Preseason openers — especially ones played against international opponents — are considered successful when they end quickly and with no injuries. So when Aron Baynes tipped the ball in to tie the game with .5 seconds remaining in regulation, Gregg Popovich's reaction wasn't that of a coach who just watched his player make a game-saving play. It was one of an overseer that didn't want to watch more basketball that night.
Pop's physical reaction and apparent use of some NSFW language was humorous, to be sure, but he was all business following the game.
"We're here to win. C'mon," he said, grinning the whole time. "Nobody wanted overtime in preseason, that's for sure.
"But, you know, Baynesie's Baynesie. He's a hustlin' dude."
Baynes — or if you prefer his aforementioned nickname, Baynesie — was able to send his team to overtime, where a late Patty Mills 3-pointer eventually secured a 95-93 win over Ettore Messina's CSKA Moscow team. Mills and Manu Ginobili led all scorers with 14 points apiece, and all other notable performances were had by those 14 players with guaranteed roster spots.
As for the game's hero, Baynes put up 12 points and seven rebounds in nearly 25 minutes on the court.
"It was big time. That's what he does," Mills said of Baynesie. "He's big enough, so that's what he's good at."
While it's comforting to know that, on one hand, the guys you expect to make contributions to the team this season played well, the flip side is a bit more disappointing if you're hoping to find another body out of preseason. The Spurs love to maintain roster flexibility, as they've shown in the past by being very protective of their final roster spot. Of the six training camp invitees, Sam Young was the only one to see action. And it wasn't good.
With a void at the backup small forward position in San Antonio, Young is viewed as a potential body that might be able to help along the way. But first he has to help himself.
Young was 0-for-6 from the floor in 18 minutes and gave the ball away twice in what was an overall sloppy game for the former Pittsburgh Panther. Now, it's unfair to judge based solely on one preseason game, but things did not start well. He'll have plenty of time to recover and fight for a roster spot — he's viewed as the only invitee with a real chance — but he's going to have to be much better than this.
On the other hand, San Antonio's newcomers, Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres, seemed to fit in pretty well. Belinelli spent much of his court time alongside Ginobili, and while his numbers didn't jump off the page he seemed comfortable. As for Ayres, the big man had four points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. His active nature was as advertised, and his energy should benefit the Spurs greatly on those "rest days" for the Big Three.
It's tough to take too much away from this game, but as Popovich said post-game, the hustle was there and that's what's important. Though the game was played against a team the Spurs obviously won't see during the regular season, CSKA Moscow brings a product and level of competition that Pop enjoys and appreciates. It's the kind of team that can teach the Spurs a thing or two about their own game and what they can do to improve.
San Antonio will likely watch more film of this game than of most games they play this preseason, as the lessons learned will likely be more valuable. And as Pop said after the game, they'll be re-watching the way the Russian team played, not just what the Spurs did or didn't do.
Up next: the Phoenix Suns at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. They'll probably end up re-watching the CSKA Moscow tape after that one, too.