San Antonio Spurs 109, New Orleans Hornets 95: Gregg Popovich adjusts at the half, the Spurs roll
The Hornets beat up on the Spurs during the first half of Sunday’s matinee. New Orleans took a 61-44 lead into the half, and they looked like they would win this game walking away.Â But Gregg Popovich started the 3rd quarter with a small lineup of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, George Hill, Richard Jefferson and Tim Duncan. The adjustment worked. San Antonio played small-ball for the remainder of the game and turned a 17 point halftime deficit into a convincing 14 point win.
Small-ball lineups are designed, at least in theory, to promote offense. Faster players, more possessions, dribble drives and shooters spread to the four corners of the earth all make small(er) lineups an ideal choice when the Spurs need to generate offense. All of that happened in this game , and none of it is particularly newsworthy. San Antonio, however, got something more interesting from their smalls against the Hornets. The Spurs’ smaller lineups were alive with energy and defensive hustle.
George Hill and Manu Ginobili sparked a strong second half from the Spurs by playing a style of swarming defense that lends itself to forced turnovers and transition baskets. The Spurs defensive energy seemed to spark an offensive rhythm, and San Antonio not only scored in transition, but found open looks from distance and, in general, shared the ball to find great halfcourt opportunities.
San Antonio’s forays into small-ball have seen mixed results this season. In Friday night’s loss to the Mavericks, the Spurs lost a small-ball battle in which they learned Gary Neal was not a good defensive option against Shawn Marion.
The Mavericks small lineups present match up problems for the Spurs. But tonight it was New Orleans who found their personnel mismatched against San Antonio’s smaller lineups. As with everything else, small-ball makes varying degrees of sense depending on whom the Spurs are playing. Small-ball is neither good nor bad in a vacuum. And relative to the whomever the Spurs are playing, it’s typically either very good or very bad. Tonight, the Spurs showed the very good side of their small-ball capabilities.
In the end, this was an impressive win for the Spurs. New Orleans is, by some measurements, the best defensive team in basketball. But the Spurs cut them up and now find themselves two games ahead of their division rival.
Golden State has next.