All eyes in the basketball world were on Zion Williamson as the prized rookie was making his NBA debut. Although Williamson made his mark, the San Antonio Spurs (20-23) were able to play the role of spoiler against the New Orleans Pelicans (17-28). This was San Antonio’s third straight victory, it completed a sweep of their two-game road trip and the win lifted the Spurs back into sole possession of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The game was close most of the first quarter until the bench came in and gave the Spurs a moderate amount of breathing room. At the end of the period, the Spurs were up 31-24.
In the middle of the second quarter, the Silver and Black used a 10-2 run to take a 15-point lead, 43-28. The Pelicans battled back a bit but the Spurs were able to keep a cushion to end the half. At intermission it was 60-51 Spurs.
There was a lot of trading baskets in the third period. Neither team was playing much defense, which kept the Spurs up by approximately ten points for a majority of the quarter. Heading into the fourth, the good guys were up 94-82.
The back and forth nature of the game continued in the final stanza … until Mount Zion erupted during a memorable three-minute span that saw the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NBA Draft score 17 points. His eruption brought the Pelicans all the way back; Williamson’s fourth three-pointer gave New Orleans a 107-106 lead.
Instead of succumbing to the pressure like we saw the Spurs do a lot early in the season, San Antonio immediately fought back. Showing fantastic poise, the Spurs went on a 9-1 run right after Williamson’s three-pointer had swung the momentum. While it certainly helped that Williamson was forced out of the game due to the Pelicans being cautious with his minutes, the Spurs continued scoring timely points down the stretch to hold off New Orleans and eventually leave town with a 121-117 victory.
Overall, this was another very good win. The Pelicans had been playing well, the energy in the building due to Williamson’s debut was palpable and to get up off the canvas after the rookie’s epic haymaker in the fourth exhibited a lot of fiber and mental toughness. Well done, Spurs.
Spurs at Pelicans – Final Grades
This was a very strong outing for LaMarcus Aldridge — one of his best all-around games of the year, undoubtedly. He started the game by hitting jumpers. Then, when the offense started to sputter, Aldridge went to the low block and scored so often that the Pelicans were forced to send help. But the doubles didn’t end his effectiveness. Instead, Aldridge started attacking quickly and physically to locate scoring opportunities. His physicality and energy this game were off the charts. Defensively, Aldridge followed the gameplan to pack the lane, rebounded extremely well and protected the rim with an attitude.
Scoring-wise, this was a lot like other games DeMar DeRozan has played as of late. He drove hard to the rim, looked for contact and finished strongly. When he couldn’t get all the way to the rim, DeRozan took open mid-range jumpers. The main difference for DeRozan offensively tonight was the fact that the Pelicans weren’t sending much help, which caused his playmaking to suffer. Given the circumstances and factoring in his big fourth quarter buckets, I was mostly pleased with how he played offensively — even though his stats don’t look as impressive. Defensively, DeRozan competed better than usual and continues to read passing lanes well as of late. His help-defense, though, was usually a step or two or three late.
Defensively, Dejounte Murray was solid. He wasn’t reaching and gambling as much as usual but his actual effectiveness on that end was higher than we’ve witnessed recently. On offense, Murray didn’t do much playmaking and his passing left a lot to be desired but he illustrated more aggression than usual in terms of looking for his own shot. The results were positive as Murray was able to score a few momentum-saving baskets throughout the contest. He also did well taking care of the ball and pushed the pace better than usual.
The good: Bryn Forbes produced offensively. I didn’t always love his shot-selection but he made enough shots to shut up any complaints. The bad: Forbes’ defense wasn’t good — at all. The Pelicans were picking on him constantly and the Spurs found it difficult to mask his shortcomings.
Trey Lyles was the man tasked to defend Zion Williamson to begin the game. And, honestly, he did quite well. He spaced Williamson without giving up him too much room to operate. Lyles’ quickness allowed him to stay in front of the rookie and he caused a few of Williamson’s five turnovers. Beyond his defense, Lyles was strong enough on the glass and knocked down a three-pointer before foul trouble sent him to an earlier than usual exit.
Derrick White has played very well in this three-game winning streak. Let’s hope that he’s turning a corner. Defensively, he looks like a totally different person. His increased mobility is making him much better on the ball, better help-wise and very fast to loose balls. White had a lot of scrappy plays on the defensive end that don’t necessarily show up in the boxscore but definitely played a prominent role in the win. Offensively, White was bold when he saw a sliver of daylight to the rim. While limiting his mistakes, he remained in attack mode and was hands down the best playmaker on the team. White had a lot of outstanding passes that kept the offense humming when he was in the game.
After an oddly quiet game last time out, the Patty Mills we’ve come to expect was back in business. He was playing really hard on defense, especially when it came to fighting around screens and applying pressure in the open court. Offensively, he didn’t shy away from shots, even though he wasn’t hitting at his normal clip. While his execution wasn’t always there, I liked Mills’ vivacity tonight — especially compared to last time out.
Even with the return of Rudy Gay, Marco Belinelli remained in the rotation. Pop stole minutes from a few players to carve out a niche for the Italian. On offense, I can’t really complain with how he played. Belinelli shot well — and his three-pointer in the fourth right after Williamson gave the Pelicans the lead was most likely the biggest shot of the game. Defensively, he was a traffic cone, for sure. And, on that end, Belinelli gave back a lot of the good he did on offense. But compared to how he has played previously this season, this has to be considered a step in the right direction.
I’m usually hard on Jakob Poeltl when he’s lacking on the defensive glass — so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention right off the bat how impressed I was with his defensive rebounding tonight. It seemed like he made it a point to go out and eat as many boards as possible while throwing around his body to box out. Let’s hope that continues. Beyond the rebounding, Poeltl was once again excellent at defending the hoop. Offensively, his passing really stood out as a strength. His movement away from the ball could have been better at times but when Poeltl touched it, good things tended to happen.
Lonnie Walker IV
On defense, Lonnie Walker IV made more than his share of mistakes. His closeouts were sloppy at times, he gave up too much penetration and his defense in the zone continues to be a learning process. That said, Walker also had some pretty good moments on defense, as he was certainly not lacking hustle or focus. Offensively, Walker was better than he’s been in his last few games. His three-point jumper looks really smooth and he’s starting to pick his spots better and limit his second-guessing.
After missing three games due to an illness, Rudy Gay was back. Although, he really didn’t look too healthy. He was winded easily, moving slowly and stagnating the offense. That said, it’s certainly understandable that Gay will need time to rediscover his rhythm considering he was sick enough to miss three games.
Pop’s gameplan against Williamson worked to perfection until the rookie went nuclear in the fourth. But, then again, his eruption was mostly due to him going 4-for-4 on three-pointers. Not a noted shooter, those are shots the Spurs had to be willing to give Williamson. I liked Pop’s playcalling down the stretch, his rotations were good enough in the fourth and his relentless feeding of Aldridge early and often paid off. Obviously, I’m not a big fan of Belinelli taking a starring role in the rotation once again. All in all, though, Pop had his team prepared and he pushed a lot of right buttons throughout.
Next Up for the Spurs
The Spurs don’t get time to relax. Next up is a rematch with the Phoenix Suns, this time in San Antonio. Last game, the Spurs won 120-118 in Phoenix. With the Suns hot on their tail, the Spurs can’t afford a letdown. Keep it rolling.