Author: Stephen Hale (page 1 of 2)

The Spurs Beat the Bulls and it Wasn’t Particularly Close

Season 51, Game 13
San Antonio 133, Chicago 94
8-5, 4th in the West

The San Antonio Spurs beat the Chicago Bulls in an NBA basketball game on Saturday night. The score was 133 points in favor of the Spurs, compared to 94 points for the Bulls.

Analysis? The Bulls are not good.

There really isn’t much to take away from this game. We saw a lot of bench work tonight from the Spurs in route to a 39 point win. The game was pretty much over before it began and that’s even with Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green out. It was an annihilation.

The game was never really in doubt, save for a few minutes in the second quarter when the Bulls somehow managed to cut the lead down to single digits. But no matter. Coach Pop just inserted the 2017-2018 6th Man of the Year, Rudy Gay, into the lineup (that’s right, Sean. I said it first.)

Rudy came in and shut things down and the Spurs never really looked back. Can you blame them, though? The Spurs are really, really good and the Bulls are really, really bad. Of the 11 players who played for the Spurs, eight of them were in double figures. The Bulls? Three: Robin Lopez, Bobby “Break Yo Face” Portis and Chris Dunn, the only bright spot for the franchise.

The Spurs led in every category this game except one (steals), shot 66% from the three-point line and out-rebounded the Bulls 44-28. Did I mention the Spurs were without Leonard, Parker, Manu and Green? And Joffrey? And Derrick White?

So what do we take away from this game? Not much. We got some meaningful minutes from some core bench guys and put some use to those two-way contracts. But the biggest take away is learning a little bit more about this team is. Also, I got really deep into #HorseFactFridays due to how boring the game was.

Thanks, Trace.

It’s early, so I want to tread lightly here. With full disclosure, I am aware that Kawhi Leonard’s quad injury is a bit more serious that maybe we all thought. I am aware that Tony Parker may never be Tony Parker again, although, he might be. And I am aware that Tim Duncan is not walking through that door. Boris Diaw is not walking through that door. Tiago Splitter is not walking through that door (thankfully).

But the Spurs are starting to look like the Spurs of 2014. Let me explain.

The ball movement is there. The grit is there. And the defense is there. The talent is not.

There are flashes of the beautiful game that we all will tell our grandkids about in 30 years. It may not be perfected yet, and it may not last, but even against the Bucks and Clippers, you can see the extra pass being made. I identified last week that the guys were making too many passes. And I know it’s the Bulls, but last night, they made the right pass.

Kawhi and Tony’s absence could end up being a real blessing in disguise. The flow of the game has been very “benchy” during the first 13 games of the season. If you recall, the Spurs always play a deeper bench than most teams come April. Sometimes, that’s a bad thing. This year, I think it’s going to be a huge boost.

If you’re not on the Rudy Gay bandwagon, I suggest you buy a ticket. Rudy might be the most versatile player not named after a Hawaiian Island to ever take the Black and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He’s smart, smooth, athletic and very crafty. I just hope he gets the minutes and stats to warrant that 6MOY trophy. I am making two trips to Texas over the next 90 days and I fully intended on getting myself a Rudy Gay jersey while I am there. For those who know me, that’s a big deal. I don’t buy Spurs jerseys unless I feel like you’re a Spur. To put that in perspective, I haven’t even gotten a LaMarcus Aldridge jersey yet.

Rudy is a Spur and he’s a darn good one.

Speaking of LaMarcus, it’s time to buy his jersey. LaMarcus is for real, too. He finished with only 14 points in this one, but also played only 21 minutes. He went 7 for 11 from the field and had seven rebounds and two blocks. I firmly believe that teams have turned a blind eye to him this year because of the events of last year. Shame on them. Aldridge has been a monster this year and already deserves to be an All-Star. If he stays in this killer instinct mode when Kawhi comes back, I’m telling you: the Spurs will be a tough out (also, I covet a Sweet Honey Dejounte-Green-Kawhi-Rudy-LaMarcus lineup, so get well soon, Klaw).

