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