The San Antonio Spurs started off the 2021-22 season with a 123-97 blowout win over an extremely shorthanded Orlando Magic team. The Spurs spent all four quarters playing with pace and working off their scrappy defense to get out in transition, and while too much shouldn’t be taken from it, it’s safe to say that these Spurs will be fun to root for.
Devin Vassell led seven Spurs — including all five starters — in double figures with a career-high 19 points, and Mo Bamba had 18 points (but surprisingly only 4 rebounds) to lead the Magic.
- Lonnie Walker did the “greeting of the fans” for the first game of the season after the starting lineups were announced. Does that mean anything?
- Maybe they were complacent against a severely short handed Magic team, but the Spurs defense — which is supposed to be their biggest asset — was not up to snuff early on. The Magic hit their first 6 shots, consisting of an open three by Mo Bamba and plenty of easy drives to the basket, forcing a Pop timeout with his team down 10-15 less than four minutes in. It worked, as the defense picked up and Spurs went on a quick 9-2 run to take the lead, and the offense — which had been good, not great so far — soon followed as they took a 32-28 lead at the end of the quarter.
- It didn’t take long for Jakob Poeltl to get his first moving screen call of the season. Whether it’s a matter of him being a hair late or his teammates a hair early, it’s something he absolutely has to work on. The refs know to watch him for it, but of course the other side of that coin is it doesn’t always feel like they watch the opposing centers as hard. To wit, for the next few possessions, Spurs players could be heard yelling “moving screen” each time Bamba set one on the other end, but to no avail. (Also definitely saw a couple uncalled ones on Robin Lopez.)
- With the quick pace and emphasis on getting out in transition, it looks like Gregg Popovich has told his centers to follow the ball to the basket and be ready for tip-ins. Poeltl and Drew Eubanks did just that and each got a couple in the first half, including a put-back slam for Eubanks.
- The Spurs continued to play well in the second quarter to gradually increase their lead to 61-49 at the half. Despite the lack of a go-to scorer, it was nice to see them keep moving the ball and avoid a scoring drought, something that was all too common last season. While it will inevitably happen at times, especially against more disciplined defenses, hopefully it is engrained in their brains that they don’t have a DeMar DeRozan to bail them out anymore, so this is how they will have to keep playing all the time.
- The Spurs turned on the jets and showed how fun they can be, finishing off the third quarter with a 20-5 run to essentially put the game away at 94-71. It all started on the defensive end, getting steals and rebounds, and then they got out in transition for dunks and threes. Walker had two of those threes, and Vassell had two threes and a breakaway dunk off the steal of his own. But perhaps the best part was the Spurs bench’s reaction, specifically Eubanks and Keldon Johnson, who were wrapped around each other and jumping up and down like kids in a candy store.
- It turns out Derrick White’s strong showing against the Rockets in the Spurs’ magic number 5th preseason game was in fact that “turning point” game where he gets to be himself again after a long layoff. It carried over into the season opener, as he finished the night with 16 points on 6-11 shooting (3-4 from three). It’s probably safe to say he’s back.
- Doug McDermott is the perfect fit with this group. He spreads the floor and keeps moving (another factor that keeps the offense from stalling), and there’s not a single player on the roster whom he could be considered a bad fit next to. He lowkey was a very solid pickup for the Spurs this offseason.
- The chants started early in the fourth quarter, and Josh Primo finally entered with just under 5 minutes left to a rousing ovation. He hit a transition three a few minutes later for his first NBA points, and the fans were predictably ecstatic. When was the last time Spurs fans were so excited about a rookie, especially one who doesn’t figure to be part of the main rotation in his first season? All it took was one preseason game for fans to go from livid over his selection to completely in love. Go figure.
- Now it’s time to remember that the next seven games will be brutal, including both match-ups against the defending champion Bucks, and only one game against a non-playoff team from last season in Indiana. It’s hard to temper expectations after such an exciting game, but if the Spurs come out with a 4-4 record on the other side, they will have done about as well as could be expected.
25 more wins until Pop is the NBA’s winningest coach of all time (in the regular season)
For the Magic fans’ perspective, visit Orlando Pinstriped Post.
The Spurs will head out to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Nuggets on the front end of a back-to-back on Friday. Tip-off will be at 8:00 PM CT on CW35.