After months of anticipation, basketball games that count, are finally back! The San Antonio Spurs kicked off their 54th season in the NBA on Wednesday night with an emphatic 123-97 blowout win over the Orlando Magic, and if the game was a sign of things to come, then we’re going to be in for a thrilling year.
Spurs - Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott & Jakob Poeltl
Magic - Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, Mo Bamba & Wendall Carter Jr
Both teams came out of the gate showing no signs of nerves, as the two clubs moved the ball around for wide-open shots. Magic big man Mo Bamba was especially impressive early on, scoring Orlando’s first five points of the game and deterring a number of Spurs players at the rim. The good guys smartly countered, making sharp cuts, hitting open mid-rangers and scoring some three balls, resulting in a 9-0 run. San Antonio even forced two consecutive turnovers by pressing full-court, and it’s obvious that this team’s energy and youth will allow Pop to experiment with unique strategies throughout the season.
After a back and forth first quarter, the Spurs began to gain momentum in the second, which they then controlled for the remainder of the game. Keldon Johnson was his usual fearless self by attacking the rim no matter who was in the way, and roared to the crowd at every chance he got. Devin Vassell also showed his improved ballhandling by hitting some jumpers off the dribble, and the home team seemed to outhustle Orlando at every opportunity. The excitement of the fans no doubt fueled San Antonio too, and the Spurs went into halftime leading by double digits.
Following the break, both teams were a bit sloppy with the ball and forced a number of awkward shots. Fortunately, the Spurs regained their footing and started wreaking havoc on the defensive end — scrapping and creating a number of turnovers. Vassell and Dejounte Murray took turns disrupting passing lanes and forced the Magic to regroup on a number of possessions, resulting in an exciting sequence where Vassell hit a buzzer-beating three to end the third.
Up by 23 going into the final quarter, the home team didn’t let their foot off the gas, and continued to put on a show. Pop even inserted Josh Primo and Jock Landale into the game with less than five minutes to go, which almost made the fans blow the roof off the building. Neither player had many opportunities to make a lasting impression, but Primo did score his first NBA points off a three-pointer, while Landale hustled for every rebound. The game ultimately ended in a Spurs blowout, and I don’t think fans could’ve asked for a better first game. Regardless of where this team ends up, this will undoubtedly be a fun season!
- This team is FUN. There wasn’t a single play in the game where the Spurs didn’t look energized, and every player on the team was scrapping and hustling for the ball like their life depended on it — almost to a detriment at times. More importantly, the good guys showed great chemistry and it just seems like everyone is on the same page and supports one another, which is a great sign considering all the turnover that the roster went through in the offseason.
- Murray didn’t play his best game but I liked his aggressiveness in attacking the rim. He was blocked by Bamba on several occasions but it’s nice to see that those failed attempts didn’t stop him from going back and trying again. With that said, Murray does need to work on his finishing in order to become a more efficient player.
- The Spurs played a style reminiscent of the beautiful game, as they relied on ball movement and cuts to the basket to create open shots and easy layups. With DeMar DeRozan gone, there also isn’t a bonafide go-to scorer and playmaker anymore, so everyone will receive more touches and opportunities. It shouldn’t be a surprise that 7 players scored double-digit points, and the team seems destined to go with a “scoring by committee” approach this season.
Play of the Game
Vassell played the best game of his young career, and his intensity was put on full display when he forced a turnover and put on his best Keldon impression with the dunk.
Spurs Valuable Player (SVP)
We’re going to be introducing a new segment to recaps this season by giving out points to the three best Spurs players in each game. We’ll also be adding up the points on an ongoing basis to determine who the SVP is at the end of the year. The best player of each game gets 3 points, while the second and third-best players receive 2 and 1 point, respectively.
3rd place (1 point): Derrick White - 30 minutes, 16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists
Like usual, White didn’t do anything particularly flashy but was a steady presence whenever he was on the floor. The 27-year-old was sorely missed throughout large portions of last season, so it’s nice to see him healthy this year. He shot 6/11 from the field and 3/4 from three, which is an encouraging sign considering his poor preseason.
2nd place (2 points): Jakob Poeltl - 30 minutes, 12 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists
Poeltl is similar to White in that he doesn’t do anything flashy, but the big man is undoubtedly one of the team’s most important players due to his rim protection and rebounding ability. More importantly, he was ultra-aggressive this game by attacking the rim and getting more involved on offense, as Poeltl showed off his underrated passing by finding multiple cutters for easy layups and ending the game with 7 assists.
1st place (3 points): Devin Vassell - 25 minutes, 19 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals
Everyone has been focusing on Keldon as a potential breakout player, but Vassell should definitely be included in that conversation too. Coming out of the draft, he was projected to be a good 3 and D role player but has already shown signs of being able to create off the dribble in just his sophomore campaign. It’ll be interesting to see if Vassell can continue to expand his role as opposing defenses game plan more against him, but this was definitely an encouraging start to his season.
1st - Devin Vassell (3 points)
2nd - Jakob Poeltl (2 points)
3rd - Derrick White (1 point)
Next game: @ Denver on Friday
The Spurs will fly to the Mile High City and take on reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and his Denver Nuggets on Friday. Let’s see if the good guys can maintain their momentum into the first away game of the season!