Gasol has been underdiscussed but has quietly looked very Spursian this year too. He does his work, stretches the floor, finishes with either hand, has been an offensive threat as of late, and although he could probably be a nominee for an Oscar, his assertiveness against the Bulls led him to a beautiful 21 and 10 game. Pau will win a playoff game for the Spurs this year. Watch.

I don’t like Kyle Anderson. It’s no secret. Something about his game bothers me. Makes me uncomfortable to watch. Kyle always looks like he just got done mowing the yard and is really, really tired. Then he scores on you. I’m going to leave Kyle alone and stop being a hater, because whatever he is doing is working and he’s in the NBA and I am writing about him while my kids are napping on a Sunday.

Bryn Forbes can flat out shoot the ball. He’s the 2017 version of Gary Neal, but better. I’d expect to see a lot of Bryn this year, especially as we get close to March and guys are sitting out with res….injuries.

Brandon Paul is our Jonathon Simmons replacement. So far, I like the upgrade, and I loved the Juice. But Brandon is the epitome of a journeyman NBA player. Learn to do two things in the NBA and you will find yourself with a contract: Shoot the 3 and play defense. Brandon ranks 18th in the league in charges drawn. Of the 17 guys ahead of him, only three play less minutes (Willie Reed, Jared Dudley, Okaro White). Of those three guys, Brandon has played in more games, has more 3 point shots made, and more deflected passes. So, yea, I’d say the Spurs found another diamond in the rough.

Finally, I think we need to discuss the future, Sweet Honey Dejounte Murray. The kid is a player, but he is also still young. He opened the season with a really good game and had a couple more, but has been sent back to the bench. This is ok, and to be expected.

First off, it helps him immensely psychologically. His pressure is reduced and he is free to play looser with the second unit. Secondly, his shuffling in and out of the lineup in various time frames of the game allow him a unique perspective to see the game in real time from multiple viewpoints. Murray is getting valuable experience, within the experience gain from Parker’s absence, that will develop him faster than we might have imagined.

The beauty of Pop is how he manages to win these types of battles. In the past, we’ve seen him keep Patty Mills on the bench in his backup PG role and would put the #3 guard in as the starter. We will probably continue to see some of that until Parker’s return, but starting Mills and bringing Murray off the bench allows Pop to develop Murray as both a starting caliber point guard AND as a backup point guard: two very different roles in today’s NBA. It’s genius and I love it. We will thank Pop in 2019.

Not all teams will be as tough a challenge as the Chicago Bulls, but it was a pleasant way to end a six-game homestand, on Veterans Day, before heading to Dallas on Tuesday.

And I’ll end with this: we would be remiss if we did not thank our veterans. If you have served in the Armed Forces, there are no words that could fully summarize our gratitude for you and your families. From all of us here at Spursdynasty.com, Thank You.

Go Spurs Go.

Almost Symmetrical

Season 51, Game 07
San Antonio 94, Boston 108
4-3

I miss Kawhi Leonard. And I know I am not the only one.

The Spurs fell to 4-3 Monday night after a 108-94 loss to the Boston Celtics. While it certainly wasn’t the worst loss in Spurs history, clearly this team is without its superstar and it’s never been more obvious.

The Spurs actually played fairly well and managed to keep it close for most of the game, save that ghastly 3rd quarter. The offense is humming along and the Spurs had several good looks. Pop has said numerous times that the players can’t worry about making the shots. That part will come. What they can and should worry about is taking the right shot and making the right play.

For the most part, the guys seemed to do this. Unfortunately, we continue to see plenty of “deer in headlights” plays. Too often, the Spurs are passing up a good shot for a worse shot. It’s fine to go from good to great. It’s another thing to omit the good completely. There’s been quite a bit of extra passing that isn’t exactly beneficial to this team.

