The San Antonio Spurs (30-29) are back over .500 after beating the New Orleans Pelicans (26-34) in a game that was very important for both teams. After the win, the Spurs now have a 4.5-game lead on the 11th seeded Pelicans with 13 games left to play. Making the play-in tournament is not guaranteed yet but the Spurs took a big step in that direction with this victory.
Overall, I thought the good guys played well. The Spurs competed on both ends of the court and executed down the stretch to get the win.
The Spurs led for a majority of the game but then found themselves down five points with 3:50 left in the game, 101-96. A three-pointer by Derrick White and a conventional three-point play by DeMar DeRozan put the Spurs back on top. After the Pelicans retook the lead with 2:23 remaining, DeRozan scored the next six points for the Spurs to close the door on New Orleans.
Free throw shooting played a big role in which team got the win. The Spurs were 27-for-32 at the line for 84.4%, while the Pelicans were 17-for-32 for 53.1%. That ten-point swing in the favor of San Antonio was obviously pivotal.
Spurs at Pelicans: Final Grades
White had another very good affair. Offensively, he fired from deep without hesitation. He drove with moxie. He had a few heady passes while taking care of the ball. Defensively, he competed both on the perimeter and in the paint, and repeatedly sacrificed his body for the betterment of the team.
It wasn’t the prettiest game for DeRozan, as he missed more field goal attempts than he made and had five turnovers. That said, all told, he was really good. He was supremely aggressive on offense. He got to the free throw line 12 times and made all 12. His passing was pristine. Defensively, he wasn’t amazing but he tried harder than usual. Down the stretch, DeRozan answered the bell when the Spurs needed him most.
Poeltl was a beast on the defensive end. Most notably, he totaled five more blocks. When he was in the area, Poeltl was fast off of his feet to contest every possible shot. He also got his hands dirty on the glass. The offensive end wasn’t as fruitful for the Austrian but he also had a few bright spots on that end as well.
The good: I liked Murray’s defense. From defending Brandon Ingram to harassing ball-handlers to skying for rebounds, he was everywhere. But, even more importantly, he played with controlled chaos on the defensive end. He timed his gambles well and didn’t needlessly foul. Offensively, he limited mistakes and had a few quality passes. The bad: His shot-selection was poor at times and he single-handedly ruined the team’s rhythm on a few occasions.
Johnson had to feel like he was at war. He was given the challenge of trying to slow Zion Williamson — and he did an admirable job. Zion Williamson had 33 points and 14 rebounds but he had ten missed field goal attempts. For someone who shoots over 60% on the season, that’s a win for Johnson. Add in his rebounding and his overall hustle and Big Body has to feel good about how he played. Offensively, he took the threes he needed to take and had a few acrobatic finishes in the paint.
In his early minutes, Mills had a couple of horrendous defensive plays where he was late to rotate onto shooters and inexplicably went under screens. But, eventually, he started playing better — although that’s not a high bar considering how poorly he has played recently. Mills hit a couple shots, had a few smart passes and his defense got sturdier as the game progressed.
Lonnie Walker IV
The good: Walker shot when he was open. He made a few strong moves in transition. The bad: Walker had four turnovers and his defense was mostly sub par. In the last few games, he’s having trouble stringing together positive possessions. We see intriguing glimpses here and there but those glimpses aren’t consistent enough.
Eubanks was a one-man roller coaster this evening. During his 11 minutes on the court, he seemed to be in the middle of the action on every play. Not all of it was good, though. He made some errors and then compounded his problems by getting frustrated. That said, he played with such ferocious energy that he was still able to produce quite a bit of good. He got to the free throw line nine times and contested a lot of shots on defense.
Vassell had a few uncharacteristic defensive lapses early on but it was good to see him settle down and add a three-pointer for good measure.
Samanic got some spot minutes and I thought he did pretty well. He had a nice and-1 dunk on a feed from DeRozan to score his only three points. On defense, his movement and quick rotations were positives. If he can learn to stop reaching and play more vertically on D, he could be even more of a weapon on that end.
Good stuff from Pop. He rode the starters hard — but that was understandable. This was an important game and the Spurs were without Rudy Gay, who has been the most productive reserve as of late. When the Pelicans threw a zone at the Spurs, Pop quickly adjusted the offense — which didn’t happen a couple games ago against the Miami Heat. Pop’s strategy of how to defend Williamson was complex and ended up working well enough.
The Spurs play on Monday against the red-hot Washington Wizards. The Wizards have won seven straight games — so another win on the road in that one would be rather sweet.