Defense carries Spurs past Hornets
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The San Antonio Spurs rolled to a 106-86 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night at the Spectrum Center, but they were almost apologetic afterward.
The Spurs came in well-rested while the Hornets were coming off a loss at Cleveland on Friday night, and that gave them an advantage, according to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
And even then, the players felt they didn’t play all that well for much of the game, particularly the first half.
Clearly it was enough, though, as the Spurs (12-7) completed a two-game season sweep of the Hornets and won for the third time in their last four games.
“We caught a break,” Popovich said. “That was a very difficult trip for the Hornets. It’s like, basically unfair. Coming back after being in Cleveland, getting back that late and then having to play a seven o’clock game. That’s a very difficult turnaround. All of us hate that particular deal. We all have to go through it, but we caught a break tonight.”
The Spurs trailed 15-14 after one quarter, but then pulled out to 40-29 halftime lead by holding the Hornets to 22.2 percent shooting in the first half, on 10 of 45. San Antonio pushed the lead up to 72-58 after three quarters and led by as many as 20 on several occasions in the fourth.
Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge led a balanced attack with 17 points each. Rudy Gay scored 15, Kyle Anderson added 14, Manu Ginobili scored 11 and Patty Mills finished with 10 for the Spurs.
Ginobili called it an ugly game.
“I don’t know if there’s a reason but we were a little lagging early in the game, but then we started making shots and got more aggressive,” Ginobili said. “We started running the court well and our game flourished. But it wasn’t a great game. They struggled. They shot really poorly. So, we played an OK game. The main thing was in the second half we made more shots and it made things easier.”
The Spurs finished at 48.8 percent from the field on 39 of 80 with six 3-pointers, while Charlotte made some shots late to finish at 36.9 percent from the field on 31 of 84. The Hornets were just 4 of 25 from 3-point range for 16 percent.
“We can’t get the whole credit for that,” Ginobili said of the defensive effort. “They were having an off-night. Now, we were too. We didn’t shoot 22 (percent in the first half) but I guess we were in the low 30s if I’m not mistaken. So it was a pretty poor first half. Then in the second half we started playing better. Moving better, a better rhythm.”
The Hornets (8-11) have now lost eight of their last 11. They lost at Cleveland 100-99 on Friday night.
Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 18 points, although he missed about five minutes of the third quarter with what was called a bruised left shoulder. He returned and played most of the fourth quarter.
The Hornets also got 12 points each from Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky. Dwight Howard finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
But Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was 1 of 8 from the field, Nicolas Batum was 1 of 7, and Michael Carter-Williams was 0 for 5.
“Last night obviously took a lot out of us,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I played those guys huge minutes. I thought to start the game tonight we had the right attitude. We had very little legs. We actually created good shots. We missed point-blank open threes, the whole thing, which against them makes things difficult.
“You have to finish things if you’re going to have a chance to win. But we’re playing better. We’re better now than we were a week ago.”
The Hornets are now 0-7 for the season when failing to score 100 points.
“Our energy level just wasn’t there tonight,” Kaminsky said. “We didn’t make the stops. I just don’t think we had it tonight. That’s the end of the story.”
NOTES: This was the second and final matchup between the teams this season. The Spurs won the first game 108-101 in San Antonio on Nov. 3. ... The Spurs were without F Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps tendinopathy), G Tony Parker (left quadriceps tendon surgery) and G Derrick White (right wrist fracture). ... The Hornets were without G Julyan Stone (strained left hamstring). ... The Hornets were playing their third back-to-back of the season. They lost at Cleveland 100-99 on Friday night. ... The Hornets wore their purple uniforms for the first time this season. ... The Hornets came into the game with 163 more free-throw attempts than their opponents. That’s more than 10 per game, and it leads the NBA. ... The Hornets will be off until Wednesday, when they will play at Toronto. ... The Spurs were playing the second game of a brief two-game trip that started with a 107-90 loss at New Orleans on Thursday. They will return home to face Dallas on Monday.