The Spurs shot a rough 41 percent from the field, 46 percent from 3 and a mere 50 percent from the charity stripe. Those aren’t good enough numbers to beat the Magic, let alone the Celtics. Brad Stevens has done splendidly in getting the Clover back to reality after losing Gordon Hayward on opening night. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he has Kyrie Irving.

There was about a four minute stretch where you could almost see it on the faces of the players: we miss Kawhi. They needed a bucket a few times and looked like a team playing on a SEGABABA in the middle of March. They looked gassed. Mentally, it takes a toll on you. You miss a few shots, over the course of a few games and then the defense starts to slip. Guys shots turn up short and then they miss a rotation. It’s almost symmetrical.

For years, the Spurs have been kind of a running joke around the league. Everyone talks about how old they are and we all laugh and chuckle about it. But the reality is, this team is young and against the Celtics, without Manu, that youth showed.

It showed when Kyle, Danny, Bryn, Brandon and Sweet Honey Dejounte all refused to shoot, desperately looking for LaMarcus at the end of shot clocks. There is an unnecessary deference taking place inside the offense right now and it’s driving me nuts. These guys are on the court because they can play basketball – well, the jury is still out on Kyle – but without them having the guts to let it fly, the whole team suffers.

Kawhi will help immensely and his return is looming. Parker will also help control the flow of the game and settle things down in the chaos. But until that happens, we will experience some growing pains along the way. For now, we need to take the bad with the good and expect there to be a few headaches.

A few more takeaways from this game…

LaMarcus Aldridge is still really good at basketball.

He received way too much criticism last year, partly for not being Tim Duncan, and partly for not being Portland LaMarcus playing in a spread offense with a penetrating and ball dominant point guard. It was all unfair. He’s been great for the first six games of this season. But he was rubbish last night. In 26 minutes, he shot 39 percent, had a +/- of -19 and shot 1 of 5 from the line. He finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, a block, a turnover and a foul. Sounds like Aron Baynes.

LaMarcus showed some real maturity this offseason by letting the trade rumors fly and then eating some humble pie and having a heart to heart with Pop. This is good and necessary, but tonight was his first game since the opener where I didn’t like his effort. Well, not at least until he started getting the ball at the elbow versus the low block. He’s much more effective there.

Dejounte Murray is not Kyrie Irving.

This was a little underlying drama to the game. Remember when I was telling you guys all summer on my Twitter that Kyrie Irving was not being traded to the Spurs and you guys wouldn’t listen? I do. Good times. But that trade was only even on the table for the Cavs because of Murray. He was the young piece that had the Cavs interest. And Dejounte shares the same agent with one of the Cavs players. I forget which one.

This game was essentially a showcase of who made the right choice. And clearly, Kyrie was ready for this. He ate Dejounte’s lunch and popped the bag. Murray had five turnovers and two of them were pretty much Kyrie just taking the ball away from him.

Look, Murray is going to be a good player in this league. Maybe an All Star one day. But that day is a long way away. He’s still a 21-year-old, second year player, subbing for a Hall of Famer. It remains to be seen how the rotation will shape up when Parker returns, but for now, Sweet Honey Dejounte will match up against the cream of the crop for point guards every night. We should all accept that it might not always be that pretty.

Rudy Gay is kind of our best player.

I’ve been on the “Rudy Gay for Sixth Man of the Year” bandwagon for a while now. He was the only player to play more than 20 minutes AND score double figures and not finish with a negative +/-. And he’s a scorer. Personally, Sean Elliott can do better than “Natural Born Scorer” as a nickname for him, but it at least remains true. He’s been the only help for LaMarcus in these first seven games and it’s hard to find a real weakness in his game.

Nothing looks rushed. He has incredible size (I didn’t realize how long and bulky he was), an above average handle and is the only player on this roster not named after a Hawaiian Island who can create his own shot, which coincidentally is also a good shot. I love Rudy. I’d buy his jersey.

I don’t know what Brandon Paul is yet.

