With apologies to the late, great Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again for the Spurs on Wednesday night.
Ahead by 15 in the third quarter, the Silver and Black went cold in the fourth period and the New Orleans Pelicans stormed back for a 121-116 victory at the AT&T Center.
The Spurs (36-26) played the second half without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge, who landed awkwardly and sprained his right ankle while attempting to defend Rajon Rondo's driving layup with 7:17 left in the first quarter. Aldridge returned to the game with 7:39 left in the half, but he went to the training room before the end of the second period.
San Antonio already was missing starting center Pau Gasol, who was sidelined with a bone bruise in his left knee. Another key player watched from the bench, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard, who has struggled to overcome tendinopathy in his right quadriceps since the preseason. Leonard has missed all but nine of the Silver and Black's 62 games.
"I couldn't be more proud of our group," said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who was ejected 47 seconds into the second half. "Under very, very tough circumstances, they keep fighting. As long as they believe in each other and keeping working as hard as they are, we're going to be in good shape.
"I just think they deserve a lot of credit for playing as hard as they're playing. A lot of guys are getting a lot of time out there and, hopefully, that will pay dividends as the season winds down. Really proud of them."
While they were dealt a blow when Aldridge went down, the Spurs still could have, and should have, won the game if they'd played better down the stretch.
"We were in a good situation to still win the game, and we struggled on the stretch," veteran Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "We didn't execute well. Our defense kind of melted down and we lost. That's the disappointing part for sure.
"We fought hard and we scrambled , and we competed. Sometimes it's not enough. You have to play well, too. That wasn't there down the stretch."
The victory was the seventh in a row for the Pelicans (35-26), who lead the season series against the Silver and Black 2-0. New Orleans trailed San Antonio by 15 in their first meeting last Nov. 22, but stormed back for a 107-90 victory.
The Spurs' loss dropped them to fourth in the Western Conference standings, a game behind Minnesota and only a half-game ahead of New Orleans.
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday led the Pelicans' scoring with 26 and 25 points, respectively. Davis also pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds. Davis didn't have the monster game he had against Phoenix on Monday, when he finished with 53 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks. He didn't have a block against the Spurs, but he still carried the Pelicans on both ends of the court.
Rudy Gay (19), Dejounte Murray (18) and Ginobili (17) paced the Spurs' scoring. Ginobili almost willed the team to victory with his indomitable spirit, playing tenacious defense and going after loose balls with his typical reckless abandon.
Ginobili received high praise from New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, a former Spurs assistant coach under Popovich.
"Ginobili, he'll be trying to drive it to the basket when he is in his casket," Gentry said. "That's just who he is. To me, I don't know if there has been another guy in this league that's more competitive than he is."
Murray also had one of his better games of the season. Besides scoring 18 points, he finished with a team-high nine rebounds and dished out five assists.
With Aldridge and Gasol both out, backup center Joffrey Lauvergne stepped up and played extended minutes. He finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Patty Mills (11) and Tony Parker (10) rounded out San Antonio's double-figure scoring. Parker scored eight-straight Spurs points on four baskets in a span of 1:28, pushing S.A.'s lead to 105-97 with 8:55 left.
"They are still a hell of a team," Gentry said. "Tony, I thought, came in and did an unbelievable job for them during that stretch wherfe he got four or five straight buckets against us.
The Spurs never trailed until Davis scored on an alley-oop dunk, giving the Pelicans a 114-113 lead with 1:53 remaining. But the Silver and Black regained the lead, 116-114, on a three-pointer by Murray 22 seconds later.
The Spurs didn't stay on top for long. E'Twaun Moore drained a three-pointer 19 seconds after Murray's big shot to give New Orleans a 117-116 lead with 1:12 left. San Antonio had its chances, but couldn't make the plays it needed to pull out the victory.
The Silver and Black blew one opportunity when Mills' inbounds pass to Davis Bertans was picked off by Darius Miller with 26.1 seconds remaining. San Antonio got a break when Holiday missed two free throws with 22.6 seconds left, but Davis stole the rebound after the second miss and was fouled.
Davis coolly sank both free throws to give the Pelicans a 119-116 lead with 20.9 seconds left. Mills and Gay missed three-pointers on the Spurs' next possession, and Davis went to the free-throw line one more time with 3.4 seconds remaining. He made both attempts for the final margin of victory.
After shooting nearly 53 percent through three quarters, the Spurs hit only 8 of 23 attempts (34.8 percent) in the final period. While San Antonio's offense fizzled, the Pelicans shot a scoring 61 percent (14/23) in the fourth quarter.
Even without Aldridge, the Spurs' offense kept rolling in the third quarter. A layup by Dejounte Murray put the Silver and Black up by 15 (84-69) with 4:55 remaining in the period. They took a 95-87 lead into the final quarter, but were outscored 34-21 in the last 12 minutes.
The Silver and Black led 29-24 after one quarter, 50-41 at halftime and 95-87 heading into the final period. New Orleans outscored S.A. 34-21 in the fourth quarter.
The Spurs host the Los Angeles Lakers at 8 p.m. Saturday.