by Wyatt Vaughn
Posting a 140-126 win, the Pelicans proved tonight that by reaching 10-7 on the year, they are truly a team of streaks. After winning their first four, they lost six in a row, just to win five of their last six. So the Pels were extremely confident heading into their Monday night matchup with the veteran-led San Antonio Spurs who are 8-7 on the season. The Pelicans and Spurs have both been struggling this season with injuries. In fact both starting point guards didn’t even dress out for this game, so a win for either team would be huge for the rest of the team’s confidence.
With the Pelicans coming into the game winning five of their last six, it was crucial that they come out and play with that same energy in front of their home crowd. Although it looked bleak early in the game after giving up 39 points in just the first quarter, the Pelicans rebounded in the second quarter to take control of the game. The Pelicans won both the second and third quarter by 10 points to take the wind out of the Spurs’ sails. The Spurs never really made a run in the fourth quarter; they looked deflated and uninterested, giving the game to the Pelicans. The Pels showed great signs of improvement defensively only allowing the Spurs to shoot 2-10 from three point range after starting off 10-14.
The biggest question heading into the game for the Pelicans was the injury to Elfrid Payton. Although he isn’t putting up the best numbers in his debut season in the Big Easy, his production is undeniable as the Pelicans are 5-1 in the six games that Elfrid Payton has played. Without him, that record falls to just 4-6, a marked difference. Without Payton tonight against a tough Spurs team the Pelicans looked to other role players to provide a spark in the absence of the starting guard. The Pels weren’t the only team missing their point guard though, as Spurs starting point guard Dejounte Murray was out from this game and the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Spurs also were looking for some extra help from some role players. The Spurs got that help as a former Pelican, Dante Cunningham, dominated the first half of the game by shooting 100% from the field on seven shots (five three-pointers). Cunningham ended the first half with 19 points, the leading scorer from either team, but didn’t attempt a shot in the second half. The Pelicans also got some key bench support from Julius Randle who scored 21 points and totalled 14 rebounds on just 13 shots in 25 minutes. Also making some nice plays was backup guard, Frank Jackson, who contributed five points to the 13-0 run the Pels made late in the 1st half. The biggest supporting player for the Pels was guard E’twaun Moore who finished with 24 points and shot 11-16 from the field.
Another big concern that has haunted the Pels all season is their lackluster defense. Coming into the game they were 27th in the league in defensive efficiency. It didn’t start well for them as they allowed 39 points in just the first quarter. The Spurs were also blazing hot from the three point line, starting out 10-14 from long range. Although the Pelicans didn’t play great defense in this game, the Spurs played even worse on the defensive end. At the end of the third quarter the Pelicans had already scored 108 points and were shooting nearly 60% from the field. The Pelicans’ main concern defensively against the Spurs was defending the dynamic duo of all stars, Lamarcus Aldridge and Demar Derozan. In that regard, the Pels actually had a really good gameplan in taking away the two stars. Both stars were held to under 40% from the field and Aldridge had a measly seven points. Although most people will look at the offense as the reason the Pelicans won this game, the defense had a much bigger impact in the game. The defense created extra opportunities for the Pels, forcing the Spurs into 14 turnovers resulting in 25 points.
The Pelicans will return to action on November 21, against the Philadelphia 76ers who recently acquired star guard Jimmy Butler. At 12-7 the 76ers are currently the third seed in the Eastern Conference.