I have this joke I never got to make when we signed Brandon Paul. I wanted to make a meme of Pop yelling at RC Buford saying, “No! I said CHRIS Paul.” Guys, it would have been hilarious. Point is, I knew nothing about BP3. But uh, hello? He’s nice, y’all.

Defensively, he’s been pretty solid filling in for Kawhi and spelling Green at times. But he has easily been our best shooter as well, shooting a blistering 64 percent from behind the arc.

The next closest person? Former NBA Finals Three Point Leader Danny Green at 44 percent. Paul can Ball and I’d fully expect him to get a lot of Jonathon Simmons’ old minutes, just like Pop said he has earned.

The Spurs get a day off and then get six games at home. They start off with the Warriors, then get the Hornets, Suns, Clippers, Bucks and Chicago. I’d like to see them get four of those six, but it won’t happen unless someone starts shooting the ball.

Hopefully that someone wears number 2.

Photo credit: Michael Dwyer/ AP

Round The Horn

It’s going to be a wild ride

Season 50, Game 81
San Antonio 98, Portland 99
61-20, 2nd in the West

Last night’s penultimate game of the regular season is recapped by Stephen Hale and Andrew Flores.

Stephen Hale weighs in first:

The fourth quarter doesn’t count. Actually this game really doesn’t count. It’s a glorified tune-up game, specifically played for the purpose of getting reps and finalizing that shortened playoff rotation. The Blazers sat basically everyone but the mascot and the Spurs started their main crew. So the takeaway has to be personal and I think it’s time we call a spade a spade.

Tony Parker is a hot mess.

He looks lost, uninterested and really, really old. Even in the third quarter when he made a few shots against the Trailblazers B Team in the 81st game of the season, I found myself rolling my eyes at his 18 foot jumper over Shabazz Napier. Like, now you want to hit that shot?

Everything you need to know about Tony Parker’s season can be summarized with those missed layups in the second quarter. A sudden burst of speed that surprises even Tony, in which he finds himself with a point blank shot at the basket, only to have a layup that hangs on the rim and trickles out. Parker’s body language sums it up: his shoulders flop down and he drops his head, then literally stops running to dwell on the deeper issues of life, while his teammates try and run back into a 5-on-4 break.

This is 2017 Tony Parker. I find myself longing for Dejounte Murray’s return.

It’s unlikely the Spurs win a championship this year. It’s even more unlikely they win with Patty Mills running the show. And that’s not a knock on Patty. He’s fabulous and really fun to watch, but he’s kind of a one-trick pony.

As surprising as the big men have been all year, the guard play is incredibly suspect. Here’s a list of the other point guards on playoff teams in the Western Conference. Stop me when you feel like Tony Parker can draw even with one of them.

Steph Curry

James Harden

George Hill

Chris Paul

Russell Westbrook

Mike Conley

Damian Lillard

In a guard-rich Western Conference, I wonder who the Spurs will lean on down the stretch. It seems like an impossible feat to get two guards to play well on any given night, let alone three. Fortunately, Danny Green seems to be looking… better… as of late. Also fortunately, when Green hasn’t had his shot, he’s always had his defense.

Parker has always had… France?

Last night Parker should have channeled his inner Manu. Manu got spot minutes and made them count. “The ageless wonder,” said Bill Land at the end of the third quarter. No one says that about Tony. Manu makes the right play and extends Manu-Magic in minimal doses. Tony needs to age with grace or else it will be a swift exit.

Alas, there is one possible saving grace: Kawhi Leonard. Is he really this good? Why are we still impressed by him so much?

My only reservation is, can he drag a team through the playoffs with limited help from a rag-tag big man crew and little to no help from his backcourt? Probably not. But also, maybe so.

I’m kind of done doubting him. He’s amazing and there’s nothing he can’t do on the court. He has zero holes in his game. He’s the complete player: the epitome of work ethic, humility and physical ability. He’s a dream.

It’s going to be a wild ride. There’s no reason the Spurs shouldn’t be in the Western Conference Finals and, at minimum, push it six games. They may very well lose, but they are fully capable of winning the series and returning to the Finals. Hopefully we get a whole lot more of Kawhi: God Mode and a whole lot less of Tony Parker in general.

