Through three quarters, the Spurs surged and then sputtered, going through the typical undulations of a team missing two starters. By the beginning of the fourth, facing a disciplined Toronto Raptors defense, San Antonio had committed 18 turnovers to just 15 assists — then they gave up a 7-0 run to fall behind 81-75.
That’s when the tide changed, as Pop subbed Dejounte Murray, Danny Green and LaMarcus Aldridge back in to join Kyle Anderson and Rudy Gay (and later, Brandon Paul). Over a six-minute span, the Spurs reeled off a 19-4 run, combining gritty defensive stops with strong performances by Murray, Green and Aldridge, who had 10 points in the final period. A heated exchange between Aldridge and Raptors forward Serge Ibaka briefly sent both squads to their respective corners, but it did little to swing the momentum of the game’s final minutes.
Had it not been for the Spurs’ significant size advantage, this one may have gotten away from them earlier (and it’s worth noting that the Raptors were without starting center Jonas Valanciunas). As it was, San Antonio swallowed rebounds (they outboarded Toronto 56 to 33), swatted shots inside and at the three-point line (for a season-high 12 blocks) and got into passing lanes, which helped keep point guard Kyle Lowry from establishing any rhythm. Once Gregg Popovich found what lineups worked (perhaps most notably, sitting Pau Gasol who had just one point on the night), everything seemed to fall into place.
This is a team that will be learning plenty of things on the fly. That’s what happens when new pieces are integrated, and when the keys to the offense are handed to a 21-year-old.
And yet, the results with Dejounte Murray have been unequivocally, overwhelmingly positive. The 29th pick in the 2016 draft exploded for his first double-double of the season, with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists, while containing Lowry (8 points on 3-of-11 shooting) for much of the night. His +13 plus/minus was second only to Green’s +15, who was equally spectacular with 17 points, eight rebounds and five (!) blocks. Matched up against Toronto’s All-Star backcourt, it was the Spurs’ guards who shined the brightest.
Earlier this month, Manu Ginobili said he believed Murray would one day be an All-Star in the league. He was impressed, but not surprised, when discussing Murray’s play after the game.
“You can see his activity, length — his reaction time is just a tiny bit quicker than mine,” he said with a smile. “He has a great combination of skills.”
When Ginobili was asked what he was doing at Murray’s age, you could see the 40-year-old’s eyes briefly roll across an ocean of time as he thought back. In fact, you could fit an actual ocean between the two periods:
“I was, I think, arriving to Italy,” he said, his hand meditatively rasping his shaved head. “Very excited, very energetic young kid... I wasn’t even ready to compete at this level.”
When asked if he was playing beyond his years, Murray (whose birthday was just last month), laughed: “I mean, I’m 21. Let me enjoy my year.” He’s also quick to remind reporters that he still has “a long way to go.”
“I ain’t gonna sit here and talk to you like I’m a veteran. But I can say it’s going in the right direction.”
For the young guard, putting in the work is important, but he’s not letting that detract from enjoying the experience.
“I’m having fun, getting better, learning. The biggest thing they tell us is, ‘you gotta have fun’”.
Fun will likely be a mutual theme as Murray continues his ascent — for him, and for every fan that’s watching.
Some other bits and bobs:
“RUDY, RUDY, RUDY”
Get used to that chant if you’re lucky enough to catch a game at the AT&T Center this year. Gay, playing against his former team, had 11 points and five rebounds, most of which came in an impressive outburst in the second quarter that featured a three-point basket and a couple of strong finishes around the rim.
Danny’s increased role in the offense
With Kawhi out, someone needs to step up, and it was once again Green that helped carry the offensive load. He was aggressive off the dribble and came up with timely plays on the offensive end to complement his trademark defense. He had a big three to put the Spurs up, 88-85, and also got to the rim multiple times. He’s second only to Aldridge in FGAs thus far, and I’d expect that to continue as long as Leonard remains out.
Ginobili still has a role to play
Manu provided some throwback acrobatics around the rim early in this one, but was also relied on at the end of the game, subbing in with two minutes left to help put it to bed. He had nine points in 21 minutes of action.
That Aldridge-Ibaka dust-up
Oh, yeah, this happened.
Luckily for both parties (and fans watching), the refs simply assessed both players double-technicals after reviewing what had happened. And viewers watching at home were treated to this moment, which featured a) the young dude, Murray, showing leadership and calming his veteran teammate down and b) Pop flashing a grin as he made his way back to the bench.
Gregg Popovich's sly smile after LaMarcus Aldridge's "fight" with Serge Ibaka is just perfect pic.twitter.com/F37zTDk5gw— AP (@Ananth_Pandian) October 24, 2017
Aldridge ultimately had the last laugh, taking it at Ibaka a few plays later and scoring on an and-one. Ibaka would be yanked shortly after, while Aldridge remained in the game, ultimately scoring the last two points from the free-throw line.
Some promising play from BP3
It’s definitely worth noting that Pop turned to 26-year-old rookie Brandon Paul to provide some big minutes in the fourth quarter. The Spurs love what Paul brings to the defensive side of the ball, but he also made some heady plays on offense, including a couple of nice passes to Aldridge for easy finishes.
Pop on the firing of Suns coach (and one-time Austin Toros coach) Earl Watson
Pop sad to see Earl Watson out of work: "Earl is a good man…We enjoyed him while he was here, that’s for sure." #Spurs— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) October 23, 2017
Pop, pre-game, on if he was satisfied with the 1-of-12 three-point shooting in Chicago
“Did we win?” (the answer is yes, yes they did)
The Spurs were once again cold from downtown against Toronto (5-of-20) and if you asked Pop the same question, I imagine his sentiment would be no different.