Spurs snap two-game losing streak, beat Grizzlies in season opener

Darren Carroll

That'll learn Mike Miller to mess with us.

Game 1 Vs. Memphis: Spurs 101, Grizzlies 94 Record: 1-0

Box Score

He went and talked to a guru in India or something, I don't know what he did, but he catches and shoots now. I've got nothing to do with it. I've been begging him to do it since he got here, his previous coaches have begged him, and all of a sudden he's a catch and shoot guy. - Gregg Popovich on Boris Diaw

On the surface, my optimism and excitement for this Spurs season doesn't make much sense. For one, I'm too old to be optimistic about anything. For another, the team I root for ended the previous season in a most epic, tragic, heartbreaking fashion. I've spent all summer trying to get over it, haven't really come close at all, yet I still found myself anxiously awaiting new Spurs basketball, maybe subconsciously clinging to the hope that fresh new Spurs-related stimuli will help erase bad memories.

Imagine my relief then that the fellas didn't blow a 48-27 halftime lead in the season opener, because, man, would that have been a kick to Uncle Willy and the twins. It got hairy there for a second, with the annoying Grizzlies cutting the deficit to five, 80-75 with 7:08 to go, but then, almost symbolically, Danny Green hit a corner three that was a mirror image of Ray Allen's dagger to tie up Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, in which both men seemed to take quite a few jittery steps without the benefit of a dribble to position themselves behind the three-point line.

Shortly after that, Tony Parker hit a three-pointer from the wing off a jump ball -- the Frenchman connecting from that spot was about as unlikely as the miracle three he knocked in over LeBron James to tie up Game 6 late and kickstart what looked like it would be the title-winning run-- then Kawhi Leonard made one and, most surprising of all, Boris Diaw finished Memphis off with seven more points, a culmination of his shoot-first mentality all game long.

It was a fitting end to a game filled with surprises almost from the opening tip. As mentioned above, the Spurs led by 21 at halftime, yet Tim Duncan and Parker had just seven points at that point, with the former tossing up some flat, wayward jumpers and missing a bunny layup and the latter looking all kinds of wonky on his attempts at the rim. Rather, it was the reserves, who were a liability for the Spurs more often than not in 2012-13, who were the stars of the show, outscoring the Grizzles 28-27 in the first half all by themselves and being led in that effort by Patty Mills, who was the last man on the roster by the end of last season and fourth on the point guard depth chart.

Mills showed up to camp with a chiseled physique and demonstrated a much more serious commitment to being a pro; he was able to wrest --at least for the time being-- the backup job from Cory Joseph with a strong preseason. His first sequence upon checking in was an immediate defensive three-second call thanks to some trademark spazzyness from the Australian, but he calmed down after that, made a couple of smart passes to Matt Bonner and Marco Belinelli and soon found some wide-open looks in the offense, knocking down all four of his shots, including three from deep to pace the team with a dozen first-half points.

Mills was far from the only bench bright spot on the night though. Bonner tossed in a couple of bombs during the team's 22-0 second-quarter run and more than held his own whenever Zach Randolph tried to isolate him (though he still got mauled on the boards, especially when working in conjunction with Tiago Splitter). Belinelli looked fairly comfortable on both ends for his first game as a Spur and, like countless wings before him, tried to make a good first impression with his teammates by being a bit too unselfish at times. Jeff Ayres had a good first stint and showed off some impressive passing instincts before fading in the second half.

But the stars were Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw.

Ginobili, who apparently didn't get the memo that he's supposed to be finished as a player, scored a dozen points on six layups (five on drives from the left), added five assists (including a couple of the flashy variety), pulled down four boards, swiped two steals, had a block the scorer missed and also two offensive fouls drawn. Even at 36, a healthy Ginobili is something like a Human Cheat Code when matched up against an opposing team of five ordinary bench players. He's simply too good to not dominate against competition like that. When critics rattle on about how "done" he looked as a player in the playoffs, they generally missed the part about him having to lead a group of reserves against teams that usually had two or three starters on the floor.

