The San Antonio Spurs dropped their first game of the 2020-21 season on Sunday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Spurs, now 2-1, trailed by 15 points in the third quarter before embarking on a rally. San Antonio fought all the way back and led by as many as three points in the fourth quarter before stumbling down the stretch. The Spurs had one final chance to tie it with a three-pointer but DeMar DeRozan’s three got blocked with less than two seconds remaining and the Pelicans flew away with a 98-95 victory.
The Spurs were up by one-point with three minutes to go in the game when DeRozan unraveled. He got called for a foul on a Brandon Ingram layup, then got hit with a technical, then didn’t box out on Ingram’s free throw attempt and then fouled Zion Williams. It turned out to be a five-point possession for New Orleans and the Spurs were never able to climb out of that hole.
The Pelicans shot 29 free throws, while the Spurs only had eight attempts at the line. New Orleans was more aggressive attacking the hoop so that wasn’t all due to unequal refereeing. If you want a glass-half-full stat: DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge were 5-for-19 from the floor and yet the Spurs were still right there until the very end.
Lonnie Walker IV
Offensively, I was mostly pleased with how Walker played. He didn’t pass up many shots and his form looks excellent right now. He was also able to make a few plays off the dribble. That said, he could have been more demonstrative on his forays to the rim — but there were flashes here and there. Defensively, his main assignment was Ingram. While Walker wasn’t great on D, he competed well and remained attentive. Going forward, he needs to be better about fighting around screens.
The Pelicans were throwing a lot of double-teams at DeRozan and he had his moments where he was creating well. DeRozan led the Spurs with ten assists and when he was patient, he was really good. Unfortunately, he forced the issue too much and that led directly to his poor shooting night (3-for-12) from the floor. Defensively, he was slower than usual in rotations and didn’t offer much help on the glass. The aforementioned unraveling that resulted in a five-point play for the Pelicans was a definite lowlight.
In the first three quarters, Murray was bad. He wasn’t getting the team into their offensive sets swiftly and he turned the ball over six times. His dribble was extraordinarily loose and, while he had some heady finds, he also had a few horrid passes. To Murray’s credit, he bounced back and played really well in the fourth. He was 3-for-4 from the floor, didn’t turn the ball over and played strong defensive. He was arguably the main reason why the Spurs had a chance to notch a comeback win.
Johnson stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. On offense, he fired away when given space beyond the arc (2-for-5 on threes) and ferociously went to the basket numerous times. The results weren’t always there but I liked his aggression level and his poise for the most part. Defensively, he took on Williamson — and he did about as well as could have been anticipated. Williamson outweighs Johnson by 70 or 80 pounds yet San Antonio’s bulldog didn’t back down. He made Williamson really work for everything he got.
It was a disastrous night for Aldridge. Defensively, he was terrible. The Pelicans relentlessly attacked him in pick-and-rolls and Aldridge didn’t put up much of a fight. His mobility on the perimeter was non-existent and he also wasn’t doing a whole lot to hold down the fort in the paint. Offensively, Aldridge was only 2-for-7 from the floor and never looked comfortable on that end.
Gay was super, ultra, extravagantly aggressive on offense. That was both good and bad. It was good because the Spurs needed someone to score when so many of their players were shooting blanks. It was bad because Gay being a black hole was part of the reason why the offense didn’t have any rhythm in the first place. Defensively, he was slow to get back in transition at times but he was a lot more active than usual overall, as evidenced by his two steals and two blocks.
Poeltl was solid in most facets of the game. Defensively, he was extremely sturdy on the glass, which isn’t always the case with him. His help in the interior was quick, although his pick-and-roll defense on the perimeter left a bit to be desired. Offensively, Poeltl looked to score much more than usual — and that activity was helpful. He was ready and willing to seek cracks of daylight in order to create scoring opportunities.
This was another strong outing for Mills. While his scoring wasn’t as exquisite as it was last game out, his playmaking was shockingly good. Mills usually isn’t much of a playmaker but tonight he was setting things up for teammates left and right. Defensively, he wasn’t much of a liability and his hustle was an asset.
Vassell looked like a rookie on offense. He missed all four of his shots and was often second-guessing his decisions. Defensively, I thought this was his best outing of his young career. His body positioning was much better and he was quicker around screens.
Lyles got six minutes of action — and didn’t do much. He was in the right spots defensively but he didn’t appear interested in getting involved offensively.
The good: Pulling the plug on Aldridge was the right move. Giving Walker extended playing time and using him as the lead defender against Ingram was great experience for the youngster. Sticking with the same starting lineup proved to be smart, as Johnson was able to hold his own against Williamson. Giving Murray a chance for redemption in the fourth paid dividends. The bad: The Spurs were slow to find solutions to their issues on both ends. On D, simple pick-and-rolls were resulting in open shots. On O, the Spurs couldn’t figure out how to make the Pelicans pay for their constant double-teaming.
The next two games for the Spurs are in San Antonio versus the Los Angeles Lakers. This will be a difficult early-season challenge. Getting a split against the defending NBA champions would have to be considered a plus