Glory Days: Pelicans Run into a Buzzsaw in San Antonio
Glory Days is a series that takes a look back at the 13 magical games where the New Orleans Pelicans core was healthy. For past games in this series, click here.
So far in our Glory Days series we have been spoiled by victories, and while some have speculated that they only got those wins because they played bad teams, that is not necessarily true or even relevant. The one thing that the Jazz, Cavs, and 76ers had in common was their lack of chemistry in large part due to the lack of time the players on their roster had spent together. The Pelicans had the same problem, but they had a talent advantage, so they were able to overcome. But when you go to San Antonio, that will never be an issue.
The Pelicans showed that they were as talented in different parts of this game, but the Spurs showed just how far the Pelicans have to go in order to maximize all their potential and make this a great team. But without that chemistry, this collection of individuals just got smoked by perhaps the best TEAM in the NBA. Looking at the BOX SCORE, there is almost nothing positive to take from this game. But looking at the tape, you see the potential for a team that can compete with these Spurs if they can just get out of their own way, and out of their own heads.
More than anything I saw nerves take over at the beginning, and then once they got down big they just began to panic. Fresh off a three-game winning streak, this team should have been feeling good about themselves, but instead they appeared resigned to the fact that they were supposed to lose this one. It was a great lesson for this young team to learn, and an example of being so close, yet having so far to go.
Pelicans ran some beautiful stuff early to get Anthony Davis open against the athletically inferior Tiago Splitter. But then they never really went back to him. Just 8 FGA’s in 33 minutes, and a lot of them he had to get for himself, like this one man fast break opportunity.
It will become a running theme in this piece, but the transition offense was TERRIBLE. Missed layups and turnovers all over the place. In a matter of just over a minute, check out this Aminu turnover, followed by this Eric Gordon blocked from behind layup. (Flush it, Eric!) The game was right there for them in the first quarter, but they just made so many stupid mistakes and eventually San Antonio pulled away.
The Pelicans got some open looks from guys who usually knock them down, but they were just off on this night. With Diaw on Anderson, he had some chances, but missed open looks like this one. And you can’t get a more wide open corner three than this one from Gordon, but again, brick. They were just 2-15 on the night, but it wasn’t really anything the Spurs did, just a lack of execution when it came to knocking down wide open threes and making layups.
It looked like the Spurs goal in this game was to make Jrue a scorer rather than a facilitator, and he got some open looks that he normally knocks down. The Spurs went under almost every screen and Holiday wasn’t afraid to fire, but his shot was just a tad bit off. They did the same thing to Evans, and when Evans settled for the jumper he missed. When he put his head down and got to the rim, though, good things happened. He can’t settle against a team like this.
Overall, I don’t leave this game worrying about the Pelicans offense just because San Antonio made their top players look mortal. They got the looks they wanted, but they just seemed nervous and then overwhelmed. If they get the exact same shots every night, they probably average 105-110 points per game. My only complaint is that they settled a tad bit too much and they didn’t take advantage of AD’s quickness against Splitter. The three guards shot just 13 for 40 on this night, but that includes 7 missed layups and 4 wide open threes. I don’t think that will be the norm for these guys.
Just a general lack of effort and awareness at times for the Pelicans. For instance, count the number of mistakes on this play.
Manu Ginobli completely changed the game for the Spurs when he checked in and the Pelicans had no answer. He only took 7 shots in 19 minutes, but he scored 16 points and also dished out 6 assists. The game was tied at 10 when he first entered, then he led a 28-18 run before he came out and the Spurs never led by single digits again. The defense just overhelped far too often, and Manu was left with wide open looks like this. But even more beautiful and hard for the Pelicans was his passing. I mean, look at this pass. Just look at it!
A common trend we have been seeing – weak side defender just gets lost and a wide open corner three is the result.
Pick and roll defense was a mess, as there was little to no communication. Here, absolutely nobody accounts for the roll man and that is just inexcusable. And the pick and roll defense against the guards was no better. Just no communication at all. Meanwhile, the Spurs move on a string.
For most of the game, the Pelicans went under screens and tried to force the Spurs into mid-range jumpers but the Spurs didn’t settle. Instead, they just drove past the slow-footed big and either scored or dished it out for a wide open three.
Here’s another over help leading to a WIDE OPEN three from Marco.
The one thing the Pelicans did do well defensively was defend in isolation. The bad thing is that only 5 of San Antonio’s possessions were isolations, where they went 1-4 with a turnover.
You can’t point to one player or even two and blame them for this defensive effort. The whole team was at fault, as they were outsmarted by a team that knows how to play together. It was as simple as that.
Rotations and Monty
I am not going to get too deep into either of these categories tonight, because it was a blowout by the beginning of the third quarter and most of the second half was a walkthrough. That said, it looked like Monty was going to give us the same rotation we had seen the last few games, with the three bigs getting almost all of the minutes, save for Amundson’s three minute stretch at the beginning of the 2nd period.
This game was decided in transition and there are no in-game tactical adjustments to transition offense and defense. Guys should know how to execute in both of these situations by the time they are 12. The Pelicans had 23 opportunities and walked away with 17 points. The Spurs had 26 points on just 15 opportunities. The Spurs also made their layups and knocked down their three’s at a reasonable clip (40%). The Pelicans did neither of these things. It wasn’t an issue with rotations or strategy, just execution.
Odds and Ends
I feel like Paul George after game 4 here, and this is gonna sound nuts, but the Pelicans had the better players in this game despite being blown out. Now, the Spurs had far and away the better team, but there is not a talent gap here. This is what 10+ years of three great players playing together gets you, and there is nothing Dell Demps can do this summer to expedite it. It is just going to take time. They will have games like this, they will blow games in the playoffs that will break our hearts, and they will also show flashes of being completely dominant one quarter and awful the next. It takes time, and time alone. People want to just switch in and out parts like this is a video game and they think that will solve all the issues, but really it is just time.
Eric Gordon was so terrible in this game – on both sides of the court. He had as many points as turnovers and he got lost countless times in the half court and was lackadaisical in getting out to shooters in transition. The Spurs have problems with exceptional athletes and guys who move the ball well when they rotate. Eric Gordon does not fit either of those molds. Tyreke gives the Spurs problems when he gets going and Jrue will kill them more times than not when they go under screens, but Gordon really has no way of impacting the game against them.
You can’t have Aminu at SF when you are playing a smart team. He had one field goal on a fast break early in the game and was a ghost the rest of the way. The Spurs didn’t even pretend to defend him and it effected everyone else on the court. I mean, watch Kawhi Leonard “defending him” on this play. Again, if the Pelicans just get a guy teams have to respect at that position this summer, the offense will be deadly.
Rivers outplayed Roberts yet again on both sides of the court. THIS is the shot he needs to perfect this summer to take his game to the next level. The Tony Parker runner/floater.
For the second game in a row, we saw a team that just missed easy shots in transition. They shot just 7-18 in transition opportunities, missing layup after layup after layup. In the first half alone they missed 5 transition layups. Not jumpers; layups. The Spurs were exactly the opposite. They got very few opportunities, but they were 8-10 in transition, including 4-5 from three, while also getting to the free throw line several times.
The Pelicans bounce back quick the next night but lose a heartbreaker to Golden State, as Eric Gordon’s game winning three-point attempt goes in and out.