After an uninspiring preseason, the San Antonio Spurs are returning to the AT&T Center for a regular season game for the first time since March, fresh off one of their most encouraging wins since arguably their Game 3 win over the Nuggets in their last playoffs appearance. After crushing the Memphis Grizzles with an all-around team effort to open the season, the Spurs will make their home debut against a team they have enjoyed playing the last couple of seasons: the Toronto Raptors.
San Antonio Spurs (1-0) vs. Toronto Raptors (0-1)
December 26, 2020 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: KENS 5 | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Derrick White (toe — out), Quinndary Weatherspoom (knee — out)
Raptors Injuries: Patrick McCaw (knee — out)
Making Bubble Ball permanent
During an extremely brief preseason, the Spurs looked nothing like the team that blew expectations away in the Orlando Bubble. While everyone knew patience was required while waiting for either Keldon Johnson and/or Derrick White to return, no one expected the turnaround to happen so quickly. With Johnson returning in the Spurs season-opener in Memphis, they seemingly flipped a switch after a slow start, returning to the energetic, unpredictable style of offense they showcased in Orlando.
Slashers cut to the basket, set iso plays were rarely run, and the veterans were able to shine within the flow while also letting the young players dictate the pace. LaMarcus Aldridge finally looked at home with the new style while finding his shooting form from just inside the arc. DeMar DeRozan continued his Bubble ways of deferring early while taking over the fourth quarter when it was time to put the opponent away, and Patty Mills and Rudy Gay led the way for a strong bench unit.
As for the youngsters, Johnson joined Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV in the starting line-up, and those three combined for 53 points on 20-34 shooting, 17 rebounds and 6 assists. Jakob Poeltl and Devin Vassell provided defense off the bench, and Spurs fans are now pondering what they’ll be able to do once White returns. However, the Spurs themselves can’t sit around waiting to find out. They must continue doing what they did against the Grizzles on a nightly basis, and finding a level of consistency from night to night will be a a big step toward improving on last season’s performance.
There’s something about these games vs. the Raptors
The Spurs may be 2-2 against the team they traded The Nephew to in exchange for DeRozan, Poeltl, and the pick that would become Johnson, but all of the match-ups have been anything but dull. After a thrilling, revenge-filled victory in San Antonio in 2019, they lost a tight one in Toronto later that season, and last season, the road teams each won close contests. (Although the game in San Antonio hardly meant anything on that tragic day, as 2020 was only barely beginning to rear its ugly head.)
With the Raptors coming off a loss in New Orleans on Wednesday, the Spurs should have all the momentum heading into the contest against a team that by all intents and purposes should be among the top of the East when the season is over. Beating teams above them wasn’t too big of an issue for last season’s Spurs, but it is something they will need to continue to do this season if they hope to return to the playoffs.
DeRozan isn’t the only player entering this game with a chip on his shoulder; now it’s the entire team as they work off the disrespect they are feeling from the outside. If they can continue harvest the energy generated from that disrespect on a nightly basis, they’ll have a much stronger mental toughness than last season’s team, and as a result they should win more games.
For the Raptors fans’ perspective, visit Raptors HQ.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.