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Feisty Spurs hold on to beat the Raptors in home opener

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The Spurs remain undefeated and continue to exceed expectations early in the season.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

After winning their first game of the season in Memphis, the Spurs had their home debut against the Raptors on Saturday. It was and up-and-down affair that came down to the wire, but the Silver and Black managed to secure a tight 119-114 victory that allows them to stay undefeated.

Just as in the season opener, early on it seemed like the game might slip from San Antonio’s grasp quickly. The starters struggled greatly with transition defense, allowing Toronto easy points on the break or after struggling with the cross-matches that resulted from the high pace at which the game was played. In the half court, Paskal Siakam was feasting thanks to his height advantage against a Spurs team that once again went small, while the Raptors’ guards were piercing the perimeter defense effortlessly. If not for the inspired play of DeMar DeRozan and some dead eye shooting from outside, the double-digit lead Toronto got early could have grown to be more than just 10. Instead, San Antonio managed to hang around long enough for the bench to make it a game.

The defense tightened up a bit when the second unit checked in, which combined with the Raptors’ lack of firepower when the starters rested, allowed the Spurs to keep erasing the deficit and eventually take the lead. By this point the game had turned chaotic, as both teams were happy to play at a high pace. Toronto also decided to aggressively guard DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, sending double teams more often that they probably should have and paying the price as the stars made good decisions under pressure and the supporting cast continued to attack whenever possible. Not only would the role players drive when the paint was open, but they also managed to hit enough threes to force the Raptors to reassess their game plan. When the dust had settled, San Antonio led by three at the break.

The beginning of the second half seemed to mimic the start of the game, with Toronto pushing the pace and the Spurs unable to keep up in transition. On top of that, better execution allowed the Raptors to take advantage of San Antonio’s youth on the perimeter, forcing breakdowns with simple cuts. DeRozan was not up to the task of carrying the offense at that point, so things were looking grim. Fortunately, this version of the Spurs doesn’t give up easy. With a more aggressive Dejounte Murray leading the charge and some timely Patty Mills three-pointers providing extra firepower, the Silver and Black not only stayed close throughout but actually managed to preserve its lead going into the final period.

Both offenses struggled early in the fourth quarter, with only Chris Boucher providing a boost off the bench for the Raptors, and the Spurs’ second unit laboring to put points on the board. Once the starters returned, Toronto made its push. Fred VanVleet hit some jumpers to give his team the lead with under six minutes to go, but DeRozan responded and with a three-pointer — his third of the night — to get San Antonio within one point with just over a minute left. After a successful defensive stance, the Spurs missed on their next trip but kept the possession alive before finally getting a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish on an Aldridge putback. Not even a terrible defensive breakdown that saw Kyle Lowry take a wide open jumper would change the outcome, as the Spurs sealed the win from the free throw line following his miss.

The W is important, especially early in the season where the schedule is not kind to San Antonio, but more encouraging than just beating a good team at home is how the Spurs did it. It wasn’t always pretty and there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but the young players keep rewarding the coaching staff’s trust with good performances and the veterans once again came in clutch when needed. You can’t ask for much more.

Game notes

  • DeRozan had an efficient shooting night, logging 27 points in 17 shots. Aldridge wasn’t as effective (12 points on 14 shots, 1-for-5 on threes) but what the two had in common is that they made good decisions when the Raptors forced the ball out of their hands, combining for 12 assists to just two turnovers. That, plus the clutch plays, made this a good game for both veterans.
  • Speaking of vets, the other two also did well and basically mirrored the play of the stars. Mills was a flamethrower off the bench, getting 21 points on just nine shots, while Gay was much less efficient but still managed to contribute some clutch free throws and some decent defensive possessions.
  • Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray shot a combined 16-for-44 from the field (36 percent), but their struggles came mostly from beyond the arc. All three attacked the basket relentlessly, which is encouraging for a Spurs team that needs its slashers to not hesitate. Oh, and Murray logged a triple-double as well, with 10 assists and 10 rebounds to go with his 11 points.
  • Is there a better backup center in the league than Jakob Poeltl? It’s unlikely. The newly re-signed big man contributed four points, seven rebounds, five assists and some good defense on 19 minutes of playing time. It wasn’t a great game for Jak, but even when he’s not at his best he does enough to help.
  • Devin Vassell keeps showing that he belongs. In 12 minutes the rookie had seven points, five rebounds, a steal and a block.
  • We had a Trey Lyles sighting at the start of the fourth quarter. Lyles hit a three and didn’t do much else, but he won’t be asked to contribute much on the much smaller role he’ll have this season, so no complaints.
  • And now the bad: Just like Christian Wood did in the preseason, Chris Boucher looked like an All-Star against the Spurs, finishing the night with a 22-point, 10-rebound, seven-block stat line. Athletic bigs who can shoot are going to be a problem for San Antonio.

Next game: @Pelicans on Sunday

The first SEGABABA of the season for the Silver and Black will come in New Orleans against the young Pelicans. Stan Van Gundy’s team will be rested and Zion Williamson is a matchup nightmare for the smaller Spurs, but let’s dream big and hope for three in a row.