Game rewind: Blair torments inexperienced Hornets’ inside players

With New Orleans’ top three centers and a starting power forward missing Saturday night, DeJuan Blair knew he would have a chance to take advantage of the depleted Hornets’ interior players.

Chris Kaman, Jason Smith, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza weren’t in uniform for the Hornets. It gave Blair a chance to exert his will early against New Orleans.

Blair muscled for 23 points and seven rebounds, including 12 in the first quarter, to lead the Spurs’ gritty 89-86 victory over the Hornets.

With Gustavo Ayon and Lance Thomas forced into the starting lineup, Blair wanted to target the seldom-used rookies.

“That’s got to be the mindset,” Blair told FOX Sports Southwest. “Once they don’t have any tall, athletic big men, I’ve got to go try to take advantage of it. I’m pretty good when I start off good.”

That was definitely the case Saturday night when Blair hit five of his first six shots and produced 16 points in the first half. He slowed down a little after the break but still was a key reason the Spurs were able to win their second game in two nights.

“That’s my goal every game to spark us up and start going,” Blair said. “That’s what I’m trying to be is the energy guy for the whole group. Today I did a good job of it.”

It wasn’t necessarily an artistic success, but the Spurs still had enough to notch the tough victory. Here are some of the highlights.

The game, simply stated: The Spurs overcame fatigue and cold shooting to claim a grinding victory where trailed by a point twice in the last two minutes before overcoming the team with the Western Conference’s worst record.

Where the game was won: After Marco Belinelli boosted the Hornets their first lead of the fourth quarter at 84-83 on a jumper with 2:07 left, Tim Duncan hit two foul shots to enable the Spurs to reclaim the lead. Belinelli’s 23-foot jumper pushed the Hornets into the lead again, but Duncan’s tip with 1:19 left gave the Spurs the lead for good at 87-86. Danny Green’s 20-foot jumper with 41.8 seconds extended the lead to three. The Spurs then held on as Jarrett Jack had a turnover and missed a layup on successive possessions and Belinelli’s game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer was short.

Getting close: Kawhi Leonard’s layup gave the Spurs an 83-78 lead with 4:30 left. But New Orleans charged back, scoring six straight points on a layup by Greivis Vasquez, two foul shots by Carl Landry and Belinelli’s hoop that gave them an 84-83 lead.

Tight throughout: Three quick baskets by Blair boosted the Spurs to a 10-4 lead with 8:43 left in the first quarter. After that.neither team had a lead of more than five points.

Player of the game I: Despite his two late mistakes, Jack was the primary weapon for the Hornets with a game-high 27points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Player of the game II: Blair got the Spurs going and finished with a team-high 23 points, along with seven rebounds and two steals that enabled him to share the team lead.

Player of the game III: Despite scoring only two points in the first half, Tim Duncan had a big finish to produce 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. He provided points twice in the final two minutes that enabled the Spurs to reclaim the lead, including the tip-in that gave the Spurs the lead for good with 1:14 left.

Most unsung: Leonard struggled with a tough 3-for-12 shooting night, but still provided big defense all night and finished with eight points and seven rebounds.

Attendance: The Hornets have struggled at the gate this season and there appeared to be numerous empty seats in the lower bowl of the New Orleans Arena. The game attracted an announced crowd of 16,118, which was nearly 4,000 more than the last time San Antonio visited on Jan. 23 and ranked as one of their top six crowds of the season,

Did you notice I: Actor Samuel L. Jackson is filming a movie in the New Orleans area and has become a regular for Hornets games while there. But unlike like before Thursday’s visit by Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers, Jackson didn’t introduce the starting lineup Saturday night.

Did you notice II: When the Spurs put the game away in the fourth quarter, they repeatedly pounded the ball inside with five of their six baskets coming inside the paint. The only basket that didn’t was their last one – a 20-footer by Green that sealed the victory.

Stat of the game I: The Spurs claimed their sixth victory in their last seven games and 11th victory in their last 14 road games.

Stat of the game II: Tony Parker finished with 12 points and 10 assists, despite scoring only two points in the first half. It was his ninth double-double of the season, with eight of them coming on the road.

Stat of the game III: The Spurs won despite shooting only 40 percent from the field, lowest since hitting 38.1 percent in the loss at Portland on Feb. 21. It marked the sixth time this season the Spurs have shot 40 percent or less. They are 4-2 in those games.

Stat of the game IV: The Spurs matched their season low with two 3-pointers and hit a season-low 10.5 percent from the field. They have hit less than 30 percent of their 3-pointers only seven times. Saturday’s struggling was their lowest since shooting 21.1 percent against New Orleans on Feb. 2.

Stat of the game V: Spurs’ opponents have struggled shooting in the last two games. Dallas was limited to 31 percent shooting in the second half on Friday. New Orleans hit 38.5 percent in the second half, including 27.8 percent in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game VI: The Spurs rang up a 52-42 edge in paint points. Since a loss against Denver on March 4, the Spurs have reached at least 50 paint points in seven of their last nine games.

Stat of the game VII: New Orleans employed its 17th different starting lineup of the season.

Stat of the game VIII: Jack scored a game-high 27 points, but produced only two in the fourth quarter and missed his last five shots.

Weird stat of the night I: San Antonio’s biggest lead was six points and New Orleans’ biggest advantage was five points. That 11-point margin made it the closest game of the season for the Spurs in terms of margin of points.

Weird stat of the night II: The Spurs hit their first 15 foul shots in the game before Danny Green missed the last two foul shots with 2.3 seconds left in the game

Weird stat of the night III: Parker had seven assists before he attempted his first field goal of the game.

Weird stat of the night IV: The tight game featured 16 lead changes and 14 ties. The Spurs were ahead by one at the end of the first quarter, the Hornets had a one-point advantage at halftime and the Spurs led by one again after three quarters.

Not a good sign: The Spurs’ normally potent 3-point shooting struggled through a historically bad night as they hit a season-worst 10.5 percent and missed their final 13 3-pointers.

Best plus/minus scores: Duncan and Matt Bonner were plus-7 and Danny Green and Justin Dentmon was plus-4.

Worst plus/minus scores: Blair was minus-5, Leonard was minus-2 and Parker was minus-2.

Quote of the game: “I thought New Orleans for most of the game was more efficient than we were and executed better than we did. So we just had to hang in there and keep plugging. That’s probably the best thing we did,” Popovich, to reporters after the game on the Spurs’ gritty efforts to claim the victory.

How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs will finish its first back-to-back-to-back with a home game Sunday against Philadelphia. After taking Monday off, they’ll have another back-to-back with games Tuesday in Phoenix and Wednesday in Sacramento. The Hornets will start a West Coast swing with games Monday at the Los Angeles Clippers, Wednesday at Golden State and Thursday at Portland.

Injuries: Manu Ginobili (rest) and Tiago Splitter (mid-back spasm) remained in San Antonio. Gary Neal (mid-foot sprain) did not play. New Orleans played without C Chris Kaman (illness), F Trevor Ariza (sore right ankle), C Emeka Okafor (sore right knee) and F-C Jason Smith (league suspension).

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