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Come On In, The Water’s Fine

By Jeff Koch on October 30, 2013.

Memphis 94, San Antonio 101

And we’re off. Finally, the regular season has begun.

One of the perks of mostly ignoring the pre-season is that Game 1 truly is Game 1. I haven’t watched a minute of Spurs’ basketball since…well, you know. It was good to take the court with old friends and familiar faces, and start learning about the newest additions to the family.

One of the downsides of ignoring the pre-season is that every storyline, every thought, every everything is up for discussion. As the season wears on, compelling story lines will emerge, and the season (and team) will begin to bring itself into focus. For the first part of the season, though, we observe and we think.

And we enjoy.

Thoughts from a nice opening night win against a familiar opponent:

–I think we’ll see a lot of games like tonight’s, particularly early in the season. The Spurs are a good to great team already, they know their ceiling and their goal. They have a continuity advantage over almost every other team in the league. They also may carry residual effects from the ending of last season, and a malaise as they get through another regular season that is only a testing ground for the second season.

So “these types of games” will be games where the team seems sluggish, then might have a huge spurt, only to let the other team back in (and appear totally out of sorts again), and then find a way to finish off the game, as if it was always going to happen that way, winning by a comfortable margin that might seem like too much or too little. The bench broke open the game in the 2nd quarter, perfectly executing on both ends. The Grizzlies clawed their way back in over most of the second half (as is their wont), until the Spurs decided a nice little two minute run would put the game away. Yawn.

–I’m having trouble deciding what my favorite part of the game was, but I’ll go with: Manu. He looked good. Fresh, spry, creative, aggressive. Last year looked like his body had finally lost step with his mind: he knew what he wanted to do, could see a step ahead, but couldn’t get there, his legs always a half step behind. Tonight, at least, he looked to be in complete sync. He got to the rim with ease several times, made some jump shots, and was the difference maker off of the bench we need him to be. Stories of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. By asking less of him, I think we’ll get even more from him. His contributions, while diminished in totality, might add up even more than ever this season. No longer asked to be the best sixth man in the league, or the second or third best player on the team, he can become the best #4 player in the league.

–I’m also having trouble deciding what my second favorite part was, so I’ll go with the complementary: Marco Belinelli. Immediately you could see how much better he fits with this team than Neal. Neal is a dead-eye shooter (better than Marco), but we’ve got a few of those already (that play better D and contribute better in other areas). Marco has a more complete game and can be trusted with the ball in his hand and to make decisions. He had a couple of spiffy passes that led to perfect shots, and some moves to the basket that will help to open up the entire offensive side of the floor for the whole team. His presence on the floor with Manu also takes a ton of pressure off of Manu to be the primary scorer, distributor, ball handler, and everything maker for the second unit. He and Manu can orchestrate together, and throw in a Mills or a Joseph, and the second unit is entirely more balanced.

–Speaking of Mills, holy hell did he look good. One big story line out of pre-season was his body change, getting below 7% body fat and generally in amazing shape. Not that professional basketball players are ever in horrible shape, but he certainly seemed like a different player. It’ll be interesting to watch who gets playing time behind Parker, particularly the ‘battle’ between Mills and Joseph. Both have earned playing time, and maybe Pop will just go with whatever the team needs that night: offense or defense. Neither is an overly-creative PG, but both run it credibly. Mills is a much better shooter and scorer, while Joseph has the chance to be one of the more devastating guard defenders in the league (and is a terrific rebounder from the position). No Joseph tonight is curious, but we all know how Pop plays around with line-ups in the early going.

–And what toys he has to tinker with! I loved my first glimpse of Ayres, who can be a great back-up to either frontcourt position, and has tremendous athleticism. Remember Bonner, he can still shoot and has corporate knowledge up the wazoo. Diaw continues to be the butt of every fat joke in the NBA and a player I’d happily go to war with. Oh, and Splitter and Green are still pretty awesome fits in the starting line-up.

–Oh, Kawhi. I thought he was forcing the action a bit too much in the early going, trying to take on that added responsibility that has been all the talk since the Finals ended. He was mostly average, until the 4th quarter when he started doing “Kawhi” things and sparked the turnaround that won the game. His block/steal/fastbreak/pass for easy lay-up might have been the turning point of the 4th quarter. He plays within himself so well, and I have no doubt that he won’t lose sight of what makes him special, even as he becomes a more ‘ordinary’ superstar.

–Parker looked a bit out of sorts, but we don’t worry about Tony.

–Ditto Duncan. Duncan looked good save for his ability to make a shot, until he got hit in the chest and left the game. The injury looks insignificant–a flying elbow to the pec will leave a bruise, but no lasting damage–and we all kind of know what we’re getting from Tim.

It was great to watch the Spurs again, to yell at a Bonner 3, to get nervous as the Grizzlies made their push, and then to exclaim as Kawhi expressionlessly made winning plays. It’s nice to have the NBA back.

Game 2 of the season is Friday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers.

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