Spurs vs. Timberwolves: What we learned from this game in Week 1
The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, 107-99 in the regular season opener. What were the takeaways from this game?
On Wednesday night, the San Antonio Spurs opened the 2017-18 season against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was the long-awaited night, as the Spurs looked to head toward the 2018 NBA championship, after the disappointing end to last spring’s playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard missed this game with a quad injury, but players still stepped up. From LaMarcus Aldridge’s hot start to Dejounte Murray’s performance, it was a positive night for the 10-man rotation.
It’s only Game 1 but a handful of takeaways can be derived. Let’s take a look.
Early bench developments
It’s way too early to know the set rotation for the Spurs on the bench. This will change as the days, weeks and months of the season move forward, but there were some interesting notes from the bench’s use on the first night.
Rudy Gay saw plenty of time at the four in his 24 minutes of action, going alongside Aldridge and Pau Gasol. He didn’t lurk around the arc and fully stretch the floor, but found avenues to the basket and kept the ball moving. That’s as much as you can ask from a player, coming off an Achilles rupture, playing no meaningful games since January and in a role, he’s not accustomed to.
This answered the question of how often head coach Gregg Popovich would use a small ball lineup. It didn’t help Davis Bertans, however, who played just four minutes and failed to score. He and Joffrey Lauvergne combined for 17 minutes, so it doesn’t look like backup big men will play a significant role in the rotation, yet.
Bryn Forbes, Derrick White and Brandon Paul all did not play on Wednesday night. Not a big surprise, as Popovich worked a 10-man rotation. It would have been difficult to squeeze one or two of them in, unless the lead was in double-digits near the end of the fourth quarter.
Other than them, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills received the 20-plus minutes you’d expect from them.
Was this just a one-night plan against the Timberwolves? Possibly, so let’s see how the bench is constructed against the Chicago Bulls.
Next: Dejounte Murray flashes upside
Dejounte Murray flashes upside as the starter
Some questions surrounded Dejounte Murray as the starting point guard. He’s only 21-years-old and played in 38 games in his rookie season. There were flashes of upside due to his length and athleticism, but the inexperience showed from someone that would have been a sophomore in college.
With Tony Parker out indefinitely and Patty Mills staying as the sixth/seventh man, it left Murray to start on Opening Night, just did he did in the preseason. There were mixed results, but the offensive upside was there. This showed on Opening Night.
Murray won’t be taking 3-pointers, but had an efficient scoring performance, with 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, and was mostly drives to the basket and a few free throws. It came in just 26 minutes.
The most impressive part was the problems he caused on the defensive end. The seven-foot wingspan flashed throughout the game, as he created deflections and picked up two steals. He even threw down after one takeaway.
Dejounte Murray throws it down in transition! #KiaTipOff17@austin_spurs ➡️ @spurs pic.twitter.com/yoCk5E3LvO
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) October 19, 2017
Activity kept Murray’s presence constant in his playing time. With more starts to come, look this to translate to consistent offensive production.
Next: Aldridge's aggressiveness carries over
LaMarcus Aldridge’s aggressiveness carries over
LaMarcus Aldridge became the story of the offseason for the Spurs, and not in a good way. From being critiqued after the playoffs to trade rumors and unhappiness, it seemed like the relationship between him and the coaching staff was sour.
At some point, in the summer, Aldridge and Popovich talked things out. So, once training camp arrived, everything looked better than ever. This heart-to-heart conversation brought the five-time All-Star’s unhappiness to light and how he could become a bigger part of the offense.
With Kawhi Leonard missing the preseason and Opening Night, this allowed Aldridge to become the top guy. He displayed the aggressiveness and activity once seen from him in Portland, fighting on the block and grabbing rebounds in the paint. The trademark mid-range jumper looked crisper than ever, too.
Aldridge was on pace for a triple-double at the end of the first half, with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. He didn’t get there, but still pulled off 25 points and 10 rebounds on 9-for-21 shooting and one made 3-pointer. It was the start of a potential bounce-back season for the 32-year-old as he looks to live up to a fresh extension.
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The Spurs return on Saturday, Oct. 21 to face the Chicago Bulls at 8:00 p.m. ET.