San Antonio Spurs 101, Indiana Pacers 79: Neal and Blair provide the spark to 4-0

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AT&T CENTER — For a team billed as an offensive juggernaut that can’t get stops when it matters, the San Antonio Spurs have flipped the script in the first four games of the season. Things will likely evolve over the course of the season and creep back to levels closer to what we became accustomed to last season, but for now the Spurs are showing the defensive fortitude that Gregg Popovich and his coaching staff have been harping on since the start of training camp.

On Monday night, San Antonio held the Pacers to under 35% shooting in a 101-79 win over the Indiana Pacers. When you limit a team to just 24 points in the paint and six made 3-pointers as the Spurs did, you’re likely to come out on top.

“The Spurs are a well-oiled machine, particularly on the offensive end, but they brought a great deal of energy on the defensive end as well tonight,” Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogel said after the game. “It was just too much for us.”

Gary Neal led the scoring charge for the Spurs, scoring 17 points on 8-10 shooting from the field. Neal took advantage of the space he was given on the pick-and-roll by the Pacers bigs and made Indiana pay. That Neal had no assists shows how much the Pacers were effective in pressuring the Spurs backup point guard to give up the ball.

Where the Spurs often pay for deploying Neal as the backup 1 is on the defensive end, but former Spur George Hill and Pacers backup point D.J. Augustin shot a combined 7-21 from the floor.

In by far the most minutes he’s seen in this short season, DeJuan Blair came off the bench to post a 14 point, 11 rebound line in nearly 30 minutes of action. The Pacers are a much better matchup for Blair thanks to Indiana giving the bulk of its minutes at power forward to David West and Tyler Hansbrough, both of whom are listed at 6’9″.

“I haven’t played him very much at all and he stayed in shape,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said. “He doesn’t turn sour and that showed tonight how ready he is, and he did a great job on both ends.”

The Spurs are sometimes punished for using Blair in extended periods against longer, athletic front lines. Outside of the 7’2″ Roy Hibbert, the Pacers bigs play a bruising style closer to the floor than the rim, which suits Blair. DeJuan may not get the call every night, but against certain teams he can be used effectively.

And the Spurs continue on, beginning a four game road trip on Wednesday against the Clippers. The defense has improved is some areas it was already pretty strong in (“We’re getting people off the 3-point line better than we have in the past” — Pop) and others where they’ve struggled in the past (Spurs are forcing 17 turnovers per game, which would’ve finished tied for second in the NBA last season). How much of the Spurs improved defense stays constant and avoids a regression to the mean will be paramount to the Spurs playoff hopes this season.

  • Len

    Great win. Great to see Neal be the assassin he needs to be. Great to see Green playing well, his game is expanding. Great to see Blair used when he has a good match up. My concerns that Pop might have forgotten about Blair have been eased.

    The Spurs won by 20 when the big 3 really didn’t play well, especially on offense. A terrific sign.

  • Titletown99030507d

    You make it seem Blair was guarding Hibbert all night long. He had the smaller dude ok. Splitters per minute was still better in those lousy 5 minutes he had. 5 points 4 rebounds one block one power move to the rim off a well earned rebound. By the way those Pacers suck and Hibbert couldn’t throw it in the ocean.

  • Tyler

    I thought Jared Wade was overly pessimistic of the Pacer’s bench…..but wow! They were absolutely awful to watch. The were stuck on 18 for nearly half the 2nd quarter….

    I know it’s early and they’re missing their best player, but this doesn’t look like the third best team in the East.

  • ThatBigGuy

    It seems like both the starters and bench struggle at times with the offense, especially spacing. We’d have 2 beautiful offensive possessions in a row, then screw up spacing and panic-pass on the next two. I would have thought that since no one is new, and we had a full training camp, things would be more consistently good. But so far, that’s not been the case. I’m sure it’s not a permanent thing, but it’s perplexing.

  • TD BestEVER

    Splitter played all GARBAGE minutes vs the end of the bench guy and 2 of TS points came off a DJB assist………DJB played awesome with the exception of 1 bad gamble on Tyler Hansborough that lead to a Matt Bonner foul. Other than that he played great – aggressive but under control……….

  • Bob

    I don’t know why Pop doesn’t trust playing Splitter and Blair together more. Blair has more value for a trade or actually contributing in the playoffs.

  • Tyler

    Blair definitely does not have more trade value than Splitter.

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