Despite being down 15 points in the first half, despite too many players proving ineffective, despite some questionable officiating, and despite foul trouble corralling Anthony Davis in the second half, the New Orleans Pelicans had a chance to possibly eke out a surprising victory.
However, instead of forcing overtime, the San Antonio Spurs clinched the 98-93 win rather easily, as a potential game-tying Nikola Mirotic three-point attempt sailed harmlessly off the side of the backboard with six seconds left on the game clock.
San Antonio isn’t enjoying the successes of yesteryear, but this isn’t news. Neither is the fact that they’re still a formidable opponent on their home floor (now 25-8) or that they’ll claw, scratch and flop their way to a win. This backdrop, a playoff-like environment, should have been expected. With Head Coach Gregg Popovich pacing the sidelines and San Antonio in real danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 20 seasons, the Spurs aren’t going to give you an inch. Consequently, the Pelicans needed to be better amid the adversity. They needed to rise up to the challenge and seize the victory.
New Orleans was down by just a point when the best player on the floor — although you wouldn’t know it by the lack of respect he was given by the referees — was forced to take a seat at the most important time of the game. Anthony Davis fouled out with 1:51 remaining on the game clock. Then, the Pelicans proceeded to play like deer in headlights.
- Darius Miller passed up an open jumper to only attempt an impossible shot seconds later.
- E’Twaun Moore drove right into the heart of the Spurs defense, without ever having the advantage, that included the awaiting hands of LaMarcus Aldridge.
- After a gift from Patty Mills, who missed one of his free throw attempts to seal the game, Mirotic decided to launch the lowest of percentages jumper over — yep, you guessed it — Aldridge... Even though there was time left on the clock to find something better!
A lot will blame Manu Ginobili for the team loss. During a stretch of the third quarter, he took a charge on an unknowing player running down the court and then pulled the brakes at half court a la Chris Paul to allow a defender to crash into him unexpectedly. Both times the victim was Anthony Davis, who reacted angrily and picked up a technical foul to boot. Whether you’re a basketball purist or not, Manu single-handedly put Davis into foul trouble by some questionable tactics to say the least. I’m not a fan, and never will be of any extracurricular crap that undermines sanctity of the game, but tonight’s three zebras didn’t see it that way. #ForShame.
In addition to the spotty play on the court and referee whistles, Head Coach Alvin Gentry threw his hat into the ring with some head-scratching decisions. Most want you to believe that Rajon Rondo was once again entirely responsible for the loss, pointing to a -23 plus/minus on the night. However, was it his fault that New Orleans offense started in quicksand? The Spurs were not daring Rondo to beat them from the perimeter like Dallas did, simply New Orleans couldn’t knock down their early jumpers or get a whistle after getting mugged in the paint. And then later Rondo was sent out onto the court without Jrue Holiday and Davis alongside. Guess it’s time to beat that drum again: one of the New Orleans Pelicans two best players should be on the court at all times!
In addition to this, Gentry decided to start Mirotic over Emeka Okafor. Davis was responsible for guarding Aldridge, who got off to a very fast start of 14 points on 7-9 shooting in the first quarter. Following an early 6-2 lead, the Pelicans were manhandled 35-20 by the Spurs for the rest of the first quarter. It’s not that New Orleans was sluggish per se, but San Antonio was the more energetic and focused team, hustling their way to a lot of easy baskets. Okafor, who has proven to be a hell of an interior presence, could have probably changed that outcome.
Lastly, in a game where energy, effort and making plays was of the upmost importance, would it have hurt to give Cheick Diallo some run in place of a struggling Mirotic. It’s no secret, Nikola is in a funk right now so why not give someone else a few minutes of run? Playoff atmospheres can be conducive to exuberance making a difference.
New Orleans did make a point of being more aggressive throughout the second quarter by attacking the rim hard and it paid off handsomely. Things began a little slowly in the early stages of the second, as the deficit grew to 15 at 54-39, but over the remaining 5:28 of the first half, the Pelicans went on a 19-8 run to make it a two-point game at intermission. The Pelicans won the frame by a 32-23 margin which was fueled by nine free throw attempts — they knocked them all down — and a countless number of makes inside the paint that included several dunks by Anthony Davis and Holiday.
So, of course, the Spurs started the third quarter with the early momentum. San Antonio scored the first five points but the really good stuff (aka bullshit) started minutes later as explained above.
Anyhoo, chalk up another loss for the New Orleans Pelicans, on a night where once again very little of their direct competition in the Western Conference lost. Denver, Utah and Portland all won. Only the Los Angeles Clippers complied, but hey, they were asked to beat the Rockets in Houston.
Up next, the Pelicans return home for an upcoming back-to-back this weekend against those league-leading Rockets and Boston Celtics. Yep, the road to the playoffs doesn’t get any easier, but somehow, someway, New Orleans needs to find their way through the trees. Hopefully, they’ll be able to capitalize on any upcoming opportunities much better than they showed tonight.