San Antonio Spurs 99, New Orleans Hornets 94: Kawhi back

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AT&T CENTER — Last December 21, we hadn’t played our first regular season game of the season yet. Thanks to the lockout-shortened schedule, NBA teams were just finishing up preseason preparations for a Christmas start to the NBA slate. December 21, 2012 we were treated to what felt like one of those midseason games that will be forgotten almost as soon as the final buzzer sounds.

Despite the unremarkable nature of the Spurs’ 99-94 win over the Hornets, the game marked the return of Kawhi Leonard to the San Antonio rotation. Leonard missed the last 18 games with jumper’s knee and saw 20 minutes of action against New Orleans. His 3-7 shooting for eight points and two rebounds doesn’t jump off the page, nor should it, but Leonard looked sharp in his return.

“I thought he was very, very good after sitting out as long as he did,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “He really only had one and a half practices to get in the flow. I thought he did a fine job.”

Just a minute or so in his first action since a loss to the Knicks over a month ago, Leonard knocked down a corner 3. Later in the game, when the Spurs were playing small, Leonard blanketed Ryan Anderson and forced a missed shot. On the other end, Leonard posted up Xavier Henry and scored on a jump hook. A few minutes after, Leonard kicked a loose ball away from Henry, gathered it and dished to Manu Ginobili for a three-point play, marking Leonard’s only assist on the night.

“[Kawhi] was really anxious to get back out there and find a rhythm and I thought he did a great job of trying to do that,” Tim Duncan said. “You can see flashes of what he can do through the beginning of the year and we definitely missed that.”

For the Spurs as a whole, there were stretches throughout the game where the team looked like it was at its peak again. Great ball movement on one end that led to an uncontested basket, followed by active, foul-free defense on the other. San Antonio strung these portions of mistake-free basketball together — an 8-0 run here, a 9-0 run there — but were unable to play a truly dominant game against New Orleans.

“We have kind of gotten used to the rotations, having [Leonard and Stephen Jackson] out and it is going to take some time for Coach Pop to get used to his substitution pattern, and we are going to have to get used to playing with those guys again,” Duncan said. “A lot of adjustments right now, but it is good to be home and good to have everybody back to full strength.”

Some more notes from the Spurs’ win over the Hornets:

  • Anthony Davis said after the game that the Hornets’ transition defense was bad, and he was right. New Orleans did a poor job of stopping the ball on the break and Tony Parker in particular took advantage. San Antonio beat the Hornets 25-5 in fast break points. Parker finished the night with 25 points on 10-17 shooting and five assists.
  • Nando De Colo again played well, scoring four points with two rebounds and two assists in about 14 minutes.
  • Duncan had another excellent box score line with 15 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two assists. The big-man-to-big-man passing and movement between Duncan and Tiago Splitter was something to behold in the first quarter. The two played off of each other extremely well and really looked in sync.
  • Graham

    Game felt like a tuneup of sorts, with the roster getting used to all being out there again. Good to get the W and hopefully start building some momentum again.

  • Gomezd

    Is it just me or does it look ike the back up PG position is De Colos to take? I always prefer Neal at the 2 anyhows and Patty Mills is hardly seeing time compared to De Colo

  • Len

    Absolutely. DeColo looks fantastic and so does Mills tbh. There’s really no excuse for Neal to ever be the primary ball handler now.

  • Blaze

    Agree completely!

  • Graham

    I feel like De Colo and Mills should pair up like Manu and Tony in the earlier years, with De Colo as sort of a balhandling 2

  • Len

    Good idea. Mills definitely needs more burn.

  • junierizzle

    Amen.

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