Game rewind: Desperate times call for ‘Twin Towers,’ zone

Gregg Popovich lamented last week that the lack of practice time resulting from the lockout had made him drastically alter his coaching plans from a typical season.

When asked about emplying a zone defense with his current group, Popovich chuckled at the thought.

Something happened Monday night. Maybe it was New Orleans’ blistering start that saw the Hornets hit nine of their first 12 shots. Or the fact that his defense needed a spark from somewhere.

Whatever the reason, Popovich pulled a zone defense out of  his bag of tricks. That shift was enough that the Hornets cooled down a little.

In a similarly dire position down the stretch later in the game, Popovich employed Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in the same lineup for the first extended period this season.

Duncan entered the game with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter with Spliter already in the lineup. Together, they helped the Spurs hold on for 104-102 victory.

That willingness to take a gamble helped the Spurs snap their two-game losing streak and showed the strength of Popovich’s convictions to try something different when he felt like it was needed.

Here’s a few other tidbits about the Spurs’ second road victory of the season.   

Game analysis: Hot early New Orleans boosted them into an early lead for most of the first half. But a vintage performance by a rested Duncan enabled the Spurs to escape with a tight victory settled on the final possession.

Where the game was won: Two nights after sitting out the loss against Houston against his will, Duncan was rested and ready down the stretch against the Hornets. His 13-foot running hook with 1.4 seconds left gave the Spurs the lead. And on the final possession, the Spurs got a rare stop when Carl Landry misfired on a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Bring on the bench: New Orleans jumped to an early 22-13 lead with 5:12 left in the first quarter before a hustling performance prompted by the San Antonio bench helped pull the Spurs back in the game. The inserion of  Matt Bonner, Cory Joseph and Danny Green helped the Spurs regain the lead by the end of the quarter.

Player of the game I: Duncan had his best game this year, producing a season-high 28 points and a team-high seven rebounds. For good measure, he even threw in the game-winning shot.

Player of the game II: Tony Parker had a memorable night running the Spurs offense, scoring 20 points and dishing out a career-high 17 assists.

Player of the game III: Chris Paul may be gone, but the Hornets look like they have a keeper at point guard in Jarrett Jack, who led them with 26 points and eight assists and also grabbed six rebounds. Jack scored 17 points in the second half as he directed the Hornets’ best offensive game of the season.

Most unsung: Richard Jefferson’s shooting touch returned after he hit for 14 points with four 3-pointers. And his defense on Trevor Ariza down the stretch helped him cool down the Hornets’ mosts athletic player as Jefferson played all but 53 seconds after halftime.

Did you notice: Was it some kind of “Cougar Reunion” at the Hornets’ game? What else could explain the presence of movie stars Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah and  Brooke Shields sitting together in the courtside seats at the game.

Did you notice II: The Spurs struggled on the boards throughout most of the game. Their problems on the offensive glass were particularly pronounced as they grabbed only one offensive rebound through the first three quarters of the game. 

Stat of the game: Duncan matched Parker’s current season high with 28 points — most by a Spurs player this season.

Stat of the game II: The Spurs’ 3-point shooting improved for the fourth consecutive game to 43.8 percent. The Spurs shot at least 43.8 percent in six of their first nine games this season, but had not reached that level since the loss at Oklahoma City in the ninth game of the season. 

Stat of the game III:  New Orleans topped the 50 percent mark in shooting for only the second time this season and the 100-point mark offensively for the first time and still lost. It was the Hornets’ eighth straight loss and 13th in their last 14 games after opening the season 2-0.

Weird stat of the game: New Orleans shot at least 50 percent in every quarter of the game. The Hornets became the first Spurs opponent to accomplish that feat this season.

Weird stat of the game II: The Spurs grabbed only 27 rebounds in Monday’s game. In the last 26 seasons, the Spurs have grabbed that few rebounds in a game only 15 times before Monday. The Spurs record in those games is 2-14.

Weird stat of  the game III: The Hornets went 12 for 13 from the line for 92.3 percent, marking back-to-back nights where Spurs opponents have hit better than 90 percent from the line. Houston was at 91.7 in the Spurs’ loss Saturday night. It was  the first  time that has happened since the 2010 playoffs against Dallas.

Weird stat of the game IV: The Spurs’ starters were a collective minus-38 in plus-minus. The San Antonio bench was a collective plus-48.

Best plus/minus scores: Danny Green was plus-14, Matt Bonner and James Anderson were plus-13. 

Worst plus/minus scores: DeJuan Blair was minus-15, Jefferson was minus-11.

Quote of the game: “It was a mix of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson—a kind of sky-hook, and we’ll take it,” Parker, to reporters on Duncan’s game-winning shot.

How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs have the day off  before returning home Wednesday night against Atlanta, Friday night at Minnesota and Sunday night at Dallas. For the Hornets, they play Wednesday at Oklahoma City and home games Friday against Orlando and Sunday with Atlanta.

Injuries: Manu Ginobili missed his 13th game (record 8-5) after undergoing surgery for a fractured fifth left metacarpal.  T.J. Ford missed his eighth game (record 5-3) with a torn left hamstring. New Orleans guard Eric Gordon (bruised right knee) and guard Xavier Henry (resolving ankle sprain) both missed Monday’s game.

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