The San Antonio Spurs (22-26) turned what looked like another possible embarrassing loss into a blowout win. The Charlotte Hornets (16-33) gave the Spurs a scare until San Antonio righted themselves in the second half.
The first quarter was hotly contested with neither team gaining much of an advantage. In the second, the game was tied at 36-36 when the Spurs started playing terrible basketball. Over a span of seven minutes, the Hornets outscored the Spurs 25-8 to take a 61-44 lead. San Antonio was playing soft defense and their offense was a disjointed mess during that stretch. Going into halftime, Charlotte had a 63-50 lead.
With 9:22 left in the third, the Spurs were down 19 points, 70-51. Thankfully, that’s when the good guys woke up. San Antonio outscored Charlotte 25-2 over the subsequent seven minutes to take a four-point lead. Their ball-movement and purpose improved on offense, while the defense became hyperactive. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Spurs were up 79-74.
Patty Mills drained three three-pointers in the opening minutes of the fourth as the Silver and Black took control of the game. Mills’ third three put the Spurs up 90-77 and the rout was on. The Spurs outscored the Hornets 64-27 in the second half on their way to a 114-90 victory.
Considering how poorly the Spurs have played against sub-.500 teams and the hole they dug, this was a good win. The Spurs really needed to win it, as it was the last game prior to the Rodeo Road Trip. San Antonio stumbled in the first half but then responded with a very strong second half.
Spurs vs. Hornets – Final Grades
LaMarcus Aldridge was back in action after missing two games with an injured thumb. It was good to see him back in action but it was a rough night for the 34-year-old. Defense, particularly, was a bigtime struggle. He was moving slowly, wasn’t physical and seemed to just be going through the motions. Aldridge’s lackadaisical play at that end was making Cody Zeller look like Magic Johnson. Offensively, he wasn’t much better. Aldridge wasn’t moving to open spots as quickly as usual and wasn’t using any power in the post. He did have a few good passes and was good on the boards … but Aldridge’s list of positives wasn’t long on this night.
This is the type of game we’ve become accustomed to from DeMar DeRozan. Scoring 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting would be an excellent outing for most players but DeRozan has made it routine over the last month. All in all, I liked his toughness and tenacity on the offensive end. DeRozan did become stuck in mud in the second quarter but was otherwise smooth throughout. His playmaking was good and he was being unselfish. Defensively, he was more active than normal.
The good: Dejounte Murray was good on defense. He had a few unnecessary reaches but he was moving his feet well, contesting shots and pressuring ball-handlers. Murray also did outstanding work on the defensive backboard. Offensively, he had moments where he was attacking adequately. Murray also dropped another three-pointer. The bad: His orchestration of the offense left much to be desired. He wasn’t pushing the pace well, he was way too sloppy with the ball and made a handful of questionable passes.
Bryn Forbes hit a three-pointer in garbage time. Other than that, it was an ugly night on the offensive end. Defensively, Forbes might have been worse. He was obviously too small and too slow to handle the Hornets on that end. The Spurs made a run once Forbes was stapled to the bench — and that wasn’t a coincidence.
Solid night at the office for Trey Lyles. He shot it confidently; I didn’t love his shot-selection but he made enough to justify his attempts. When Lyles is aggressive with his ball-handling and playmaking like he was tonight, he makes San Antonio’s starting lineup much more difficult to defend. Defensively, he was pretty good. He rebounded well and switched out on the perimeter effectively most of the night.
Derrick White didn’t do much playmaking tonight and he was hesitant at times but he played well enough. When he put his head down to score the rock, something good usually happened. On defense, White was impressive. He was quick around screens, relentlessly pursued and challenged a lot of shots. White could do more but he did enough.
Patty Mills scored all 11 of his points in less than three minutes to begin the fourth quarter. It would have been helpful if he had hit shots at other junctures of the game but Mills was able to essentially end Charlotte’s suffering with that mini explosion. Outside of those three minutes, Mills was playing hard, passing well and bringing emotion to the game. He wasn’t always good defensively but he covered a lot of weaknesses with energetic play and his quickness in the passing lanes.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker IV had a well-rounded ballgame. This was one of his best passing games; he routinely found open players while on the move. Instead of going a million miles per hour, Walker took his time and smartly made plays. Walker was confident when calling his own number, too. Defensively, he was very helpful. His hustle and athleticism ruined a handful of plays for the Hornets.
Oh, okay, wow. Jakob Poeltl packed in the production during his 18 minutes of work. When he wasn’t Euro-stepping around opponents in the open court, Poeltl was driving from the three-point line to finish powerfully at the rim or flashing soft hands and deft touch in the paint. He was confident on offense and really helped change the game with his activity on that end. Defensively, Poeltl was also really good. Compared to Aldridge, he was much more alive both out on the perimeter and in the lane. Poeltl also rebounded well, protected the hoop well, and rotated with speed and precision. I’m not sure if Poeltl could have done more in his minutes.
Marco Belinelli didn’t hit a shot and didn’t play much defense. To his credit, he did have a few slick passes and his presence did seem to supercharge the team’s passing. Obviously, though, Belinelli isn’t a good enough passer for that to be his bread and butter.
Rudy Gay played one stint in the first half … and that was it. I thought he looked okay-ish during that stretch. He was stopping the ball a bit and turned it over twice but he was able to create plays when the offense was starting to stagnate. Pop decided to go with smaller lineups and Gay was left to sit the rest of the night.
Chimezie Metu looked big and coordinated.
Keldon Johnson looks a bit small if you consider him a small forward but he has a big, strong body and some bounce. His chance to become an NBA player depends on him being a bowling ball scorer and a physical presence on defense. We saw some of that in his limited garbage time minutes, which was nice.
Pop apparently got his message across at halftime. Oh, and when things were at their worst, Pop went with the Murray and White backcourt — and it was beautiful. The defense stiffened and the offense flowed. Considering the Hornets are led by their backcourt, it really shouldn’t have taken until the third quarter for Pop to deploy Murray and White. But, I guess, better late than never. Sitting Forbes for almost all of the second half outside of garbage time also helped change the game. Pop benching Aldridge for Poeltl early in the third was gutsy but it paid substantial and immediate dividends. I liked Lyles getting extra minutes and Walker actually getting a couple plays called for him.
Up Next for the Spurs
The Road Road Trip is upon us. The Spurs don’t play in the AT&T Center again until Feb. 26. The Road Road Trip starts off with back-to-back games in Los Angeles. First against the Clippers on Monday and then the Lakers on Tuesday. This is going to be an extremely tough trip but let’s hope the Spurs are up for the challenge.