It was a good time to start the opening night of the 2022-23 season for the San Antonio Spurs. It was Manu Ginobili Night to honor his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the start of the Spurs’ 50th anniversary season while they sported their George Gervin-era throwback jerseys, but that’s where the festivities ended.
If there was any question that this extremely young Spurs squad was going to need time to come together as a team, all doubts were erased quickly. While Hornets got just about any look they wanted early, the Spurs could hardly buy any offense, getting down by double digits just over four minutes into the game and only briefly making things look interesting again when back-to-back threes from Doug McDermott got them as close five, 20-25, with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
After that little flurry, the Spurs were quickly back down 38-22 by the end of the quarter and 68-47 at halftime while shooting just over 40 percent from the field. There didn’t seem to be any logic to the offense, and it was obvious the Spurs lack a creator, floor manager, and someone who can create their own offense on a consistent basis. 30 of their first half points came from just three players: Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl, and McDermott.
To their credit, though, the young squad didn’t let that stop them from coming out of halftime with some purpose. Maybe they found a little spark from Manu’s speech and jersey re-unveiling at halftime, but at least for a while they looked closer to what can generally be expected from this Spurs this squad this season: not good, but scrappy and unwilling to concede. They clawed their way back within behind some heads-up plays from Tre Jones on both ends and Devin Vassell discovering his shooting stroke after missing his first 10 shots to spark a 13-2 run. A three from Johnson got the Spurs within 10 points with just under 5 minutes left in the third, but they wouldn’t score again for the remainder of the quarter, and the Hornets ended the quarter on a 13-0 run to take a 98-75 lead in the fourth.
Gregg Popovich started emptying in bench in the fourth quarter with the Spurs down by over 25 most of the way (although the Hornets kept playing their starters until there was about 4 minutes left, to the confusion of even their own broadcast team). The extended garbage time ended with a 129-102 loss, although to the Spurs’ credit, I wouldn’t have guessed they would break 100 points earlier in the game. As Lee Dresie said the other day, watch for the small victories in a season that won’t feature many wins.
- The key to most of the victories the Spurs do get this year will likely be when they get the most out of both Johnson and Vassell on offense. The former did his part for most of the night, with a semi-efficient 20 points on 8-17 shooting (3-7 from three), but the latter had a rough night, going 0-8 in first half before finishing just 3-15 and bricking all 8 of his three-point attempts for 11 points. Vassell remained aggressive and worked to get to the line for 8 free throws, but now is the time to show if he has more in him than just being a 3-and-D player in the future.
- I knew Jeremy Sochan was the first rookie to start the season opener for the Spurs since Tim Duncan, but I did not know he was only the fifth overall after Duncan, David Robinson, Sean Elliott and Wille Anderson. Interesting tidbit there.
- Here was a sign that it was not going to be a good start to the season. NBA League Pass has usually allowed the viewer to choose which team’s broadcast to listen to. I didn’t have that option today and was stuck with the Hornets broadcast team. Suffice it to say, they were pretty annoying. Yes, they were pumped up because it’s the start of the season, and their team has more to play for, but I had to mute them. They seemed committed to making fun of the Spurs, like saying “Johnson with the moonball” every time KJ missed a shot, joking about him making the Olympic team “only because Pop was the coach), and noting that Tre Jones was on the Duke team that lost to Stephen F. Austin a few years back. Hopefully this isn’t a permanent feature, and I either get to choose my preferred broadcast soon or get Bill and Sean a minimum of 50 percent of the time. At least I still got to watch the re-unveiling of Manu’s jersey at halftime!
Play of the Game
Johnon’s Big Body Slam was more fun, but since he got the honor of making a little Spurs history tonight, how about Sochan’s second NBA bucket: a driving dunk-and-one? It was definitely a “welcome to the NBA” night for the rookie, who got blocked on more shots than he made, but he still showed no fear of driving the basket when the path was there, and that’s what he’ll have to do to contribute on offense until he develops an outside shot.