San Antonio Spurs storm past New Orleans Pelicans

By Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange  |  March 4, 2016 at 1:59 AM
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NEW ORLEANS -- There is a creeping sense of inevitability with the San Antonio Spurs, who with characteristic calm pocketed their 52nd victory in 61 games Thursday, using a deadly efficient 16-2 closing run to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 94-86 at the Smoothie King Center.

For a team chasing the Golden State Warriors' historic run to the best NBA regular season in history, the Spurs (52-9) simply make plays and keep their mouths shut.

Kawhi Leonard scored a game-high 30 points and forward LaMarcus Aldridge added 26, and the pair combined for 11 of San Antonio's final 16 points in the last 4:12 to erase an 84-78 deficit.

"We just made some shots down the stretch," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "Often, in NBA games, you find out that happens. We made some shots."

Down by six points, Aldridge, Leonard and Patty Mills combined to make 7 of 8 shots down the stretch. Aldridge was 4 of 5 and had eight points in the 16-2 run; Mills made two jumpers, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key; and Leonard capped a 6-of-10 night from long range with a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left.

"I'm just trying to find ways to make plays out there," said Aldridge, who scored 14 points in San Antonio's 26-18 fourth quarter that broke a 68-68 tie. "I just stayed with it and tried to get better defensively as it went on."

"We made shots and got some defensive stops, and tried to execute offensively, and that's what we did down the stretch," Leonard added. "I'm just playing in the flow of the game. Fortunately, I was able to make shots down the stretch."

The Pelicans, meanwhile, missed five of their last six shots and turned the ball over once over the final 3:35. They had one field goal -- a 10-foot baseline jumper by Anthony Davis -- in that span.

Eric Gordon led the Pelicans with 23 points, but those came in the first three quarters. Gordon missed all three shots in the fourth quarter after Popovich assigned the taller Leonard to guard him.

"I probably should have done it earlier, but (Gordon) is a heck of a player," Popovich said. "He rises up over everybody. He's a scorer on our small guards, so that's when we decided that Kawhi better take him, and that pretty much took him out."

For the Pelicans (23-37), it was their third consecutive loss after leading by at least six points in the fourth quarter. After a 100-95 setback at Houston on Wednesday, New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, frustrated by three Jrue Holiday turnovers in the final three minutes, blasted his team and said it had no shot at getting back in the playoff race.

Gentry was more understanding about blowing the lead to the Spurs.

"They're 52-9, there's a reason they're 52-9," Gentry said. "We have to learn, some kind of way, how to close out a game. I thought we played and competed at a real high, high level. We've got to be able to finish the game by making some plays and making some defensive stops."

In addition to his two long jumpers down the stretch, Mills outhustled Kendrick Perkins, who was standing flat-footed, for an offensive rebound, setting up Aldridge for a short jumper.

"They got two big offensive rebounds that we have to get in moments like that," said Davis, who scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds. "We had some good looks down the stretch and missed them, but mainly we just have to come up with stops, especially late in the game."

Three minutes into the third quarter, Tim Duncan inadvertently swung his left elbow into Davis' mouth while spinning near the lane, and the blow sent Davis to the locker room to stitch up a bloody lip.

Davis recorded the 127th double-double of his career, tying him with David West for the franchise record.

NOTES: Adding to the Pelicans' injury woes was the fractured sternum suffered by backup C Alexis Ajinca, who took an elbow to the chest in a 100-95 loss at Houston on Wednesday and is out indefinitely. New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said the freak injury is just the latest of an inexplicable injury situation. "Not in the 27 years I've been in the league and not in the 11 years I was in college as a coach," Gentry said. "It's been a very frustrating year." ... Gentry recanted his comments that his team's season was over. "I was very frustrated and emotional," he said. "I know we're still a long shot to make the playoffs, but we're going to play just like we're playing for the playoffs." ... San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was asked why the Spurs hired respected analytics expert Kirk Goldsberry. "To give us analytics," he said, grinning. "He wasn't going to play much point guard, and I don't think he's going to rebound much."

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