PS: RIP Meyers Leonard

Now let’s hear from Andrew Flores:

1st Quarter: Although a ‘thank you’ was in order for the second unit – they played such beautiful offense – their defensive continuity was almost non-existent. I was amazed by the 7-of-10 3-pointers made by the home team, but not as impressed by the end of quarter diving reverse layup by Mills. I wonder why Pau turned on that jet-pack after pulling off that sweet pump-fake at the three line with a spinning, breakaway move to the rim for the layup?
I prayed that Ginobili stays with the Spurs for one more season. His passing has been sublime.

2nd Quarter: That jet-pack is starting to get passed around (Pau and Tony combined for four missed lay-ups which overshot the roll) as well as the lethargy – 20 consecutive misses.  Also, what’s up with the mistimed passes? Aren’t we supposed to be over that by now? I appreciate that this is a game for “trying things,” but it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to watch some of these plays ending the quarter.

3rd Quarter: There was more of a Spurs pace to this one. Not much offense from the opponent, while our offense had multiple contributors. First Tony get rolling, then Kawhi, then a triple threat of Pau, Manu and Patty from behind the arc. Unfortunately, the Spurs couldn’t stop a guy named Turner (who had 13 in the quarter). However, we had Manu and the quarter ends with a 9 point swing for the Spurs. First lead of the game.

4th Quarter: I imagine that before the start of this quarter, Pop looked over at Stotts and gave him a nod, making a silent gentlemen’s bet along the lines of, “I can win with my bottom bench, even though they only have a 5-point lead”. I’m sure the fans thought that this was going to be a blow out. They didn’t know about Davis Bertans. Now they know. Dunks – yup.  Blocks – yup. As impressive as he played, he paled in comparison to the Dunk of the Year Candidate, Jonathon Simmons. If you haven’t seen that “stomach pumping” jam in the grill of Portland’s “other Leonard,” well, I want it as my next Spurs Cave poster. Unfortunately our young bucks fumbled in the last seconds, a hilarious lesson to be learned.
 

Bucking the System

The Spurs fell to the Bucks on Tuesday and I found myself gazing into the pixels of my television saying repeatedly, “Wait, what?”

This game might have been one of the biggest eye rolls of the season, as the Spurs are miles ahead of this Milwaukee team, yet somehow managed to find a way to lose this game.

It was honestly quite annoying from the perspective of a Spurs fan in California who didn’t get to start the game until about 10:15 p.m., loyally watching in its entirety, even though a 57 minute commute in the pouring rain at 6 a.m. was only hours away.

Sure, the Spurs were without LaMarcus Aldridge, but they squandered this game. I’ve been a pretty loud critic of LA, but it was clear how badly this team needed a second option late in the game. Everyone seemed out of sorts. Even Kawhi committed a bizarre touch foul near the end of the 1st half, to a guy no one has ever heard of, while shooting a three from half court with two seconds left in the half.

Wait, what?

The Spurs have a plethora of capable players who can fill in as second fiddle to the Klaw. However, last night it seemed obvious that the role of third option is undefined. We tend to think in order of hierarchy and structure. If Kawhi is one, and LA is two, then someone must be three, right? If Tony Parker is the number one PG and Patty Mills is two, then that clearly makes Dejounte Murray number three, obviously.

Well, not exactly.

The Spurs have typically fully embraced the cliché of “next man up.” A lot of teams claim to adhere to the adage, but the Spurs actually believe in it. But this year, it seems to be a bit… off. No one seems to be really quite sure who the third guy up is.

Is it Pau Gasol? Or Tony Parker? Yea, but Patty scores. Then again, Danny Green gets paid $10 million a year. Manu Ginobili is also there. Is Boris Diaw still available?

Now granted, there is no real shortage of talent on this team. There are role players for days. With Juice, the Latvian Mamba and Dwizzy Dwayne all being nice surprises in the middle to end part of the rotation, anyone can score in a variety of ways.

