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San Antonio at Memphis, Final Score: Spurs find their form in season-opening win over the Grizzles, 131-119

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Keldon Johnson’s return sparks the Spurs to victory.

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

After a porous preseason, the San Antonio Spurs opened the 2020-21 regular season with a resounding victory over a team they figure to be in direct competition with for a playoff spot: the Memphis Grizzlies. Keldon Johnson’s return from injury seemed to bring new life and energy to the Spurs, and everyone played well in a 131-119 victory. The Spurs are now 22-2 in season openers under Gregg Popovich.

DeMar DeRozan led seven Spurs in double figures with 28 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, while Dejounte Murray and LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 and 20 points, respectively. Ja Morant had a huge night with 44 points, but the Spurs defense was able to hold everyone else in check.

Observations

  • With Johnson returning from a foot injury that he suffered from tripping on the stairs at home and replacing Rudy Gay in the starting line-up, the Spurs had something that much more resembled what we saw in the Bubble. He was the best Spur early with 9 points in the first quarter, and the pace was more akin with the new style, but they struggled on defense early as Memphis hit five threes to get up by as much as 10. However, the Spurs eventually settled in on both ends, and the bench helped get them back within three, 30-33, at the end of the quarter.
  • The Spurs remained hot to start the second quarter, with Murray leading the way on both ends and scoring in all manners, from threes to steals and buckets in transition. When he gets his feet set, his shots go in at a much higher rate. Overall Murray contributed 9 points and 5 assists in the second quarter to help spot the Spurs a 66-53 halftime lead, outscoring the Grizzlies 36-20.
  • With the threes still not falling, Aldridge took a few steps inside the arc in exchange for long twos to find his shooting rhythm, and it worked. Better yet, he did so without hindering the flow of the offense or slowing down the pace, taking most of his attempts off of assists. Hopefully as his twos start falling, the threes will follow (and one did late in the game).
  • It’s kind of funny seeing players go flying out of bounds on the sideline nearest to the camera with no fans there to catch them, and they just disappear out of the frame.
  • Each quarter brought a new hero. For the third, it was Lonnie Walker IV. He had a relatively quiet first half on offense with just one three early, but he came out of halftime loud with two tomahawk dunks and an and-one as the Grizzlies were trying to regain some momentum. Perhaps most importantly, he stayed engaged on defense throughout the game. Overall he scored 16 points.
  • The Spurs had an answer every time the Grizzlies tried to make a run despite a monstrous performance from Morant. Memphis got within eight points a couple of times, but the Spurs always responded to get back up by double figures. The relatively quick recovery from the slow start and not being phased by the Grizzlies’ potential momentum-shifting plays is a sign of mental toughness that was lacking with last season’s squad, which was constantly having to dig itself out of holes. If one weakness that still needs work was there, it’s closing the game strong. The Spurs got complacent late, committing turnovers and letting the Grizzlies make it slightly interesting, but it’s still notable that they held on.
  • This feels like one of those games where you can say everyone played well, or at the minimum no one had a “bad” game. If there is one potential nominee, it was Devin Vassell, who after shining as the Spurs lone bright spot in the preseason had a quiet night . . . until scoring his first NBA bucket on a huge three to put the Spurs up 117-101 with 4:47 left to all but put the game away. His defense was excellent all night, and in case anyone didn’t notice, he got all of Trey Lyles’ minutes, who received a DNP.
  • The Fiesta jerseys are rad, even while dealing with a blurry League Pass signal. That is all.
  • Actually, it’s not. Since I had the nerve to (teasingly) suggest that the Spurs would have had a better record during the 2018-19 season if they had Fiesta jerseys, now it is only right that I back up my own words by keeping track of the Spurs record while wearing them this season. Current record: 1-0.

For the Grizzlies fans perspective, visit Grizzly Bear Blues.

The Spurs will make their regular season home debut on Saturday, Dec. 26 against the Toronto Raptors. Tipoff will be at 7:30 PM CT on KENS 5.