Unfortunately, things returned to the status quo — New Orleans usually has the darnedest time of beating San Antonio multiple times within a season.
The Pelicans fell 107-103 to the Spurs on Saturday evening. They dropped back into 10th in the Western Conference once again, with San Antonio, who now owns the tiebreaker over New Orleans thanks to winning the season series 3-1, lurking just a game behind them.
Following a promising close to the first quarter and strong start to the second, the Pelicans looked to be in complete control, leading by as many as 12 points. However, they couldn’t sustain their rhythm as a mixture of San Antonio’s zone defense, offensive rebounding and energy proved an uncrackable combination for New Orleans.
From start to finish, the Spurs played very much like a team who wanted to make up for last weeks’ 124-91 loss in front of their home crowd. Dejounte Murray, who finished with a 15-point, 11-rebound and 13-assist triple double, consistently created enough space for his teammates and the Spurs used their physicality well in the lane, winning the points in the paint battle (54-52) and surprisingly holding their own with second chance points (27-22).
The game really pivoted away from the Pelicans towards the middle of the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 92 apiece, they failed to score another point for the next 3:26 of the game clock. Meanwhile, the Spurs added 10 to their total.
Credit New Orleans though, they didn’t quit when the game felt over to the Smoothie King Center crowd.
A Trey Murphy 3-pointer reduced the deficit to 104-101 with 1:45 left, but the Spurs gained a point after Jose Alvarado was whistled for a delay of game. Following a CJ McCollum layup, the Spurs’ lead was cut to two with 41.2 seconds remaining. The Pelicans defense got the stop on San Antonio’s next possession. However, the comeback dreams were extinguished when McCollum was double teamed and had to give the ball up. Eventually, the rock found Alvarado, who missed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left on the game clock.
Despite not hitting that big shot, Alvarado posted one of his best games as a pro. He finished with a career-high 23 points, adding five rebounds, five assists and two 3s. The team clearly played better when he was on the court. Behind McCollum, who scored a game-high 32 points, Alvarado was New Orleans’ second-best offensive option.
Jonas Valanciunas had a line of 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists; however, fellow starters Jones (four points), Devonte Graham (six points — all in the first quarter) and Jaxson Hayes (five points) contributed little on the scoreboard.
It must be mentioned that the San Antonio side seemed the beneficiary of several friendly whistles on questionable calls in the second half.
Herb Jones picked up a personal foul in the third quarter despite Keldon Johnson leading with an elbow on his drive and then falling to the floor after little contact. If you may recall, Jones was thrown out of the recent loss to the Hornets after he used his elbow to his advantage on a drive.
During the deciding stretch of the fourth quarter, Jonas Valanciunas had a basket erased when he was called for an offensive foul on Zach Collins. Replay seemed to show a flop as Valanciunas didn’t clear Collins out with an arm like his fall had suggested.
And towards the end of the game, was Alvarado’s actions that led to a delay of game worth blowing the whistle in a tight contest?
Jose Alvarado got a delay-of-game tech FOR THAT??? pic.twitter.com/CQGJf5XIHt— DGC (@Itamar_17_10) March 26, 2022
On delay of game tech, Jose Alvarado: "I guess it's a rookie mistake. (Refs) told me not to touch the ball. I thought handing the ball (to ref on baseline) would help, but they said, nah just leave (the ball) alone. If it just bounces off my body, it won't be a delay of game."— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) March 27, 2022
All of San Antonio’s starters were sitting in double figures by the 7:52 mark of the third quarter. Keldon Johnson was the Spurs’ high man with 21 points.
Up next, the Pelicans will get right back to it. After losing to the Spurs, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of pressure to knock off the Lakers on Sunday.
Fingers crossed that Brandon Ingram will make his return against his former team.