Riding a three game winning-streak and some stellar play from their star forward Anthony Davis, the Pelicans looked like a team ready to put up a fight against the 12-1 San Antonio Spurs, albeit a divisional road game against the reigning Western Conference champs, who've perhaps been the best overall team in the NBA through the month of November. Alas the Pelicans played like pushovers, showing an overall lack of cohesion, effort and communication that led to a 19-point loss. The final score was not indicative of how outplayed New Orleans was on the court, as the margin could have been much MUCH worse.
Manu Ginobili (16 points, 4 of 5 from three, and 6 assists) and former Hornet/New Orleans professional basketball player Marco Belinelli (14 points on 4 of 6 from deep) torched the Pels from deep, and Belinelli looked as good as he ever has in the league on this night. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan did their thing, with Parker getting to the line and getting good looks for Spurs' bigs with his penetration, while Duncan just did his usual playing good interior defense and scoring with his arsenal of low-post moves that exploited Anthony Davis' tendency to bite on pump fakes. Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills all had solid games for San Antonio, who continue to operate as the most well oiled-machine in the sport. And that includes the defensive end if the floor, where they forced the Pelicans' guards to take a lot of forced and contested shots in the paint, and made nothing easy for the frontcourt duo of Anderson and Davis.
Many commented throughout the game that if New Orleans had just made layups the score would've been much closer in the middle part of the game, before Gregg Popovich emptied his bench while the Pels basically threw in the towel. My counter(s) would be that many of those layups were forced, off-balanced, rushed shots that I consider "bad shot attempts" even though they come from spots on the floor you want the majority of shots taken. Just because these shots were taken by the likes of Holiday, Evans and Gordon (aka the "star" guards on the team), doesn't mean they're acceptable. You want those guys being aggressive and creating looks for others when their shot isn't there- and on many of their attempts tonight, they should've looked to make an extra pass and find someone else.
The defensive issues of "Monty-ball" have been well documented in the past here, but the glaring defensive issues his scheme has seems to be progressively getting worse instead of better. Far too many times the bigs hedge on the pick and roll, leaving to the guard getting easy penetration and the team's poor defensive rotations mean the slash and kick (and a lot of times multiple kicks) game is destroying this team. On this night the Pelicans surrendered 10 threes (on 40% shooting from deep for the Spurs) and the damage could've been much worse, as most of the looks were good to great to downright wide open.
The Spurs as a team shot 54% from the field, had 30 assists as a unit, and put on a display of truly beautiful team basketball. If San Antonio is indeed the model franchise that we are trying to emulate, the Pelicans organization has a loooong way to go.
Some other thoughts from this game:
- Poor play in general for the Big 3 guard trio of Holiday, Gordon and Evans. All three had poor shooting nights (Evans had the highest FG% putting up a scorching 35.7% from the field, emphasis on scorching), and despite Evans and Holiday filling up the stat sheet in other areas, none of them had the impact necessary to challenge the Spurs in this game. Gordon in particular struggled on offense, never finding a rhythm and only playing 19 minutes in total. Holiday hit a couple nice floaters and did his best to get the ball to others, but he's at his best when he's a 3rd option (or lower) on offense and acts as a facilitator; 17 shots for him is too much, especially when the majority of them were forced as they were tonight. Evans continues to frustrate me with his play, particularly with his poor passing and inability to finish at the rim. I've never been a huge fan of Tyreke's game, but he was brought in here (and given $44 million) to take the ball to the hole and finish (and thus create better looks for others when defenses have to cheat to stop this). As maligned as Austin Rivers is for his struggles finishing on drives, he has performed as well if not better than Evans and Gordon in drives to the hoop in his limited minutes. I would be perfectly content to see Monty give more minutes to Rivers at the expense of the others A) if they continue to be inefficient scorers, especially at the rim, and B) to give the Pelicans a boost on defense, where Austin has made serious strides over the past 2 years.
- Ryan Anderson is a godsend for this team. Without him, who knows just how bad this offense would be. From his first game back against the Sixers through this game, he has shown an offensive repertoire no-one else on the team can replicate, which makes him more valuable than perhaps any other player on the team except for Davis. He showed off some low post moves tonight that look more polished than in years past, and his face-up/step-back game can be deadly when on shorter defenders. Anderson rushed some of his shots tonight (as did many of the players), but when he's in his groove he makes the entire offense better by osmosis. More plays out of the pick and roll for Anderson (and Morrow) by the 2nd unit would be refreshing to see. If it actually happens is a different matter.
- Monty Williams. Oh Monty. What else can we say (or scream in most cases these days) at this point? Monty loves slowing the pace down in the game when he should be amping it up, taking away the strength of many of his best players. Just like in the Lakers game on the road, when the team just played a free-flowing style at the end of the game, the offense was executed much better. Guys move the ball, make the extra pass, and get good looks. While the structure of Monty's offense has a "big picture" purpose, a style that allows the guards more freedom to take advantage of their athletic gifts is something that needs to be implemented ASAP. More playcalling for Anderson and Morrow would be nice; as would some sort of change on defense to address the team's penchant for giving up tons and tons of open threes. If not the issues that have plagued the team to this point will continue to rear their ugly head against the real contenders of the Western Conference.
A quick turn around for New Orleans means a matchup with the Golden State Warriors in the second game of a back-to-back. Luckily for the Pelicans they get to return home, where they won all 3 games of the previous homestand. Also the Warriors will be without two of their best players in Andre Iguodala (strained hamstring) and Andrew Bogut (suspension). Still Golden State will present a real challenge for the fully healthy Pelicans, who need to take care of business at home to keep pace with the top 8 in the West. One thing is for sure-a repeat of the effort and gameplan of the Spurs game will surely spell another sad ending for Pelicans fans.