Diaw, meanwhile, who had to be practically zapped by a cattle prod to shoot the ball for the entirety of his Spurs career, was one aggressive chucker on Wednesday night, looking to shoot from the moment he stepped on the court and getting up nine shots in 20:20. He had five games all last year, including the playoffs, with at least that many field goal attempts. The Grizzlies, who were leaving him wide open, had to be surprised by Diaw's willingness to shoot, and it hurt them. It's doubtful the "Land Walrus" will keep it up, but maybe being the third big off the bench, behind Bonner and Ayres, drove home the message to Diaw that Pop wants him to shoot when it's there.

Obviously it's not to make too much of one game. I remember Francisco Elson being the best guy on the court in a season-opening win over powerhouse Dallas for the 2006-07 Spurs, and while that season ended on a happy note, Elson wasn't even in the rotation by the time San Antonio was in the Finals versus Cleveland, having lost his spot to Fabricio Oberto. Let's give Mills, Ayres and Diaw some time to prove themselves.

But I will say that it will be important early on for the bench to carry the Spurs and for Ginobili in particular to be a steady, stabilizing influence at times and an electrifying conduit in others, leading the reserves while the starters find their way. Leonard is a fantastic two-way talent -- he had several attention-grabbing plays on both ends of the floor -- but committed four turnovers as well, and he'll be experiencing some growing pains in his expanded role in the halfcourt offense. Green is still getting used to defenders charging at him at the three-point line and having to react off of that. Parker is rounding himself into shape and won't be ready to play at an MVP level for a while. Duncan left in the third quarter with a chest contusion courtesy of an elbow from Tony Allen, so he might be limited for the upcoming road trip. For the time being, the Spurs can't count on their starters to wreck their counterparts.

It wasn't perfect, but it's a win over a quality opponent. It's been a while since we had one of those, so don't mind me if I enjoy it.

************************

Scattered thoughts:

  • The Spurs are officially in Z-Bo's head. He just can't score against them, no matter who's on him. He's completely deflated. Even when the Grizzlies made their run to get back in the game, the second Randolph checked back in, the Spurs started scoring again and it was over.
  • Tayshaun Prince had two air-balls from inside of 18 feet.
  • I hate the new delay-of-game rule. It's annoying and stupid.
  • Tony Allen equaled his 2012-13 total of made three-pointers tonight. Of course he did.
  • Smh at that Manu finger-roll attempt at the end of the third quarter.
  • I had the Grizzlies announcing crew on League Pass and it took them three solid minutes to notice or comment that Duncan was out of the game and they didn't mention that it was injury-related until well into the fourth quarter.
  • Sincere apologies to Brett Brown and everyone associated with the Philadelphia 76ers. I slagged them mercilessly all off-season, wrote that they were tanking more blatantly than any team in recent memory, and they start the year with a win over the two-time defending champs. I especially look like an idiot in regards to Michael Carter-Williams, who I thought would be a huge bust (and of course still might be, it was just one game) and had one of the most sensational NBA debuts ever, with 22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 9 steals (!). It just goes to show that you've got to take every team in the league seriously, and if you just show up expecting to win like the Heat did tonight, you're liable to get embarrassed.
  • That play between Ginobili and Belinelli totally counts as an alley-oop.
  • It feels good to be ahead of the Heat, Bulls and the Clippers in the standings.

*********

Your three stars:

3. Manu Ginobili (1 pt): Most consistent Spur for four quarters, did a little bit of everything and flawlessly quarterbacked the reserves.

2. Boris Diaw (3 pts): Finished off the Grizzlies, pulled down a couple of contested boards and wasn't hesitant to shoot.

1. Patty Mills (5 pts): Made Pop look like a genius for picking him over Joseph, sparked huge second-quarter run.

**********

Up Next: Friday, Nov. 1 at Los Angeles Lakers (1-1)

The Spurs embark on a three-game road swing out west with another game against a playoff foe from last year in the Lakers, who will be without Kobe Bryant just as they were when San Antonio dispatched them in four games in the opening round. The Lakers blitzed their co-tenant Clippers on the opening night of the season behind 78 points from their bench, but got demolished at Oakland the next night behind a hail of threes from Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. It is unknown for now whether Duncan will play, but I'm predicting a Spurs win either way.

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