Pelicans’ victory over Spurs is a good brick in building a foundation
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans’ victory over San Antonio on Sunday wasn’t a great performance.
But it was a very good win.
No NBA team is in playoff form in December, especially in the third game of the season, especially a team with a first-year head coach and two starters who weren’t on the team the previous season.
This first-year coach, Stan Van Gundy, called it “a good win for the third game of the year.”
So the lulls that the Pelicans experienced were insignificant within the context of a 98-95 triumph in the home opener in the Smoothie King Center.
What was significant was how the Pelicans addressed the short-comings during an imperfect but satisfactory 1-1 road trip to start the season.
They had way too many turnovers (23 per game) and didn’t play well enough on defense, (105 points per game) even as they beat Toronto before losing to Miami.
So Van Gundy’s emphasis going into the game against the 2-0 Spurs was to take much better care of the basketball and make it more difficult for them to score than it was for the Raptors and the Heat.
The two goals were connected in that the turnovers created too many easy points.
The Raptors scored 25 points off of turnovers and the Heat outscored the Pelicans 19-6 on fast-break points.
The Pelicans had eight turnovers Sunday (the Spurs had 15), leading to just eight points for the Spurs, who had just 11 fast-break points while the Pelicans had 22.
The Pelicans won because they didn’t give their opponent a bunch of easy points. In fact it was Zion Williamson who took the most advantage of gifted points, picking up loose balls around the basket and turning them into points.
He was one of three Pelicans to finish with a double-double. He had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Josh Hart came off the short bench to add 12 points and 11 rebounds and Brandon Ingram was the key to the victory with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Lonzo Ball chipped in 16 points.
The Pelicans were erratic offensively, but their defensive consistency was sufficient to overcome that.
They scored just 16 points in the first quarter, but trailed by just two. They edged in front by two at the half.
They scored 27 points in a little more than the first eight minutes of the third quarter to open a double-digit lead as they seemed to take advantage of a team playing the back end of its first back-to-back of the season.
But they had a four-minute field-goal drought between the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter and the Spurs took advantage to edge in front.
Then Ingram returned.
He made a jumper, assisted on a Williamson basket and made two more jumpers to give the Pelicans a 90-87 lead with five minutes remaining.
The Spurs regained the lead, but Ingram made a basket and a free throw, Williamson added two free throws and Steven Adams dunked to give New Orleans a 97-91 lead with 1:59 left.
Some more offensive stagnation, including two missed free throws by Adams with 12 seconds left, gave the Spurs an opportunity to tie with a late 3-pointer.
But Eric Bledsoe blocked DeMar DeRozan’s 3-pointer in the final second.
“I thought our defense was really, really good the last couple of minutes,” Van Gundy said. “At the end of the game we got the job done defensively, I thought, very, very well.”
Van Gundy cited a couple of other key stats – 13 offensive rebounds to the Spurs’ four and 29 free-throw attempts to the Spurs’ eight.
Now it’s on to Phoenix on Tuesday and Oklahoma City on Thursday before the Pelicans return home to play the Raptors on the second day of 2021 to start a series of four consecutive home games.
Drew Brees of the Pelicans’ sister franchise, the Saints, describes the dog days of training camp each summer as “stacking bricks,” a series of very good days of work stacked upon one another – each building on the previous – to construct a strong foundation for the 16-game regular season.
The NBA has reduced this season by 10 games, but 72 is still a lot more than an NFL season.
The brick stacking in the NBA comes during the early weeks and even months of the regular season.
The Pelicans victory Sunday was a good brick.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…