After watching his team struggle through its worst offensive half of the season Wednesday night, Gregg Popovich was ready.
Knowing the Spurs were tired, he rested his team as it charges to the end of the lockout-shortened season without a practice on Thursday or a shootaround on Friday morning.
But he still had video evidence of his team’s struggles against Boston Wednesday night that he was ready to show them.
“We talked about it a little bit that we didn’t play well in the second half,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “Pop actually showed us a little video too make sure that he was saying the truth. We knew it was an important game and we wanted to play well together again. So, yeah, we talked about it.”
Suitably inspired, the Spurs ran up season highs for points, field-goal percentage and tied their season best in assists in a convincing 128-103 victory over New Orleans Friday night.
It was a marked contrast from the struggles in Boston where they scored only 29 points and converted only 27.5 percent of their shots in the second half.
The Spurs hit 60.7 percent from the field and had 31 assists Friday night against the Hornets with some of the most precise offensive movement and spacing of the season.
Spurs captain Tim Duncan called the ball movement and offensive execution the best all season.
“We’re really moving the ball,” Duncan said. “It’s really got some pop on it and guys are really playing unselfishly. If we can do that we’ve got some of the best shooters in the league. If we get those guys open shots they’re going to knock them down.”
It boosted them into first place in the Western Division ahead of Oklahoma City, a perch they haven’t enjoyed since the opening month of the season.
Here’s how they did it.
The game, simply stated: The Spurs simply overpowered New Orleans as they ran an offensive clinic against the team with the worst record in the Western Conference.
Where the game was won:No, not at the opening tip. The Hornets had two leads in the first four-plus minutes of the game, including 11-10 after Eric Gordon’s 3-pointer with7:56 left in the first quarter. The Spurs put the game away witha 16-7 run late in the first quarter, starting with a 3-pointer by Manu Ginobili, another 3-pointer by Stephen Jackson and capped by a layup by Boris Diawthat gave the Spurs a 34-23 lead with 46.9 seconds left in the quarter. The Spurs’ lead never dipped below double digits during the rest of the game.
Putting it away:After Marco Belinelli’s3-pointer pulled the Hornets within 45-35 with7:08 left in the second quarter, the Spurs blew the game open with a 23-5 run capped by a 3-pointer by Patty Mills on a nice feed by Ginobilithat gave them their largest lead at 68-40 with 1:39 left in the half. During the surge, the Spurs hit 8 of 11 from the field, including all three 3-point attempts. Six different players scored during the binge, including six points from Duncan, five from Ginobili and five from Mills.
The clincher:New Orleans closed within 85-69 on Carl Landry’s layup with 4:19 left in the third quarter. Mills then hit two baskets — the last on a fantastic left-handed bullet pass from Ginobili with 3:45 left — and Matt Bonner added another hoop to spark a run of six straight points in a 14-4 run to finish the quarter that was punctuated by 3-pointers from Mills and Bonner.
The cocktail hour:James Anderson’s two foul shots boosted the Spurs to their largest lead at 121-89 with4:31 left. The Hornets made the final score more presentable with nine straight points after Gordon accounted for a long jumper and a 3-pointer, a fast-break dunk from Xavier Henry and a layup from Greivis Vasquez during a run where the Spurs missed three straight field goals for one of only two times in the game.
Player of the game I: Duncan had an extremely productive game in limited playing time with 19 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 20:24.
Player of the game II:The bench featured five players in double figures, but the top contributions came from Patty Mills. The team’s newest acquisition speededup the tempo, provided some nice defense and threw in 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting along with four assists and two steals. And he prompted the biggest reaction of the night from Popovich when his hustling forced a turnover from Belinelli.
Player of the game III: New Orleans’ Eric Gordon showed little effect of his season-long struggles with a right knee contusion as he erupted for 15 points in the first quarter en route to a game-high 31 points and a team-high four assists.
Most unsung:Stephen Jackson again provided a lift with 13 points and a game-high seven rebounds, along with some strong defense against Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry.
Attendance: The Spurs continued their strong attendance surge with another sellout crowd of 18,581. It was the Spurs’ 20th capacity crowd in 26 home games this season, including 17 of their last 19 home games and 13th in a row. Their last non-capacity home game came Feb. 2 against New Orleans.
Did you notice I:With the injury to Jarrett Jack, the Hornets didn’t have a true point guard off their bench. It enabled Mills to torment Belinelli with his speed, leading him to a game-worst minus-29 plus/minus score.
Did you notice II: So much for letting Friday’s game go quickly into the night. The officiating crew of Scott Foster, Leroy Richardson and Michael Smith appeared to be earning their pay by the foul, if the way they called the game in the fourth quarter was any indication. The two teams combined for 22 foul shots in a fourth quarter that dragged for 30 minutes.
