The San Antonio Spurs improved to 2-0 on the Rodeo Road Trip and 16-11 overall with a 122-110 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night. The Spurs trailed by 16 points, 33-17, after the first quarter but roared back with 47 points in the second period to take a lead into halftime. In the second half, San Antonio’s defense steadily improved and they executed well on both ends in the fourth quarter to get the job done and secure victory.
Going into the fourth, the game was tied at 89-89. That’s when the Spurs stiffened on the defensive end. In the first six minutes of the final period, the Hornets only scored eight points. That stretch of stout defensive play allowed the good guys to get the cushion they needed to waltz out of Charlotte with a win.
The Spurs finished with 31 assists compared to only nine turnovers. Every player on the team that played more than seven minutes had at least two assists.
Spurs at Hornets: Final Grades
Defensively, Poeltl was great again. His rim protection is fantastic right now and he also has quick hands in the passing lanes. Avoiding fouls and hitting his free throws is allowing the coaches to keep him on the court longer. The negatives: He wasn’t bad on offense but he could have been better. Gathering and going up with more power would have definitely helped matters.
The Hornets were throwing the kitchen sink at DeRozan. Whenever he got the ball, they were either doubling him outright or at least putting defenders in the middle of his driving lanes. I thought DeRozan handled it well. He remained aggressive enough to keep Charlotte’s attention yet was unselfish enough to consistently find the open man. DeRozan scored only eight points but his passing was a game-changing attribute. Defensively, he was more involved than usual but that was mostly due to the fact that it was difficult to hide him. He had a few positive plays on that end but was mostly a liability.
I just loved how Murray played tonight. His passing and playmaking were at impressively high levels, particularly in transition. He was constantly making the right decision, as evidenced by his zero turnovers. Scoring-wise, he kept his foot on the gas and the Hornets were forced to stay on their heels. Defensively, he got more and more intense as the game progressed. By the fourth quarter, Murray’s individual defense, help-defense, switching, and his ability to pull down contested rebounds allowed San Antonio to thrive. If Murray could have knocked down a three-pointer or two, it would have been an All-World performance.
This was a second straight strong showing for Johnson. He was forceful on the boards from the get-go. I liked that he shot the threes that he needed to shoot. When he caught the ball with a lane to the basket, he put on his hard hat and big-bodied his way to the rim without an ounce of hesitation. I also thought his passing was a lot better than usual. Defensively, he was moving his feet well and was better at recognizing the open players he needed to guard in transition.
Another step in the right direction for White. He had a few ugly misses on three-pointers early but that didn’t derail his confidence. He kept firing away and eventually things evened out for him. The patience he exhibited on drives was masterful. Defensively, he was able to make plays here and there. He’s still second-guessing himself from time to time and he’s still working his way back into shape but tonight White looked like the guy the Spurs handed a big extension to in order to keep him around.
The good: Mills was uber aggressive on offense. Whenever he could see orange, he was letting it fly. His movement away from the ball was ceaseless. Defensively, he was staying in front of players well and never backed down. The bad: Mills’ shot-selection was a bit too brave. He was also sloppier with the ball than usual. Overall, things just weren’t as crisp when he was in charge of a possession.
Gay was ragged at times and his decision-making could have been better but he ended up shooting well enough to justify most of his actions. Defensively, he tried to pick up further than usual but that usually resulted in players blowing past him. His rebounding was sub par but, to his credit, he was throwing his body around.
Lonnie Walker IV
This was the best game Walker has played in a while. There were some boneheaded mistakes on defense and a few mental lapses but, all in all, he was positive influence. He mixed up drives to the rim and outside shots well. He finished with power and wasn’t timid about calling his own number. Just as impressive as his scoring was his playmaking and court-vision when on the move. If Walker can give the Spurs this type of spark off the bench, this may end up being the best possible role for him.
Eubanks had some issues holding his ground in the paint and his timing on rebounds and blocks was iffy. His switching on defense also could have been smoother. That said, he’s making strides understanding where he needs to be on both ends of the court.
Vassell only got seven minutes with all the other perimeter players healthy. He didn’t really move the needle during his minutes, although he had a few smart reads in transition and on broken plays.
I like this starting lineup. With Walker playing well off the bench, hopefully this is a sign of things to come. Handing Poeltl bonus minutes was justified. Giving some of Mills’ minutes to Johnson, Vassell or Walker would have been wise in retrospect. In terms of the Xs and Os, the improvement throughout the game was good to see. San Antonio was outcoached in the first quarter but eventually Pop more than caught up.
The Rodeo Road Trip rolls on. Next, the Spurs play the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. It’s the first game of a back-to-back so Derrick White will need to sit one of the games. Let’s hope the good guys can keep the momentum flowing in the right direction.