There are one of two ways to look at yesterday's narrow defeat. The Pelicans really did well to make the game competitive and gave themselves a chance for an unexpected win in the final minutes. Or, it's much of the same we've seen in year's past, where the team overachieves by putting up a good fight, but rarely does it result in a win. You decide.
The Pelicans started well last night as their intensity was evident from the start. Gordon relentlessly attacked the rim to the tune of a 9-point 1st quarter. But it just wasn't the inspired play of one individual, rather the entire team made valuable contributions. Ajinca and Aminu on the boards, Rivers made shots in the lane and Roberts nailed several jumpers.
Consequently, when Davis picked up his second foul in a little over six minutes into the game, the Pelicans were able to stay the course. In fact, by the time Davis returned in the middle of the 2nd quarter, the Pelicans held a 10-point advantage.
Alas, once again, they failed to close the half well. The Spurs started to chip away at the lead by making 4 baskets near the rim, plenty of free throws (Tony Parker went 7-8 from the line in the 1st half) and a last second, momentum-stealing, falling-towards-the-baseline long 2 from, none other than our old buddy, Marco Belinelli.
In the 2nd half, the Pelicans tallied a quick 13 points within the first 3 minutes to take a 65-55 lead. But these are the Spurs and they don't know how to go away. Almost immediately, they went on a 21-8 run for the remainder of the 3rd quarter and held a 76-73 advantage headed to the final frame.
The 4th quarter started painfully and was punctuated by a long three by Belinelli from somewhere close to Baton Rouge. However, instead of slinking into the night, the Pelicans fought back from a 9-point deficit with a couple of successive 3's from Miller and Rivers.
With 7:08 remaining, the Pelicans retook the lead at 87-86 on a beautiful move by Davis against Tim Duncan. Unfortunately, this was the last time they would lead. The Spurs simply executed much better down the stretch.
- Yet another game where the difference in the quality of coaching seemed apparent. When the Pelicans raced to a quick start after halftime, Pop called a timeout. When the Spurs did the same in the 4th quarter, Monty Williams did not. Moreover, substituting Gordon out just before halftime (probably because he picked up a 2nd foul moments earlier) backfired. In the final couple of Pelican possessions, Roberts had a bad turnover and put up a hopeless shot in the paint that was rejected easily. Wish like hell Monty would just scrap the 2-fouls-in-the-1st-half-and-you're-out strategy.
- Anthony Davis had another outstanding game and a number of wonderful moves against the Big Fundamental -- stardom is just around the corner. If I were to nitpick, a couple of turnovers late in the game hurt.
- Eric Gordon started off like a man possessed. As mentioned, he had 9 points in the opening frame and it should have been more had the referees imagined it was Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker coming into the lane. But 3 points after that? No FG attempts and 1 FT trip for the entire 4th quarter? Come on son.
- Brian Roberts finally had his offensive explosion: 19 points, 3 3PTM, 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Not sure why some feel it necessary to continue to pound him for his defense though. Like with Greivis Vasquez, it'll always be sub-par. That's why asking him to do anything more than be a scoring option off the bench will result in unhappiness.
- Austin Rivers shot over 50% from the field. He made his only 3-point field goal. He had 5 assists versus no turnovers. Progress tastes good.
- Alexis Ajinca had a strong first half but was invisible in the second. Undoubtedly the highlight of the night was his rejection of a Tim Duncan mid-range attempt.
- Hey LOOK! Jeff Withey saw almost five minutes of run while Greg Stiemsma didn't even get to take off his warm-ups. When Withey gets run, it's noticeable what probably bothers Monty. At times, he's just too...sedate? On one Spurs possession, he was on the same side as Ginobili but didn't come over to help, even though the play occurred right in front of him. Manu got past his man and just dribbled around Withey to get right to the rim. However, a few possessions later, he did rotate out to contest a Ginobili jumper. Here's to hoping Monty stays with the kid as I know he'll continue to figure things out. Already, his minutes are more productive than Stiemsma's and additional playing time will continue to widen that gap.