But on a night when Antekeo… Antotake… the Greek Freak (thank God for that nickname)… was limited to nine minutes, the “next man up” mentality was shaky at best.

Kawhi is clearly the Alpha on this team and contributed another 30 point game. Team scoring was balanced from a stat sheet perspective. But late in the game, the Spurs needed that second punch guy to kind of help out a bit. You know, command a double team, or something.

This Bucks team is too freaking long for a lot of the Spurs guards. They hounded Kawhi all night and he still played admirably. But this was the first time all season where it really showed how badly the Spurs need LaMarcus on this team. We all want him to be either a) the LaMarcus Aldridge that abused Tiago Splitter three years ago, or b) Tim Duncan incarnate. And he’s neither of those two things, but every bit as valuable if this team wants to make a real playoff run.

At the moment, everyone is so caught up in being a role player, that no one is really comfortable being the next guy up. Tony and Manu can’t do it every night, which is completely fine. But they are also learning to adjust to their new role. How often should they defer to Kawhi? How often should they take over? Can their body still take over anyways?

And let me say this: Manu did not lose that game last night. He might have missed the game winner, but that shot was about as good as you could hope for as far as game winners go. A wide-open three-ball, from the corner, from a hall-of0famer, who has been in the league since the 60s, at home, in rhythm? I’ll take my chances. The ball goes in or it doesn’t. (I mean, it did hit the side of the backboard and resembled me in my Tuesday night 30+ league, but whatever. You are old, not me).

The point is, now is the time to find out who the “next man up” is. Against a Bucks team in January playing without Antekeotekskeofhfahfabfgwaffweyuufgu, without LaMarcus Aldridge in the huddle, and without playoff elimination game on the line.

On the surface this looked bad, but in reality, this is the appropriate time to have these growing pains.

It’s fine that Patty Mills got outplayed by Matthew Dellavedova.

It’s fine that Malcolm Brogdon had 17 points and man-handled Tony Parker.

It’s fine that Michael Beasley had a season high 28 points and Pau Gasol had six.

It’s fine that Kyle Anderson suddenly has fallen out of the rotation and will probably be a “throw-in” on some random trade in the next 24 months.

It’s fine that Patty Mills has the highest Player Efficiency Rating of any guard on the roster.

IT’S FINE THAT ZAZA PACHULIA HAD MORE ALL-STAR VOTES THAN KAWHI IN THE FIRST ROUND OF VOTING.

Look, I’m mad that the Spurs lost to the Bucks. I’m mad that the Warriors still have a better record. I’m mad that the Spurs haven’t found their full post-Tim Duncan identity yet. And I’m mad that our guys keep getting gastroenteritis. (STOP EATING TACO CABANA ON GAME DAYS.)

But I’d much rather these things happen in January than June.

Featured photo credit: ESPN

3 in the Key: Spurs v Warriors

We’re debuting a new column this season on SpursDynasty.com. We’re calling it “Three in the Key.”

After key games, two of our analysts will outline their three key takeaways.

We kick things off with Stephen Hale and Trace Ronning’s takes on the Spurs’ season opener against the Warriors. First, let’s hear from Stephen…

1. It’s just one game

This argument is rubbish. The Warriors will get a huge pass on this massive “L” to start the season. That’s understandable, I guess. It is one game. But the San Antonio Spurs have seven new players on their roster. They are also in the post-Duncan era, after having a team defined by him for 20 years. They were missing their starting shooting guard and they were on the road. The Spurs were prepared. Why weren’t the Warriors? I think this speaks to a larger issue: the Warriors might be talented, but lack mental toughness. The Spurs might have both. Also, it’s not just one game. The Spurs now lead the season series, which could impact home-court advantage in the playoffs.

