SAN ANTONIO – The last time Manu Ginobili played against the New Orleans Pelicans, he had to be helped to the training room after sustaining a serious testicular injury with 2:26 left in the Spurs’ 13-point victory on Feb. 3 at the AT&T Center.
Ginobili had surgery the next morning and missed 12 consecutive games before returning to action on March 5. He called the injury the worst of his long, stellar career.
Ginobili fared markedly better Wednesday night, scoring 20 points to help lead the Silver and Black to a historic 100-92 victory over the injury-depleted Pelicans at the AT&T Center. The Spurs improved to 63-12 and became the first team in NBA history to start 38-0 at home, moving past the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Golden State (68-7) could tie San Antonio’s single-season home streak soon. The Warriors are 36-0 at home.
The Silver and Black also tied their franchise record for most victories in a season, set by the 2005-06 team (63-19). They can break the mark with a home win against Toronto on Saturday.
Looking spry after taking the previous two games off with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, Ginobili nailed 7 of 10 shots, including 5 of 6 from the 3-point line, in 24 minutes as the Spurs beat New Orleans (27-47) for the third consecutive time after losing the series opener in November.
“If we could play two games a week instead of four, I feel like I would have a much better season,” Ginobili said, smiling. “It doesn’t mean that resting, I’m going to have a game like this, that’s for sure. But, no, my body sometimes needs it.
“Sometimes you’ve got to recover. Sometimes you’re sore. Sometimes you’re coming from a trip and it’s late and you’re waking up early, but for sure it helps to have a few days off.”
New Orleans (27-47) played without nine injured players, including outstanding forward/center Anthony Davis, who was lost for the season in early March after hurting his left knee.
“As I said before the game, Alvin and his group have done a great job keeping those guys together and keeping their heads up,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “The players deserve a lot of credit, showing a lot of character, a lot of drive, and they got a lot of pride. They played hard, played well, executed wonderfully. So they deserve a lot of credit, truly.”
The Spurs were up 27-26 after one quarter, 46-39 at halftime and outscored the Pelicans 27-16 in the third period to take a 73-55 lead into the fourth. Trailing 76-59 after Patty Mills hit a 3-pointer, New Orleans went on a 13-5 run to cut the deficit to 81-72 before Ginobili scored nine straight points to put San Antonio up 90-77 with 3:41 left. Ginobili started the sequence with a 3-pointer and scored again on a layup, before completing a four-point play after burying another 3-pointer.
Ginobili had 11 points in the first half and scored nine in the fourth quarter, hitting 3 of 3 shots from the field and both of his 3-point attempts to help turn back a Pelicans rally.
Kawhi Leonard looked sharp after sitting out the previous three games with a bruised right quadriceps, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in only 22 minutes. Danny Green, who drained 4 of 6 shots from beyond the arc, also scored 16 points. LaMarcus Aldridge had 11 points and six rebounds, and Tony Parker finished with six assists.
Popovich liked what he saw in Leonard, who played only 5½ minutes in the second half.
“He looked like he hadn’t missed a beat,” Popovich said. “He’s ready to go. We just limited his minutes tonight, just to make sure that everything is OK. He’ll probably get back to normal on Saturday, minutes-wise, I mean.”
Leonard received high praise from New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, a former Spurs assistant coach.
“If Golden State wasn’t doing what they were doing, which is historic by all accounts, then I think you would hear a lot more about Kawhi being MVP of the league,” Gentry said. “He has made himself that kind of player. He plays both ends of the court. He has become a great 3-point shooter. For all the kids out there, if you are willing to put in the work, you can see what will happen, because he has put in the work and has made himself a great player.”
The Spurs shot 48 percent (38/75) for the game, including 50 percent (12/24) from the 3-point line. Alexis Ajinca led the Pelicans with 18 points. New Orleans shot 45 percent (36/80) from the field and was 47.1 percent (8/17) from beyond the arc.