On Saturday night, the San Antonio Spurs (57-16) thrashed and buried the remains of their 17th straight victim, tying the franchise record for consecutive regular season wins. Despite being the second night of a back-to-back, Spurs head Coach Gregg Popovich opted not to rest any of his key pieces against the (32-41) New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans were without the services of Eric Gordon (knee tendonitis) and second year phenom Anthony Davis who suffered a sprained ankle Friday night against the Utah Jazz. The Spurs were without Matt Bonner (calf) again and guard Danny Green, who missed his second straight game to rest his injured right ankle.
The Spurs put on a defensive clinic against the short-handed Pelicans, who were forced to lean on the backcourt duo if Tyreke Evans and Austin Rivers. San Antonio’s defense focused on suffocating the ball and shutting down the open passing lanes, forcing New Orleans to eat shot clock numerous times. The Pelicans finished 39.5% from the floor and just 25% on the mere twelve attempts from beyond the arc. The Spurs are not an opportunistic defense in terms of hawking for turnovers but they typically make the most of what they get. The did so tonight by putting in 16 points off of the 14 New Orleans turnovers. Even with what would end up being an night off for Tiago Splitter, the Spurs interior defense held the Pelicans to 18 of 58 in the paint and limited second-chance opportunities to 2 of 8.
The Pelicans held a brief lead after scoring the first basket of the game but San Antonio would go on a 16-2 run to set the tone for the remainder of the night. San Antonio held a 17 point lead at the half, keeping the Pelicans to just 35 points. With a 20 point lead halfway through the third quarter, Coach Popovich was ready to pull the plug on his key players but a 14-5 New Orleans run going into the fourth rained on his intentions. The Spurs would eventually to run out their bench for the remainder of the game and win another game in double-digit fashion, 96-80. San Antonio’s 23-6 start to the game would prove to be the difference as the Pelicans outscored the Spurs from there on out.
With Green out, Marco Belinelli was moved into the starting lineup and the Italian sharpshooter was hot from the get-go. Belinelli led the Spurs in scoring for the eighth time this season, putting up 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting and a 4 of 5 performance from three-point range. In his first season with the Spurs, Marco’s name has been floating around as a possible winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Belinelli’s scoring average has improved by two points per game with his field goal percentage jumping up over 10%. The Three Point Champ is also enjoying a remarkable 10% jump in his three-point game, shooting 45.2% and currently sitting fourth in the league in percentage.
“He’s not just a shooter,” said Coach Popovich after the game. “He’s a good passer, maybe one of our two best cutters on the team without the ball.” Many throughout the NBA landscape applauded the low-key signing of the 6-year veteran. Marco’s transition into the Spurs system has been flawless and has provided an array of options behind the two primary weapons of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Last season, with Ginobili battling to stay healthy and find a rhythm, the Spurs did not have solid backcourt options behind MVP-candidate Tony Parker. Along with the ascension on Patty Mills, the addition of Marco Belinelli has provided the Spurs a never-ending barrage of offense at the guard position. Coach Pop agrees, “He’s been important for us, especially off the bench.”
The Spurs also received major contributions from Manu Ginobili (15 PTS, 7-10 FG, 4 AST, 3 STL) and defensive stalwart Kawhi Leonard (15 PTS, 4-9 FG, 5 REB). Without his starting wingman, Leonard had the task of taking on Pelicans Tyreke Evans. Evans, who has been averaging 20-plus points on nearly 54% shooting over the previous ten games, struggled to get free of Leonard’s ever-expanding presence and finished with his second lowest scoring output over the past month. “Kawhi’s starting to really get a kick out of being a stopper,” said Coach Popovich. “He’s understanding what he can do and he’s become more and more demonstrative in that respect, playing defense for us.”
The San Antonio Spurs will attempt to chisel in a new number into the annals of Spurs lore when they travel up to Indianapolis to take on the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Indiana Pacers (52-21). With a victory against Indiana, the Spurs will set a new record in consecutive regular season games and tie the franchise road record of 29 wins. It will not be an easy feat for them, however. The Spurs were pummeled 111 to 100 in their last meeting with the Pacers. Indiana has been struggling to find the rhythm they enjoyed earlier in the season, losing 8 of their last 15 games but, to their credit, have not allowed an opponent to score over a hundred for seven straight games. The size and strength of Indiana is going to be a major test for a more finesse Spurs squad. Coach Pop isn’t willing to admit the Pacers matchup is a welcomed challenge compared to the recent string of lottery-bound squads. “Every NBA game is a test., people beat each other all the time,” said Popovich. “It’s definitely fun to go up against those guys, because they’ve played so well this year. The last time they beat us really well, really easily, so it’s a game we’re looking forward to.” The Spurs and Pacers will tip off this Wednesday at 6:00 PM Central Standard Time.
Note: If you’re familiar with my work prior to my Project Spurs days, then you know that I have a habit of pointing out the little things – whether they’re of any value or not. I typically arrive to the AT&T Center two-plus hours to tip just to watch the players go through their final individual practices. Though insignificant to others, I find value in watching the practices. You can read quite a bit into a player’s personality and their current state of mind. Is it “old man” Duncan out on the floor cussing under his breath after each missed jumper or is it the more jovial Timmy who jokes with the trainers and purposefully screws up the shot of other players? Is each step and drill a dedicated effort or is the player slinging up 20-ft floaters (looking at you, DeJuan Blair) that hit the shot clock? Below are some notes taken from prior to tonight’s game:
- Tim was “old man” Duncan tonight, in case you were wondering.
- Cory Joseph’s pre-game workout was primarily focused on coming off screens. This is a much more systematic focus for Cory then it was last season when the young guard was just taking pull-up jumpers from mid-range and beyond.
- Danny Green looked comfortable moving around on the court. Green was jumping and making short cuts with no restrictions.
- Ayres workout was predominately focused on driving and finishing at the rim. His first step his quick and fluid but he clanged quite a few under the rim.
- Ayres and former Pacers assistant coach Jim Boylen worked together.
- Marco Belinelli’s shooting workout Is pretty static when compared to his movement in-game.