2. That bench though…

… has the potential to be really good. Maybe it was just in comparison to the Warriors bench, which is just flat-out awful. But good Lord, they looked great. Simmons will get the majority of the praise and rightly so. He’s pretty awesome and I’m not sure we will see a better dunk than the one to end the game. But 39-year-old Manu Ginobili and 33-year-old journeyman David Lee were also effective. Lee had a play in the 2nd half where he single-handedly out fought three Warriors for a tipped ball, which eventually landed in Manu’s lap for a layup. I thought Dedmon got some
incredibly useful minutes. He’s long and fast. And Patty Thrills is still Patty Thrills. He hasn’t skipped a beat. The bench was incredible, is good, and could be the best in the league. That’s all I am saying.

3. Kawhi Leonard is really good

I got into an argument the other day with a guy who thinks Kawhi isn’t a top 5 player and would take Paul George over him, easily. Well, that guy is an idiot. Kawhi Leonard is dangerously close to becoming the best player in the entire league. He did it all last night. He set a career high with 35 points and got to the line a ridiculous 15 times and made them all. He hung in the air, he made fadeaways, he attacked, he dunked. He had five steals. Five steals?!?! That’s nuts guys. He’s quiet (although, he’s getting louder) and not flashy, so he gets forgotten about by fans… except by everyone that he plays. Your friends at the water cooler will tell you he isn’t that good. They guy at the rec league will blow him off. I’m sure some maroon will tell you that Paul George is better. Just ignore that. They don’t know anything.

Now let’s kick the ball to Trace…

We’re officially 1/82nd of the way through the NBA season, and while I’m not one to read too much into the standings this early, it’s worth pointing out that the Spurs are tied for 1st in the West, and the Warriors are tied for last. It’s just math, folks. Yes, that’s right, in case you somehow missed it, the Spurs opened the season in Oakland against the new-look Super Warriors and completely demolished them, 129-100.

1. Kawhi was not overwhelmed by the moment

The knock against Kawhi Leonard is that he has played Houdini in each of the Spurs’ last two playoff oustings. I think it’s been a fair criticism and many NBA folks seem to think it’s the only thing standing between Leonard and true superstardom. We shouldn’t rush to judgment after just one game, but Kawhi didn’t shy away from the pressure of facing the Super Warriors in Oakland in the season opener and that’s something to be optimistic about.

He not-so-Kawhi-etly (get it?) dropped 35 pts on 10-21 shooting, made all 15 FTs, and made 5 steals. My personal favorite was Leonard swiping the ball from Curry at halfcourt and then driving to the rim and finishing over Durant on the other end. It was like if Kawhi was Luke Skywalker destroying the first Death Star, except he didn’t need any last-second Han Solo bullshit to get the job done.

Leonard did miss all three of his 3-pt attempts, however. Here’s to hoping that’s nothing to worry about – it was only three attempts after all.

2. LaMarcus doesn’t look like a defensive liability

And he picked a helluva time to show it. Never known as a rim protector, Aldridge seemed to do just fine in game one of the post-Duncan era. He wasn’t credited with any blocks, but he wasn’t afraid to get in the paint and contest shots. Sure, Golden State scored 100 points and we don’t typically think of giving up 100 points as a solid defensive effort, but I’d like to see how many times this Warriors team scores 100 or fewer points this season. It won’t be many. This was a good defensive effort by the Spurs.

Aldridge also picked up eight of San Antonio’s 21 offensive rebounds on the night, which led all players and matched Golden State’s total. That led to 26 second chance points for the Spurs, compared to just four for the Warriors.

3. The Spurs bench is better than yours

It’s still plastered on the side of the Oracle Arena and various Bay Area billboards, but their “Strength in Numbers” motto is just a facade this year. They ran nearly all of their depth out of town in order to bring Kevin Durant on board, and for at least one game, it showed. The Spurs’ annually great bench unit, led by the now-infamous Jonathan Simmons, Patty Mills, and the ageless Manu Ginobili, outscored Golden State’s bench 54-16.

54-16!!

The Warriors’ starters account for 84% of their total points last night. I’m not so sure that’s a viable strategy, night in and night out.

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