Pelicans.com postgame: Spurs 101, Pelicans 95
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
On paper, Monday’s Southwest Division game had all the makings of a mismatch. The New Orleans Pelicans learned prior to tip-off that they’d only have 10 healthy players available, partly due to missing three of their top five scorers. Their opponent was the San Antonio Spurs, who were trying to become the first NBA team to notch its 30th victory this season.
However, instead of routing the Pelicans for a second time since late November, the Spurs needed 47-plus minutes to finally overtake their hosts. San Antonio led 97-95 with a minute to go in regulation, before Tony Parker’s driving layup and Manu Ginobili’s two free throws secured the victory.
For the second straight time in a three-day span, the undermanned Pelicans (15-22) fought tooth-and-nail against one of the Western Conference’s better teams, only to come up a play or two short of victory. In a game neither side led by more than 11 points, the end result was a sixth straight defeat for New Orleans. On Saturday, the Pelicans lost 110-1107 at Dallas, a game that came down to the final controversial play of regulation.
New Orleans’ recent 0-6 stretch coincides with the injury absence of Ryan Anderson, who could potentially miss the rest of the season after sustaining a herniated disc Jan. 3 in the team's 15th win at Boston. The Pelicans were also without Jrue Holiday (shin) and Tyreke Evans (ankle), the team’s fourth- and fifth-leading scorers.
“We don’t like moral victories, but we came out and competed from the start,” said Holiday’s replacement at starting point guard, Brian Roberts (19 points, 3-for-5 on treys). “I think we made it known that (the Spurs) were going to be in for a game. We had that mentality throughout the game. Unfortunately, they made plays down the stretch. They’re a veteran team. They’re going to keep their composure through those stretches. Hats off to them. (But) it was good to get out there and compete.”
New Orleans took its only fourth-quarter lead at 87-86 when Anthony Davis (22 points, 11 rebounds) dropped in a layup with 7:08 remaining. The Pelicans remained within striking distance throughout the entire final period, but committed three costly turnovers over a span of just 2:54. San Antonio turned the latter two of those miscues into three-pointers by Marco Belinelli and Kawhi Leonard, giving the Spurs leads of 94-90 and 97-93. Roberts banked in a floater with 1:46 left to make it 97-95, but the Pelicans couldn’t score again after that.
“We had our chances tonight; we just didn’t execute down the stretch,” Pelicans fourth-year coach Monty Williams said. “We had some costly turnovers in the last few minutes of the game. Against a team like that, those turn into layups. We’ve got to learn from that. We had so many miscues down the stretch.”
At various times Monday, the Pelicans fielded a five-man unit that they likely never expected to see in 2013-14. Of New Orleans’ 10 available players, five are either rookies or in their second NBA seasons. A sixth player, Alexis Ajinca, is technically a four-year NBA veteran but is playing in the league for the first time since 2011 after a failed initial stint. Despite being overmatched personnel-wise, particularly in terms of experience, Williams has been pleased with the effort of his team. New Orleans also led briefly in the fourth quarter Saturday at Dallas, but was outplayed in crunch time.
“That to me is the thing that stands out during this stretch where we’re missing so many guys,” Williams said. “You’ve got guys like Austin (Rivers), Darius (Miller), BRob, Alexis and Jeff Withey (getting greater opportunities to play). Those guys are playing their tails off. For the most part, they haven’t been in these situations.”