Stat of the game I: The Spurs stretched their winning streak to 10 games. It’s their second-longest of the season, trailing only by their NBA-best 11-game winning streak from Jan. 30 to Feb. 21.
Stat of the game II: The victory boosted the Spurs .007 ahead of Oklahoma City for first place in the Western Conference standings with 13 games left in the regular season.
Stat of the game III: The Spurs are one game away from clinching their 15th consecutive playoff berth — each of Duncan’s seasons with the team.
Stat of the game IV: With 128 points on Friday, the Spurs scored their most points since a 133-111 victory over Minnesota on April 12, 2010.
Stat of the game V: The Spurs shot 60.7 percent from the field. It was their highest shooting percent since blistering Detroit for 64.3 percent in a 111-104 victory over the Pistons on March 9, 2011.
Stat of the game VI: The Spurs’ bench again was a critical component of their victory with an 82-44 edge over the Hornets in bench points — most scoring from the bench since Orlando went for 82 points on Jan. 3, 2000. In their last four games, the Spurs’ bench has outscored their opponents, 245-135. That’s an average of 61.3 bench points per game.
Stat of the game VII: The Spurs rang up a season-high 72 points in the first half, bettering their previous scoring high of 65 points reached twice previously. Most recently, it came against at Oklahoma City on March 16.
Stat of the game IX: The Spurs have won 27 of their last 32 games and improved their Western Conference-best home record to 22-4.
Stat of the game X:The Spurs are 10-1 since Stephen Jackson arrived, 9-0 since Boris Diaw arrived and 6-0 since Patty Mills joined them.
Weird stat of the night I:A game after commiting only eight fouls and coming within one of breaking the franchise record for fewest fouls in a game in team history, the Spurs were whistled for 21 against New Orleans. They committed 23 combined fouls in their last two games.
Weird stat of the game II: After scoring a season-low 28 points in the second half against Boston Wednesday night, the Spurs scored at least that many in three quarters against New Orleans, missing only with 27 points in the third quarter.
Weird stat of the game III: For the second time in three games, the Spurs hit at least 50 percent in every quarter of the game, hitting 71.4 percent in the first quarter, 62.5 percent in the second quarter, 50 percent in the third quarter and 58.8 percent in the fourth quarter. They have accomplished the feat three other times this season — at Milwaukee on Jan. 10, at Toronto on Feb. 15 and at Cleveland on Wednesday night.
Weird stat of the game IV: The Spurs’ +20 margin in assists (31 vs. 11 allowed to New Orleans) ranks as the third-largest margin in the NBA this season. New York’s 24-assist margin against Portland on March 14 and Milwaukee’s 21-assist margin against the Trail Blazers on March 20 are the only higher ones in the league this season.
Weird stat of the game V: Twelve of the Spurs’ 13 active players saw action in the first half.
Weird stat of the game VI: Every Spurs player accounted for at least one assist with the exception of Boris Diaw, who was shut out in 22 minutes. Coming into the game, Diaw had the third-highest assist-per-minute ratio on the team.
Weird stat of the game VI: The Spurs’ biggest deficit in the game was one point. In their last 10 games, the Spurs’ biggest deficit has been six points. It came in a victory over Philadelphia on March 25.
Weird stat of the game VII: After struggling from the foul line for much of the season, the Spurs continued a recent stretch of strong foul shooting again Friday night. San Antonio hit 17 of 21 shots from the line for 81 percent. Over the last six games, they are 90 for 111 from the line (81.1 percent) and 145 for 182 (79.7 percent) over the last 10 games. In the previous 43 games before the recent surge, the Spurs were 675 of 940 from the line (71.8 percent).
Not a good sign: Tony Parker’s playing time was limited, but he scored only seven points in 16 minutes. Over his last two games, Parker is averaging 8.5 points per game and shooting 40 percent from the field.
Best plus/minus scores:Ginobili was plus-29, Mills was plus-18 and Bonner was plus-14.
Worst plus/minus scores: Danny Green was minus-3, Parker was minus-1 and Anderson was even.
Quote of the game: “We couldn’t guard tonight. Since I’ve been here, that was the worst defensive effort I’ve seen. We couldn’t guard a bike if we were riding on it. It was unpleasant to watch,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams on his team’s defensive struggles.
How the schedule stacks up:The Spurs will host Utah on Sunday and face the Jazz in Utah Monday before another back-to-back with home games against the Lakers on Wednesday and Memphis on Thursday. The Hornets will return home Saturday against Minnesota to start a five-game homestand that continues with games against the Lakers on Monday and Sacramento on Wednesday.
Injuries: The Spurs had a complete roster. Parker stumbled early in the third quarter and saw his minutes limited during the rest of the game. New Orleans played without second-leading scorer Jarrett Jack (right foot sprain), C Chris Johnson (concussion) and C Emeka Okafor (sore left knee).