Opening Night Performances
Last night I had the good fortune to get a last minute invite to the Spurs season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies. Beaten down by a long week of work and illness, followed by a long weekend of good times in my hometown, tied up with previous plans in place and faced with a daunting, late-night drive back to Austin ahead of me, I naturally jumped at the chance. The people of San Antonio were more than ready for the return of their Spurs, and, needless to say, the stadium was rocking from the tip. The Spurs rode the home crowd through an offensively offensive first quarter to a one point halftime deficit, before completely locking down the Grizz in the third, building a big lead, and finishing the night with a 95-82 victory and a 1-0 start to the season. Rather than further recap the game in length, this article will focus on a few individual Spurs of interest, and what we can take away from their performances on opening night.
Manu Ginobili (by far a team high +17 when on the floor) – What can be said about San Antonio’s fearless Argentine that hasn’t been already? A classic performance from Manu, as, once again, he did it all last night. I remember one point, very early on in the game, I looked up at the score board to check Manu’s stats. So amazed was I with his heart and hustle, I simply had to check, and what did I see? 0 points, 0 fouls, 2 assists, and 1 rebound. Not the type of line that most players would be satisfied with, even in the first quarter, but, at that point, Manu had to have already taken two charges, drawn at least three offensive fouls of some kind in total, and gotten at least one of his three steals. Manu was the heart and soul of the team last night, and if he has many more games like this 24 point, 5 rebound, 4 assist, 3 steal, 1 block performance, the Spurs should be in for one heck of a season.
Kawhi Leonard – Leonard made his NBA debut last night, and the nerves were obvious. In his first trip to the line Leonard missed two free throws, and, later on, got his “Welcome to the NBA” moment via a Rudy Gay strip and steal that led to a monster dunk from the Memphis forward. Leonard simply couldn’t get anything going offensively at first, and yet his impact was impossible to miss. Unable to hit a shot from the field, Leonard helped his team with a flurry of hard-nosed rebounds and steals, using those legendary massive hands to wreak havoc on defense and poke away the ball time and again. Leaving the game I honestly thought Leonard had more steals than the two in the box score, but such is the disruptive force of Leonard’s style of play. An offensive rebound and put back led to one of Leonard’s two field goals, but it was the other that truly impressed. In the Spurs highlight of the night, Leonard drained a corner three after a behind the back dish from Ginobili following the veteran’s sick crossover and split of two defenders. There was an audible “ooo,” from the crowd, and the pressure was definitely on the rookie to make the shot, and after he once again rose to the occasion for the Spurs (preseason game winner, anyone?) the stadium rewarded him with perhaps its biggest roar of the night. When it was all said and done, Leonard finished with 6 points on a disappointing 2 of 9 shooting, 6 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 steals, and an assist in just 14 minutes.
Tiago Splitter – With Tim Duncan in foul trouble all night, Splitter played 33 minutes, tied with Tony Parker for the most on the team, and was a really big part of the Spurs’ victory. Offensively, Splitter left a lot to be desired, shooting 2 of 7 from the field with both buckets coming off of nice assists. Defensively, Splitter was a force. Splitter was a huge part of a Spurs defense that forced Memphis into committing 24 turnovers, and held Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to a combined 23 points and 12 boards. The Brazilian big man finished the night with 2 steals and 2 blocks to go along with his 5 points and a solid 8 boards.
Richard Jefferson – The embattled RJ did exactly what the Spurs needed him to on opening night. After an offseason which saw him narrowly escape the amnesty axe, Jefferson came out last night like a professional and dropped 14 points on a solid 5 of 11 effort from the field, including 3 of 7 from behind the arc. Most impressively, with the big three on the bench for a stretch in the second quarter, Jefferson scored two or three buckets while he and the Spurs reserves regained the lead.
James Anderson – A lot of people in the Spurs fan base are expecting a lot of things from the second year Anderson after his rookie campaign was cut short by injury. Anderson got 21 minutes in the opener, getting a nice 9 points on 4 of 9 shooting, though he went a disappointing 1 of 5 from three point range. What impressed me most about Anderson wasn’t apparent in the box score. From the minute he stepped on the court until the end of the game, Anderson was ready to shoot. The former Big 12 scoring champ was fearlessly looking for his shot all night long, yet he played within himself throughout the game and very rarely forced it.
Matt Bonner – Oh dear. Where to begin? Bonner had one of those incredible absentee performances that, especially upon seeing how many minutes he was out on the floor later, truly boggles the mind. In 28 minutes (fifth most on the squad), Bonner managed to grab exactly ZERO rebounds, while scoring three points on 1 of 6 shooting (1 of 5 from downtown), getting two assists, and posting a donut in every other statistical category. How this line is possible for a 6’10’’ man in 28 minutes of play is entirely beyond comprehension, though one thing that is easy to understand is the soon to be reignited vitriol sputtering forth from many Spurs fans toward the Red Rocket.