For the first time this season, the Pelicans played well from start to finish, and they were rewarded for the effort. New Orleans biggest deficit of the game was the opening 8-0 run by San Antonio, but the Spurs failed to enjoy a lead after the first quarter.
San Antonio couldn't get anything going, but the New Orleans defense deserves the majority of the credit. The Spurs attempted more contested shots than the Pelicans, yet at a much worse conversion rate: 36.2% vs. 41.9%. San Antonio finished with only had 4 second chance points coming from just 5 offensive rebounds. New Orleans outscored their archenemy 46-28 in the paint -- bucking the trend witnessed through the first 12 games (Pelicans had been averaging a dismal -6.7 in points in the paint).
Offensively, Ish Smith and Jrue Holiday combined for 20 assists, and as I've harped repeatedly this season, most of the team's personnel rely on the work of the guards. The desired ball movement by Alvin Gentry isn't there yet, and it may never come to fruition, so it's crucial the ball-handlers find their teammates in the right spots.
Well, it happened tonight, and the Pelicans finally made their share of uncontested shots. They knocked down 46.1% of those looks, led by Ryan Anderson converting on 8 of his 13 open looks. His 6 three-pointers broke the Spurs' back, a team that prides themselves on their ability to guard the three-point line. Right now, Gregg Popovich has to be seething by the amount of good looks enjoyed by the Flamethrower.
With Anderson getting hot early and Smith darting around the floor, it seemed to inspire the rest of the team to build a lead during the second quarter that they would never relinquish. The Pelicans energy grew infectious, and Alvin Gentry correctly summarized this in his post-game comments.
More Gentry: "I thought it was a total team effort. I thought everybody at some stage did something to win the game."— Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) November 21, 2015
He wasn't kidding. The biggest beneficiary of the inspired play was none other than Anthony Davis. At halftime, AD had only 4 points on 2-8 from the floor, but more problematic was only one of those shot attempts came inside the paint. For a player as talented as Davis, that's unacceptable; he needs to avoid settling for perimeter shots, especially when they're not falling.
Although he had 10 rebounds, I was not satisfied with his effort (when compared to say Kawhi Leonard) or his defense as LaMarcus Aldridge and other Spurs consistently got him to bite on ball fakes that resulted in breakdowns.
Then, Davis got the scoring going in the second half with this emphatic dunk.
That seemed to light a fire that sometimes has trouble kick-starting on it's own. For the remainder of the half, Davis added 14 points, but it was his two blocks that made the biggest impacts and announced loudly he was fully engaged. First, he dismissed an Aldridge jumper and then knocked the ball off the Spur to give the Pelicans a key possession.
In the final minute of the game, Davis had THIS BLOCK of Ray McCallum. This is the type of effort Davis should strive to play with on each and every play: avoid biting on ball fakes, as he's one of the best quick leapers in the game, but look to use his athleticism to chase down opponents in prime positions on the floor.
- Ryan Anderson has been a thing of beauty over the last three games, averaging 28 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.6 threes. Earlier in the season, he was forcing a few more shots than he should have, but that wasn't necessarily his fault because the offense wasn't flowing correctly. Now that some synergy has developed between him and the guards, look out. He's healthy, motivated in the final year of his contract and another facilitator, Tyreke Evans, is nearing a return. As a stock broker would say, buy, buy, BUY! Alvin Gentry certainly has.
Alvin Gentry: "Ryan Anderson is playing as good as anyone else in the league right now."— Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) November 21, 2015
- Anthony Davis hit his peak gear, yet it shouldn't be overlooked it came in the second half. Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt because of the recent shoulder injury, but on a number of occasions already this season, his effort has been questioned. For instance, it seems when things are not going right, he'll stop and linger to talk to referees a little too long and usually this results in easy opponent scores. I'd love for him to put his head down and run back like the consummate professional we all thought he was going to develop into, say like the current version of Kawhi Leonard.
- Ish Smith had a spectacular 17-point, 13-assist game, but I'm not going to delve much further because I already named him as the Pelicans early-season MVP.
- Jrue Holiday had his moments, but he still very much looks like a player who is trying to find his footing with one hand tied behind his back. In my opinion, too many have soured on him when they should be cutting him slack like I had asked on behalf of Anderson during last season. Continuity and health cannot be overstated -- NBA players require both. I fully expect once Holiday's restrictions are lifted, he'll resemble a player freed from handcuffs.
- Alonzo Gee and Dante Cunningham did a solid job of giving the Spurs best player, Kawhi Leonard, grief; however, they each had an important drive from the perimeter into the paint area for scores when the pressure was on. They don't have to contribute much on offense, but they do need to provide something. Tonight, mission accomplished.
- Omer Asik played just 12 minutes, but I thought his 7 rebounds were important. I'm curious how many more games it will take before he's either 100% healthy or all of his conditioning and comfortableness hit a good level under Gentry.
- Eric Gordon was quiet, scoring 11 points on 3 of 9 from the field, but his lone triple on the night increased the lead to 100-88 and gave fans the feeling a win was inevitable despite 2:59 remaining in the game. Gordon now has made a three-pointer in 23 straight games, trailing only Stephen Curry's ridiculous 87 games.
- Since returning from injury, Luke Babbitt registered his first DNP. His three-point prowess wasn't needed, not at the expense of the defensive end. It'll be curious to watch whether he gets phased out of the rotation or if Gentry rotates the group at small forward based on matchups.
The Pelicans two lone wins have come against teams that currently sport a combined record of 18-7. Even amid all the injuries, this squad has potential because it has enough pieces and a system that should be able to exploit opponents with quick yet solid offensive execution. The defense only needs to be average most nights, and tonight, it was thankfully better than that.
Up next, the Pelicans will host the Phoenix Suns this coming Sunday. Lets hope the team has turned some kind of important corner and will be able to sustain this more consistent effort. The season isn't over and reinforcements are coming, but it's time the perpetual bad losses permanently sit in the rear view mirror.