After a winless preseason, the San Antonio Spurs rebounded from a slow start in their season opener to post an emphatic 131-119 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs were up 11 points going into the fourth quarter and were able to hold off the hard-charging Grizzlies without too much heartache.
Seven minutes into the game, the Spurs trailed 26-17. The offense was ragged and the defense was extra porous. But with an increase in ruggedness on both ends, the good guys were able to find their footing. Over the next 12 minutes, the Spurs went on a 36-15 run to grab command of the game and San Antonio was never truly threatened again.
While Ja Morant poured in 44 points for the Grizzlies, San Antonio’s attack was a balanced one with seven players in double-digits, including all five starters with at least 16 points.
DeRozan was masterful on the offensive end. He picked his spots extremely well and seemed to never force the issue. His decision-making was spot on and he played like the grown man in the arena whenever Memphis seemed poised to make a run. He efforted more than usual on defense, particularly on the boards, but his offense was where he was special.
Lonnie Walker IV
Walker was much, much better than he was at any point in the preseason. While he could have forced the issue even more, he was able to use his athleticism to his advantage on multiple occasions. He got out and ran the court with purpose, took open shots and made a few plays on defense. Walker still had room for improvement on both ends but it was great to see him flash his potential.
Welp, I guess Big Body doesn’t need a preseason. Johnson was placed in the starting lineup and it turned out to be a great decision. The second-year player looked as strong and as powerful as ever. He attacked the basket with ferocity and players were bouncing right off of him. Johnson was also attentive on defense and didn’t hesitate to stick his nose in the middle of the action. He did tire a bit in the second half after a very strong first two quarters — but that’s understandable.
Good stuff. I was impressed with how Murray played. Sure, there were hiccups here and iffy decisions there, but for the most part he did well. In the first half, I thought he was the best player on the court. Murray’s patience was better than usual and he picked his spots reasonably well. His decision-making and defensive impact waned as the game went along but this was definitely a positive start to the season for Murray.
Out of the gates, Aldridge looked like he looked in the preseason. And that’s not a compliment. When he wasn’t launching and missing threes, he was being caught flat-footed on defense. Thankfully, he eventually went back to his mid-range bread and butter — and the results were a lot better. He gained confidence, which energized him and improved his production across the board. His defense never really came along for the ride but it was good to see him sizzle on offense after a sub par preseason.
With Johnson inserted into the starting lineup, Gay went back to the bench — and he looked like he was back at home. He didn’t have to worry about fitting in as much on offense, which allowed him to play his game. Gay, as usual, was at his best when punishing mismatches on offense. On D, he could have hustled a bit more but he did admirable work on the glass.
Vassell played 20 minutes in his first NBA game. While he didn’t produce statistically at the impressive rate he did in preseason, he had his moments. He was usually in the right place defensively, limited his mistakes on offense and his three-pointer in the fourth quarter was a notable one.
Mills came out firing — and the Spurs were better for it. San Antonio won this game largely due to their strong bench play and Mills played a leading role in that regard. His pick-and-roll prowess was helpful and the Grizzlies were rarely able to take advantage of him on defense.
I thought Poeltl was quietly excellent in the first half. Things weren’t going well for the Spurs when he subbed into the game for the first time but he helped change the momentum. His stout defense, mean screens, activity in the paint and overall awareness on offense were really valuable. Poeltl wasn’t as impactful in the second half but he did a lot more good than his numbers may indicate.
Well, hey, it turns out Pop’s worrisome rotation in the preseason was overblown. I loved his starting lineup. Leaning on Johnson paid early dividends. DeRozan flourished in his Bubble-like role. The same could be said for Gay fitting in seamlessly off the bench. Add in Vassell getting a fair amount of playing time, not really too much on Mills and an overall rotation that made a lot of sense and Pop coached about as well as could have been reasonably expected in the season opener.
The Spurs get to spend Christmas with their families before getting back on the court Saturday in San Antonio against the Toronto Raptors. That will be a more difficult game but the strong play and competent coaching gives hope as the Spurs tackle their early season schedule without the recently-extended Derrick White.