The San Antonio Spurs improved to 4-2 in the bubble with a 122-113 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday afternoon. The win gives the Spurs some life in their chase to make the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season, though the good guys may need to win both of their final two regular season games in order to advance to the play-in tournament.
The Spurs got off to a fast start in the first quarter. While they hit a few lulls, San Antonio took a commanding 62-45 advantage into the halftime break.
Unfortunately, Derrick White left the game early in the second half with what is being called a bruised knee. His absence made it difficult for the Spurs, who were able to grow leads as large as 20 points with the guidance of White, to close out the talented Pelicans.
New Orleans got within six points in the fourth quarter but thankfully DeMar DeRozan put the team on his back down the stretch to keep the Spurs from crumbling.
Overall, it was a really good win for the Spurs. There were stretches where San Antonio was playing their best basketball of their time in the bubble. While they hit rough patches, particularly when they were sans White, the Spurs continued to fight and came away with a vital win.
Spurs vs. Pelicans – Final Grades
For three quarters, DeRozan was larely unimpressive offensively. He wasn’t creating much for himself or his teammates during that time. In the fourth, though, he turned it around. DeRozan finished the final period with 15 points of 6-for-8 shooting from the floor and 3-for-3 shooting at the line. Throughout the game, I was pretty impressed with his defensive play. DeRozan was tough enough to spend minutes defending centers and was relatively quick switching and providing help defense.
There was a lot to like regarding Jakob Poeltl’s play. He snared 14 rebounds in his 22 minutes of action. He set a lot of mean picks and his hustle was commendable. Most impressive was Poeltl’s play on Zion Williams. Though Williamson had 25 points in 27 minutes, Poeltl was able to stay in front of him and muddied the waters for the rookie. That said, it wasn’t all good for the Austrian. His finishing at the rim is still feeble and he was once again in foul trouble.
Before bruising his knee, White was the best player on the court. He was uber aggressive on offense. White started the game supremely focused and carried the Spurs with his effective, heady play. He was firing away from three-point range, slicing to the rim off the dribble and finding teammates. Defensively, he was also really good. His toughness and anticipation were extraordinary. Let’s hope that White avoided serious injury and is able to play on Tuesday against the Houston Rockets. Without him, San Antonio is in trouble.
Murray scored 18 points, including draining a trio of triples, and had a lot of very good moments on the defensive end. But beyond the highlights, Murray was uneven throughout. His shot-selection was questionable, his passing was poor and his decision-making on both ends of the court left a lot to be desired. Murray’s role has changed a bit and the adjustment hasn’t been an easy one for the 23-year-old. Hopefully we see signs that he’s figuring it out in the final two regular season contests.
Lonnie Walker IV
When you see that Walker was only 3-for-13 from the floor, you’d assume he had a difficult afternoon at the office. But actually, I thought this was a very encouraging performance by the second-year player. His passing was fantastic (he led the Spurs with six assists). We saw Walker make some great passes in the scrimmages but that part of his game had dried up once the restart officially began. Against the Pelicans, Walker’s court vision was very impressive, as was the timing of his passes. If he can become a creator on offense, that gives him a much higher ceiling as a prospect. Beyond his passing, Walker did good work on the boards and was more engaged and more physical than usual on defense.
Gay’s rewind to the 2018-19 season continues. He’s once again deadly versus mismatches, trustworthy when given an open shot and his explosion when he gets in the paint has returned. In this game, Gay got better as the contest progressed — especially on the defensive end. His defense during money time was actually impressive, both inside and outside. This version of Gay is well worth the money the Spurs gave him last offsesaon.
Chalk Sunday’s game up to a learning opportunity for Johnson. Defensively, he spent a lot of time on JJ Redick (31 points) with minimal success. Redick gave Johnson a master class on moving without the ball and how to use fakes and body positioning to create an advantage. If Johnson was taking notes, the rookie could have learned a lot. Offensively, Johnson had some beastly drives to the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. However, there were also times where he was too antsy and out of control.
It looks like the Spurs may have found something in Eubanks. He’s still raw but he has quickly grown as a player since being given consistent minutes inside of the bubble. Offensively, he has good touch with both hands, nifty footwork in the paint and makes surprisingly good passes. Defensively, he uses his quick feet and explosive jumping ability well and is able to make things happen on that end. Eubanks sometimes has trouble with his timing but that was not a problem against New Orleans, as evidenced by his six offensive rebounds (11 total), two steals and two blocks.
Belinelli was back to his sieve-like ways defensively, particularly when it came to his help-defense, or lack thereof. When it was his turn to rotate, he was rarely up to the task. Offensively, he was aggressive but was inefficient for most of the game. He moved well but he ended up getting in the way more often than not.
Weatherspoon only got two minutes as Pop went to a nine-man rotation.
First of all, it’s interesting that Pop shortened the rotation. Apparently, he’s going to make an honest attempt at making the playoffs. While I didn’t love Belinelli playing 21 minutes, the rest of the rotation was fine. I liked that he stuck with Murray even though he had his difficulties. Johnson, too, was given ample time even though he wasn’t thriving. Pop’s play-calling in the fourth quarter was simple but highly effective.