Prior to the San Antonio Spurs playing on the road against the Charlotte Hornets, it was announced that Tim Duncan would be the head coach for the night as Gregg Popovich was dealing with a personal matter. Also out for the Spurs were LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder), Jakob Poeltl (knee) and Marco Belinelli (illness). Despite being short-handed, the Spurs staged a 104-103 come from behind victory to improve their record to 26-34.
The Spurs were really bad to begin the game. The Hornets scored the game’s first seven points and had a double-digit lead midway through the period. Things got progressively less super during Tuesday night’s first quarter, with the Hornets taking a commanding 36-19 lead into the second.
San Antonio had a difficult time making a noticeable dent in Charlotte’s lead in the second period. The Spurs had a lot of mini runs but the Hornets hit enough shots to keep the good guys at bay. At halftime, the Hornets were up 58-49.
The Spurs finally started making up ground after intermission. They began the second half on a 20-9 run to take a two-point lead. The rest of the quarter featured a lot of back and forth action. Heading into the final stanza, the Spurs had a one-point lead, 77-76.
San Antonio did well at the start of the fourth quarter. Halfway into the period, a three-pointer by Lonnie Walker IV gave the Spurs a six-point advantage. At the 2:12 mark, a contest midrange jumper by Dejounte Murray put the Spurs up by seven points.
Unfortunately, the end wasn’t smooth sailing for the Spurs. After Murray’s jumper, the Hornets scored six straight points to get within a single point. Charlotte got the ball back but thankfully they turned it over on an ill-advised pass, failed to foul and the Spurs escaped with the win.
I was pleased with the victory. Coach Duncan did well. He didn’t get rattled by the slow start and his team followed his lead. A lot of players improved as the game went along and the Spurs got a vital road win to keep their postseason hopes on life support.
Spurs at Hornets – Final Grades
It was another subdued game for DeMar DeRozan. After going scoreless in the first half last game, he had only two points in the first half this game. To me, it looks like he’s either not 100% healthy or he’s tired. DeRozan’s drives are slower than usual and he doesn’t have much power when attempting to finish. His lethargic play is also negatively impacting him on the defensive end. All that said, DeRozan had some definite positives tonight. His passing was really good; he was often making the easy, smart pass. And while he was quiet in the first half, he hit some big shots in the fourth quarter. In DeRozan’s nine minutes in the fourth, he was 3-for-6 for six points to go along with three assists.
Dejounte Murray had an up-and-down affair but his ups were so high that it overshadowed the negatives. He led the team with 21 points, mostly thanks to a jumper that looked beautiful. He was 3-for-5 on three-pointers and 5-for-7 on midrange jumpers. When Murray got going, his jumper was hitting nothing but the bottom of the net. The Spurs desperately needed someone to get hot offensively and it was their starting point guard who was up to the task. When he wasn’t scoring, he was orchestrating the action relatively well, although he had a few notable miscues. Defensively, he was very active and interrupted passing lanes consistently. He also battled in the paint and gave good help on the boards.
Bryn Forbes was an efficient offensive weapon on this night. He hit a pair of three-pointers and also got to the charity stripe for a team-high six free throw attempts. Defensively, he gave pretty good effort in one-on-one matchups. That said, he was rarely effective in those matchups and his team-defense was severely lacking.
After scoring 20 points in back-to-back games, Trey Lyles came back to earth against the Hornets. His shot looked good but he hit only 2-of-8 shots from the floor, including 1-of-6 three-pointers. Lyles aided the cause a bit due to his ball-handling and passing but the Spurs could have really used more points out of their starting power forward. Defensively, he was usually in the right place at the right time but he wasn’t finishing possessions by pulling down defensive rebounds often enough.
Drew Eubanks is a good athlete but he’s still extremely raw. It’s almost shocking how raw he still is after more than a year and a half in the G League. He didn’t really know where to be on defense and he was consistently getting in the way on offense. However, give him credit, Eubanks played really hard and had a few moments where he was giving the Spurs a positive boost.
Rudy Gay spent much of the first three quarters struggling. Once again, Gay looked slow and unathletic. Thankfully, he saved his best for last and really helped the Spurs by scoring six points on 3-for-4 shooting in the fourth quarter. Gay also had a couple nice assists and his effort on D was commendable. He played a lot at center and needed to be tough and physical against bigger players. Gay was up to the challenge and even did some good rebounding.
Lonnie Walker IV
While the numbers for Lonnie Walker IV don’t look especially impressive, he did a lot to help the Spurs win. Perhaps most importantly, Walker was strong on the defensive glass and then was pushing the tempo as much as he could whenever he had an opportunity. He was making good decisions in the open floor and was playing with a healthy amount of confidence. Defensively, he was active and showed a ruggedness in the paint that we don’t often see from him.
Patty Mills has been uber aggressive looking for his shot as of late and that was the case again tonight. While he was only 1-for-6 on threes, he made up for it by being 3-for-4 on two and 4-for-4 from the line. And while he wasn’t showing much interest in making plays for others, his defense held up decently well thanks to his hustle and vivacity.
I really liked Derrick White’s aggressiveness. In 20 minutes of action, White scored 12 points and was looking to create for himself and others much more than usual. He was demonstrative on offense and that assertiveness translated to the defensive end. On D, he was making plays left and right. No one on either team was more focused and more committed defensively than White.
Maybe it was because Marco Belinelli was sidelined or maybe it was because Coach Duncan believes Keldon Johnson deserves to be in the rotation. Regardless of the true story, Johnson did well enough that the entire coaching staff has to take note. Offensively, his big, strong body allowed him to score in the paint. He didn’t hesitate shooting three-pointers, which is important to his development. His running of the court, particularly with Walker, was important to the bench’s success. Defensively, while he took a few bad angles, he was stout. He moved his feet well, was locked in mentally and flashed some doggedness in the paint. Well done, rook.
Tim Duncan had a really good evening. The Spurs could have gotten blown out after their pitiful first quarter but Duncan stuck with it and figured out how to help his team climb out of the hole. I loved how he used Johnson; he even trusted him with fourth quarter minutes. Duncan gave a little bit more leeway to Murray and Walker to create, played Gay at center to maximize his strengths, didn’t overuse Mills down the stretch, and simply made a lot of smart decisions. Obviously, White needed more minutes — but that’s about the extent of my complaints.
Up Next for the Spurs
After this quality win on the second night of a back-to-back, the Spurs have an extra day off before facing the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. This was a good way to begin the three-game road trip. Let’s see if they can keep it going.