AT&T CENTER - Before the San Antonio Spurs defeated the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday, Pelicans head coach Monty Williams was asked if he watches the Spurs.
His response: "Almost every game." Asked what he sees when he watches San Antonio, Williams put it simply, "(the) Spurs. A really good team."
Fast-forward 48 minutes and this was Williams' comment on the Spurs after being defeated by 19 points in a game where his team trailed by 32 points at one time.
"I thought their offense was about as crisp as any offense we've ever seen," said Williams post-game.
For a young team like the 6-7 Pelicans, playing a contending championship caliber team like the Spurs is something the Pelicans see as a learning opportunity, win or lose. Here's what point guard Jrue Holiday had to say when asked about what he learned from playing San Antonio.
"Really just play hard," said Holiday. "Play hard and try to execute the same way they do. That's where we're supposed to be. That's where we go back in and teach and learn, and just know each other better and learn where we're supposed to be."
In his pregame press conference, Coach Williams also said even though the Spurs themselves will say they're in early season form, he knows from his experience no matter what the game, the Spurs come as a focused group night-in and night-out.
"They always play at a high level all year around," said Williams. "They're just a complete team. They continue to share the ball."
Playing hard and focused is just what Patty Mills discussed about the second unit he's apart of this season, being labeled the 'Foreign Legion' which consists of he, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, and any insert-able fifth player.
"We talk about focusing on defense and then that being our staple," said Mills of the Foreign Legion's backbone. As a team, the Spurs are putting up some top defensive numbers as they are holding teams to 90.1 points per game, only second in the NBA to the Indiana Pacers who are first.
Asked if holding opponents to less than 40% shooting is the team's defensive focus this season, Mills said yes, and defense needs to be the one constant all season long.
"Pop has made that a focus for us," said Mills of wanting to hold teams to shooting below 40% from the field. "Our defensive energy and effort has got to be there every night. No matter how good you shoot or how bad you shoot the ball, if the defensive intensity is there, we will be all right."
The Spurs did just that Monday in holding the Pelicans to making only 37-of-97 shots (38%). In essence, the Pelicans took more shots (97) than points they made (93).
For a machine-like group such as the Spurs, who have had back-to-back games where they've thrown 30 assists, Mills still thinks they will get better considering it's only 14 games into the season.
"I think we can still get better," said Mills of the teams ball movement. "The better we are at penetrating, getting to the paint and finding open shooters, the better we are. We just have to knock them down." Monday, the Spurs assisted on 68% of their made baskets.
The Spurs currently have five players averaging 10 or more points in scoring and go about nine-deep on their bench with no player playing more than 29.9 minutes per game (Tony Parker). Coach Williams was asked if this is the deepest Spurs team he's seen, and though he didn't know quite yet, he said they are definitely the deepest team in the NBA at the moment.
"I don't know if it's the deepest," said Williams of this current Spurs team, "I'd have to look at all the teams. But they're up there. They're probably the deepest team in the league."
Coming into Monday's game, the Spurs' bench was averaging 42.4 points per game (4th) and 11.2 assists per game (1st). Monday, the bench had four players finish with more than 10 points, while also totaling 65 points and 16 assists.
With such a deep team, blow outs against mediocre and struggling teams will happen from time to time. This season, the Spurs have already won 7 of their 14 games by 10 or more points. Manu Ginobili said every NBA player is always itching to play more minutes and though the blow outs aren't fun at times (because he's only playing about three quarters), he'd still take them as because they result in wins and are good for the long haul.
As for Tim Duncan, he knows blow-outs are apart of the season when the team is clicking on both sides of the ball. "We've been here before, we've done it before and it's a long season," said Duncan of the blowouts. "It's great to be in this situation. It's great to win games like this and great to have a lot of people on the floor."
Back to the game at hand, Pelicans center Jason Smith was asked if his team was lacking energy in the game, and he said energy didn't seem to be the problem, it was the Spurs' execution. "Not so much energy," said Smith, "we just didn't have an answer for their offense."
For Smith, San Antonio is the model of what he hopes New Orleans will one day become.
"San Antonio is a playoff-tested team, a Finals-tested team," finished Smith. "We want to get to that level."