So, the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night. That’s been happening to a lot of teams this year, as the Spurs’ 35-13 record would suggest. But while the Pelicans were unable to come away from their matchup with San Antonio with a win, they nonetheless demonstrated that they are becoming a better basketball team.
In the Pelicans defeat at the hands of the Spurs, they suffered the same fate that so many teams do when they go up against Gregg Popovich’s juggernaut: a lack of stamina. After three quarters, the Pelicans led 76-64 and looked to be in pretty good shape. Then, the Well-Oiled Machine took over. The Spurs outscored the Pelicans 38-19 in the fourth quarter and ran away with the game. While the Spurs were missing several key players, including Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, they still had Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in the fold and that was enough. Duncan and Parker combined for 52 points, as the inexperienced Pelicans struggled to keep up.
Plenty of teams fail in the fourth quarter against the balanced attack of the Spurs, because they simply don’t have the depth to hang with them. Fatigue was clearly a factor here, as Anthony Davis played 44 minutes, while no one the Spurs played more than 36. Considering how much the Pelicans depended on Davis, you get the sense that had they been at full strength, they would have been able to hang on to their lead. But the Pelicans have lost Jason Smith for the season and Ryan Anderson is still out indefinitely. This has led to an extremely thin big man rotation, which has meant more minutes for Davis, who is struggling to keep up with the workload. While Davis’ stat line of 17 points and 16 rebounds looks impressive, he was just 6-for-21 from the field. It’s worth noting he attempted eight more shots than any other Pelicans player. The increased workload is hurting his efficiency.
The injuries to Smith and Anderson have forced the Pelicans backup bigs into playing more and more minutes and Monday night was no exception. Alexis Ajinca played 27 minutes, while Greg Stiemsma played 20. Since Ajinca and Stiemsma are essentially the last line of defense for the Pelicans in the frontcourt, they had to stay out of foul trouble, which they did–Ajinca had just two fouls while Stiemsma had three. Unfortunately, with the rotation so thin, the fear of foul trouble undoubtedly affected their performance. If either player fouls out, the Pelicans essentially have no one to turn to. This led to tentative defense all night and ultimately allowed Tim Duncan to finish with 21 points. Duncan also had six blocks, which suggests that the Pelicans replacement bigs struggled to be aggressive offensively as well.
The Pelicans have played better recently, but their persistent injury troubles have severely hampered their abilities to compete. If Anderson, Smith and Jrue Holiday had playing against the Spurs, they would have had a much better shot at fending off San Antonio’s late charge. Instead, fatigue won out and the Spurs dominated in the fourth en route to a relatively easy win.