In a surprising turn of events, the Hornets played to win tonight. I suppose that my expectations for this game were unfairly based upon the team I saw purposely losing game after game last season as they were hunting for the number one draft pick. In the end, their hunt was successful and we were unfortunately treated to the ramifications.
Number 1 draft pick Anthony Davis is a very good basketball player and made this game a tough one for the Spurs. Davis, who finished with an impressive 21 points and 7 rebounds, displayed a high basketball IQ and a caring attitude. After the Hornets initial run, Davis attempted to pump up the nonexistent crowd. He'll soon learn that excuses to party translate into an empty arena in New Orleans.
The Hornets greatly dominated the first two quarters and I thought that the Spurs were very fortunate to only be down 7 at halftime. Luckily for the Spurs, both teams shot poorly in the second, which prevented the Hornets from expanding their lead before the half.
The third quarter was Kawhi's quarter. He was everywhere. Steals, assists, threes, and dunks were all showcased by Kawhi Leonard. George Hill is jealous of Kawhi's length; that's how freakishly long his arms are. Kawhi helped the Spurs to erase the halftime deficit so the fourth began at a tie.
The closing quarter played out in a manner that we have come to expect from our Spurs. Well, honestly, it was my worst case scenario for the fourth. It was a tight game that went back and forth many times before the veteran Spurs sealed the victory, (losing didn't seem like an option to me.) My best case was a 34-5 fourth quarter run ending with the buzzer, (and yes, I am crazy enough to believe that could happen.)
With 1:08 remaining, Spurs down by 1, the game was decided. In a somewhat disjointed play, Tim drove into the paint and kicked the ball out to Kawhi in the right corner. Kawhi faked and drove to his left, drawing Tony's defender. He kicked it to Tony with the shot clock dwindling and splash from distance.
Here's what consistently amazes me about Tony; he always thinks it's going in. I said, "Oh no!" as Kawhi passed it. The Hornets' crowd, the few that were there, seemed elated as Tony took the shot. All of our players crashed the boards expecting a miss. I'm watching a replay as I type. Tony took the shot, held the pose, and then nonchalantly backpedaled as the Hornets called timeout. Tony then grabbed Diaw to explain to him what Boris should have done during that play, completely ignoring the fact that he hit a shot that he normally misses. Tony was pretty sure it was going in and that's nuts. If I were Tony, I would have done the Sam Cassell dance all the way to the bench, then victory lapped my way around the arena, still doing the Sam Cassell dance. I would have concluded with a Happy Gilmore, "Like that, baby? Plenty more where that came from!" into the camera.
The Spurs followed Tony's three with a defensive stop. Two clutch Tim Duncan free-throws followed to seal the deal. UNDEFEATED! The Spurs are UNDEFEATED! Take that, Stephen A. Smith. You punk.
Well, I thought Matt Bonner was awful, but I always think that. I do believe he was worse than usual and the many anti-Bonner comments in the game thread lead me to believe that this was the case. He can't play defense. He can't rebound. He can't dribble. He can't block shots or create steals. He's not an offensive creator. God knows the man is not athletic. So, what are we left with? Oh, right, three pointers; but what if he misses them? Now what? This what. He sucks and the Spurs are forced to endure Pop's Bonner punishment. It's truly miserable. I bet DeJuan is eating at WhataBurger as I type. For him, what's the point? If Bonner plays that poorly and Blair still can't get off the bench, what's there to look forward to? I don't even like Blair. Look at what Pop is doing to me!
Gary Neal, Danny "Big" Green (Go Dartmouth), Tiago Splitter, and Boris Diaw seemed rusty to me. That's fine, it's the first game. I'm not going to attack them, yet. I'll have 81 more opportunities if they don't improve.
Captain Jack picked up where he left off last year in terms of his intensity. That's great to see. I was worried he was going to become our new-school Robert Horry and hibernate through the regular season. Stephen Jackson still has that fire burning deep inside and it's contagious. I just enjoy his style of play. He's always the aggressor. Even when he gets fouled, he is the one dishing out the physical punishment. I especially enjoyed his semi-intentional foul on Doc Rivers' kid. It was a nice, "Welcome to the League; you might want to hit the weight room, rookie," moment.
Patty Mills came into the game late and provided the spark that he always provides off the bench. I'll be confused as long as Pop insists on playing Gary Neal at the point position. With Patty Mills and Nando on the roster, what is he doing? Especially with Manu out, it's a perfect time to play Gary at the two and play a true point guard. Obviously, I don't get it but will say that if Patty can continue to produce in his limited opportunities, even Pop can't ignore him forever. Right? Shut up, Beno. You don't know what you're talking about.
I thought it should be mentioned that our (arguably) best player did not suit up tonight. Manu Ginobili is suffering from back spasms and the Spurs decided to play it safe by keeping him in San Antonio. If you were paying attention, the Spurs looked lost during Manu time. By that, I mean the Spurs struggled at the end of the first quarter and into the second quarter, which are generally dominated by Manu. So, if you found yourself worrying about the Spurs' sometimes sloppy play, relax in knowing that Manu will fix those issues.
Your Three Stars
Tony Parker hit the game's biggest shot and stayed aggressive even when the offense was clearly out of sync. He helped the Spurs keep it close when it could have gotten out of hand in a hurry. Tony finished with an efficient 23 points, 6 assists and 0 turnovers. Overall, it was a fantastic first game for Tony "Off the Court Disaster" Parker.
Tim Duncan looks to be in the best shape of his career. Is that even possible? I'm pretty sure I wrote the same thing last year. He's strong and lean. I think we need to retire the use of "Vintage Duncan" because it's not vintage if he does it every game; it's expected. Tim finished with his expected 24 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. It was a typical game for Tim.
Kawhi Leonard is living up to the hype. Actually, I'm not sure if ESPN knows who he is. So, better stated, Kawhi Leonard is living up to PtR's expectations. In the third quarter, which began with the Spurs down by 7, Kawhi put the team on his back and stole the momentum from the Hornets. The 'whoa crazy crazy' athletic forward turned his great defense into easy offensive opportunities for the Spurs and the young Hornets looked temporarily stunned. I was stunned sitting at home and watching. He has the ability to change a game's dynamic. That is incredible, especially for such a young player.
Overall, it was a good start to what promises to be a fun season. Go Spurs! We'll see y'all back tomorrow night when the Spurs face off against the Harden-less Thunder.