. The Spurs still tried their best, throwing in some full-court presses and traps, but they were simply overwhelmed by an opponent that might not be having a great season but simply had more reliable NBA players available. The lead continued to balloon, at one point reaching 36 points, and reality set it. There was not going to be another shocker.

Most of the second half was garbage time, but the Spurs had no choice but to play the same guys they were relying on for production early on, because of all their absences. If nothing else, the blowout provided a good chance for players who might be playing for their NBA careers in this last stretch of the season an opportunity to showcase their skills, so the night wasn’t a total waste.

Game notes

  • Mamukelashvili has been such a fun addition. He’s making some of these late-season losses easier to watch by giving everyone a new likable underdog to root for. It definitely helps that he has a very intriguing offensive skillset and some defensive versatility, of course. He finished the game with 20 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals while hitting three outside shots. Definitely a worthy pickup by the Spurs.
  • Officiating wasn’t close to being the biggest issue for San Antonio but Ingram and Valanciunas probably committed about 10 offensive fouls by hooking their defender with their off arm or pushing off. Jonas got sent to the ground after doing it to Gorgui Dieng after one so there was some sense of justice there, but it’s unfortunate the officials didn’t call two early ones from Ingram on Romeo Langford, who was playing good defense on him.
  • Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley went a combined 3-for-18 from the floor. Not a good night for the rookie guards, but fortunately Tre Jones and Devonte’ Graham did better. Jones had 15 points and eight assists while Graham had 15 points of his own and made three three-pointers.
  • The two-way guys had contrasting nights. Barlow looked a little overmatch against a deep Pelicans frontcourt while Julian Champagnie continued to impress for stretches. Every game is a test for those two but neither should be judged too harshly for how they did on this one since it was a disaster for most Spurs.
  • Keita Bates-Diop was solid as usual. Doug McDermott moved well without the ball. Gorgui Dieng tried his best in his minutes. There’s not much new to say about the veterans.

Play of the night

It’s encouraging to see Tre Jones pull the trigger in situations like this one where the defense just dares him to take the shot. This one went in, but even if most don’t, he should continue to let it fly.

Next game: at Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday

The Spurs will fly from New Orleans to Milwaukee to face the best team in the league in a
SEGABABA. A win seems unlikely, but if they have their starters back, they could make a game out of it.