The San Antonio Spurs improved to 2-0 on the season with a 119-115 victory over the Toronto Raptors. The Spurs trailed by as many as ten points in the first quarter before battling back to notch an impressive victory.
With two minutes remaining, Toronto seemingly had San Antonio right where they wanted. The Raptors were up four points and their championship-level experience was on display in the fourth quarter. But instead of succumbing to a more experienced and cohesive opponent, DeRozan’s third three-pointer of the night sparked a game-ending 9-0 for the good guys.
The Spurs had 36 assists on their 47 made field goals. Last season, San Antonio’s high in assists for the entire campaign was 36. In the last 46 months, the Spurs have had more than 36 assists in a regular season game only once.
There’s a whole lot to love with the way DeRozan played. His playmaking was strong throughout and his decision-making was almost always excellent. When the Spurs needed points, DeRozan was able to put the team on his shoulders and get multiple much-needed buckets. He hit three three-pointers and another long two-pointer with his toe on the line. His defense was far from great but he had a couple of hustle plays that helped the cause.
Murray finished with a triple double of 11 points, ten assists and ten rebounds. After turning the ball over on the first possession, he only had one other turnover the rest of the way despite constantly being in the middle of the fray. Murray wasn’t always making the right choices but his energy level was high, his competitiveness was fierce, his defense was attentive and he made an unmistakable impact on the boards. Passing-wise, I was more often pleased than I was dismayed — which is a step in the right direction.
The bad: Aldridge came out flat, particularly on the defensive end. He wasn’t moving his feet and wasn’t putting up much of a fight on the boards. Offensively, his processing of what was going was extremely slow. The good: Aldridge was most energized in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch, he managed to be an asset on both ends. His passing was a plus throughout.
Honestly, we haven’t witnessed Johnson be anything but really good on the NBA level. Tonight, he had some stumbles and things didn’t always go his way — but I loved how hard he kept playing. His physicality on both ends was a plus and he didn’t allow his mistakes to lessen his aggressiveness. That said, his decision-making on offense was iffy throughout and his defense — especially in transition — wasn’t anything to write home about. It was a good learning experience; it’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back after his first tough night in the NBA.
Lonnie Walker IV
The good: Walker drove with purpose much more often than usual. When the Raptors were caught backpedaling with no help in sight, Walker did a good job of making them pay. His 12 first half points were a leading reason why the Spurs went into halftime with an advantage. Defensively, he defended his man well and crashed the boards with vigor. The bad: Walker’s confidence faded after missing a few open threes. Once his confidence went, he began to second-guess everything. With the lack of shooters on this team, Walker just has to keep firing away. He simply can’t pass up open shots. Defensively, his communication was sub par and he missed a few rotations.
Mills was a vital part of this win. His movement and marksmanship allowed the bench unit to thrive. He even added in more distribution than usual and the self-assuredness he brought to the court was palpable. Defensively, Mills had a few miscues early but was better as the evening progressed.
It wasn’t the prettiest of outings for Gay. Defensively, he played like he had cement boots on. The Raptors took advantage of how immobile he was and attacked him off the dribble repeatedly. Beyond looking slow, Gay’s positioning was poor. Thankfully, the Raptors didn’t make the Spurs pay for Gay’s poor D as much as they probably should have. Offensively, Gay was sloppy but he produced just enough to keep the bench humming.
Poeltl could have been a lot stronger on the defensive boards; he allowed his former team to go right through him on multiple occasions. Everything else, though, was a plus for Poeltl. His defense in the paint was stout. On offense, his screening created space, his awareness and passing created opportunities for teammates, and he crashed the glass relentlessly.
After a quiet debut, Vassell’s production was a lot louder in his second game. He began the night with a three-pointer, scored on a great back cut and finished his scoring with a breakaway dunk in transition. That said, there were still some growing pains for the rookie. On offense, his decisions off the dribble weren’t always heady. On defense, he was caught straight-legged too often and wasn’t doing a good job of maneuvering around picks.
After not playing in the season’s first seven quarters, Pop dusted Lyles off in the fourth period. To Lyles’ credit, he played about as well as could have been imagined after his lackluster showing in the preseason. He hit a three-pointer on one of his first touches, moved his feet well on defense and didn’t try to force anything.
Pop wasn’t as masterful as he was in the first game of the campaign but there’s still a lot to like. While he probably leaned on the veterans too much (particularly Gay and arguably Aldridge), the rest of his rotation was fine. Going with Lyles was a gamble but, thankfully, it worked out okay. I like the amount of confidence Pop already has in Johnson and the fact that he’s not against sitting Aldridge for longer-than-usual stretches in favor of Poeltl.
The Spurs play their first back-to-back of the season Sunday against the Pelicans in New Orleans. With a short turnaround, the Spurs will likely need to get better performances from their young players in order to begin their season with a 3-0 mark. But so far, so good.