Pelicans (14-8), Spurs (6-17)
The NBA is racing headlong toward a game based largely on perimeter shooting and skilled backcourt players, but the New Orleans Pelicans have a pair of frontcourt weapons that allow them to go very old school. With jumpers not falling early Friday in the AT&T Center for the visitors, New Orleans opted to get the ball to its power forward and center repeatedly in the low post and around the paint, yielding outstanding results. Zion Williamson continued one of the best stretches of his pro career by getting to the rim and foul line at will, while Jonas Valanciunas provided interior scoring and rebounding against a San Antonio frontcourt lacking bulk. New Orleans won for a second time this season in the Alamo City, the first time in franchise history that the Pelicans have finished 2-0 on the Spurs’ home floor in one campaign.
Game Recap: Pelicans 117, Spurs 99 - December 2, 2022
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Trey Murphy sank three three-pointers in rapid succession, giving New Orleans a 104-88 lead with four-plus minutes remaining in regulation. The Pelicans trailed 52-49 at halftime but broke out in the third quarter with a 31-21 edge. They won the latter half by a 68-47 margin.
PELICANS PLAYER OF THE GAME
Split it between Williamson and Valanciunas. The lefty power forward rumbled his way to 30 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, while the Lithuanian pivot did his damage to the tune of 21 points and 11 boards. The duo combined to shoot 17/25 from the field and 16/17 on free throws. Williamson again came within a whisker of his first NBA triple-double, perhaps only missing it because the Pelicans were ice-cold in the first half from the perimeter (on passes from him), something Murphy referred to in his postgame radio interview. Murphy (5/12 from deep after a slow start) vowed that next time he will sink more threes, allowing Williamson to achieve the statistical feat. “He’s just scratching the surface,” head coach Willie Green said of Williamson’s future. “It’s good to see, when you look at the timeline of coming back from an injury, knocking some rust off early in the season, and now he’s starting to find his rhythm.”
Pelicans Stat Leader Highlights: Zion Williamson scores 30 points vs. San Antonio Spurs
BY THE NUMBERS
6: New Orleans three-pointers made in the first three quarters.
6: New Orleans three-pointers made in the fourth quarter alone. Overall, it was a rough, 29 percent night beyond the arc for the Pelicans, but they broke the game open with long balls, including two from Jose Alvarado.
6-5: New Orleans road record following Friday’s triumph. The Pelicans did not win their seventh game on the road last season until Jan. 20 in New York (Alvarado’s memorable return to the Big Apple). They started 6-17 in away games in ’21-22.
REVISITING FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME
The first-half issue was more a lack of shot-making than urgency or hustle by New Orleans. Alvarado spearheaded the Pelicans in this category in the second half, beating the Spurs to the ball and coming up with a steal of Zach Collins that helped swing the momentum.
CJ McCollum was understandably rusty in his return from being sidelined from games; he recently noted that he went 8-9 days without being able to run due to illness. Also making a return to game action, Naji Marshall came up with multiple key fourth-quarter plays, including a three-point bucket.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
San Antonio fans may be OK with the fact that New Orleans and Williamson have already completed their two annual trips this season to the Alamo City, because he absolutely tormented the Spurs there. After going for 32 points last week on 14/18 shooting at AT&T Center, on Friday he was 9/14 and scored 30 points.
December should be a compelling month schedule-wise for New Orleans, including a series of high-interest home games in the Smoothie King Center. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that the one meeting Pelicans fans are looking most forward to features the team’s opponent from last year’s playoffs, Phoenix. In a Twitter poll, the Dec. 9, 11 “baseball series” against the Suns drew 61 percent of votes in terms of the most anticipated December home matchup for the Pels, followed distantly by Sunday’s matinee against Denver (21 percent). Phoenix and Denver entered Friday in first and second place, respectively, in the West, just ahead of NOLA in the standings.