What a wild way to start a brand-new San Antonio Spurs season. After jumping out to an early double-digit lead behind active hands and transition buckets, the Silver and Black struggled with turnovers and allowed the Knicks to get back into the game.
Everything went mostly according to the script to begin the night. Marcus Morris was met with a shower of jeers upon taking the floor for the ceremonial announcement of the starting lineups, Dejounte Murray made life difficult for opposing ball-handlers, and Bryn Forbes’ hot shooting carried over from the preseason.
But it wasn’t all DJ steals and Sparty threes. DeMar DeRozan was ice-cold from the floor and couldn’t buy a bucket to save his life. His misses were miles off target, and even when he got to the foul line, he struggled to find his form.
DeRozan seemed focused on setting the table for his teammates, but contributed to San Antonio’s lackadaisical care of the ball. Too often he left his feet to make a pass only to find his options closed off by an opportunistic New York defense.
Luckily, San Antonio overcame his initial frigid performance to snag an early first-quarter lead. Shots were falling, the Knicks were Knicksing, and the Spurs seemed to be in control of the contest.
San Antonio hopped out to a 16 point second-quarter lead, but New York countered with a 10-0 run to get back into the game. Turnovers began to pile up near the end of the half and sloppy play caught up to the Spurs.
Whatever Pop said at halftime didn’t make much of a difference. The Silver and Black committed giveaway after giveaway until the turnover total eclipsed 20, while the offense stalled and the free throw line was the point of most of the scoring.
The David Fizdale-coached Knicks came out of halftime with a newfound physicality and focus that disrupted San Antonio’s already dwindling rhythm. Kevin Knox buried a pair of triples to get New York going, and Marcus Morris, Julius Randle, and RJ Barrett finished what he started with strong efforts in the third.
The Spurs opened the final frame with zero momentum, trailing by one point. While securing the win wasn’t out of the question, they needed answers and they needed them fast. Unfortunately, those answers didn’t come right away.
New York stormed ahead to a seven point lead that took the air out of the AT&T Center, and it felt like the Knicks just couldn’t miss. Awkward shots with little hope fell in like the hand of God placed them in the basket.
Rudy Gay’s seven point run to round out the third quarter was all that kept the matchup close, and an embarrassing season-opening loss to a bottom-feeding eastern conference team appeared to be on the horizon.
That would have been a truly sorry way to begin a campaign, and apparently, Dejounte Murray had no intention of letting the Spurs go down without a fight. The fourth-year guard crisscrossed his way to the hoop, played the passing lanes, and knocked down a debilitating corner three that was part of the 22-2 run that gave San Antonio a 14 point buffer with three minutes remaining.
Just as soon as Dejounte swooped to the rescue, he was back on the bench while DeMar and LaMarcus Aldridge assumed closeout duties. DeRozan recovered from his shaky start to finish with 13 points and Aldridge drilled a shot clock violation-saving triple.
The rest of the proceedings were fairly straight forward, but the Spurs season opener was anything but routine. Though San Antonio came away with a win, this sort of play won’t fly against the tougher western conference competition that awaits them this year.
The San Antonio Spurs flashed signs of a new and improved combination of defense and ball movement. They also showed a scary resemblance to the flaw-ridden team that suffered a second consecutive first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Denver Nuggets last season.
Dejounte Murray brings a facelift on both ends of the floor
The Spurs’ defensive shortcomings troubled them a season ago, and they sorely missed their defensive anchor. While that was obvious in Murray’s absence, it was strikingly apparent in his return to action.
Dejounte racked up three steals, and he easily could’ve finished with more if not for the fact he only suited up for 24 minutes. San Antonio created points off turnovers when he was in the game and failed to duplicate the results when he was off the floor.
The same can be said for his offensive impact. Murray tallied 18 points, skied for 8 boards, dished out a team-high 6 assists, and oh boy did he look fast out there. If you weren’t sure he deserved that four-year extension, there shouldn’t be any doubts after his latest outing.
Turnovers, miscues, and butterfingers
I mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again. The San Antonio Spurs committed 21 turnovers in three quarters, and that will certainly be a point of focus for their two days off before Saturday’s game.
Call it offseason rust for now, but this would be a dangerous trend. Don’t worry too much though, the Silver and Black are usually one of the best teams at limiting their mistakes.
Lonnie Walker IV and DeMarre Carroll healthy scratches?
Head coach Gregg Popovich raved about Lonnie Walker IV during media day, and DeMarre Carroll was San Antonio’s biggest offseason acquisition. Neither made it onto the court on opening night.
Marco Belinelli was the first guard off the bench and Trey Lyles got the start next to LaMarcus Aldridge. Both moves are a bit unexpected, though in entirely different ways.
Lyles was anticipated to be an afterthought in the Spurs crowded lineup, and Marco seemed to be in a positional battle with Lonnie. Neither of those things seemed to be the case against the Knicks.
Trey played half of the game, and Marco led all second-unit guards in minutes played. I understand Lyles’ role might change on a nightly basis due to the opponent, but hopefully Walker’s superior defense and incredible upside will earn him a shot at cracking the rotation soon.