3 Players who stood out most in San Antonio Spurs season opener
By Ethan Farina
Dec 23, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks with San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) and San Antonio Spurs guard Keldon Johnson (3) during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
These three players stood out most in the San Antonio Spurs win
The San Antonio Spurs made one hell of a first impression last night. After a winless preseason, there were some fears that the team would fall flat in their regular-season opener. And through the first bit of play, those fears looked valid. But once the team got rolling it was all good news.
Without being overly hyperbolic, the flow of last night’s game was almost perfect. Gregg Popovich and the veterans did an excellent job of letting the young guys run wild and the young players fed that energy right back into the veterans when they needed a jolt.
The result was a resounding 131-119 road win over the Memphis Grizzlies. That 131 point mark is impressive, especially for an offense that looked stagnant at times last year. The best thing about it was that nothing the Spurs did last night wasn’t repeatable.
They didn’t have one player go off. Everyone was getting involved, they were moving the ball around, playing with pace, and trusting each other to knock down shots. It was truly one of the more fun Spurs games in recent memory.
Frankly, everyone played well. Every San Antonio starter finished well into double figures and two of them got close to recording triple-doubles. The whole team is deserving of a round of applause for their performance last night but the play of these three players stood out more than others.
Dejounte Murray silenced his critics with his play last night
After the team went 0-3 in the preseason there were some pretty heavy criticisms thrown at Dejounte Murray. Hand up, I was fairly critical of his high amount of turnovers and wondered if he was destined to have the ball in his hands as the Spurs lead guard. Credit to DJ, he made me and every other detractor look like an absolute fool last night.
Murray was everywhere. He recorded 21 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals and looked completely in control of the game every moment he was on the court. There were the typical Murray moments that we’ve come to expect but he also showed a more advanced feel for the game.
His scoring and defense were on point but it was his passing that stood out most. He was getting everyone involved. It looked like he made a conscious effort to get LaMarcus Aldridge involved when the big fella was having a hard time finding his groove and once that happened Aldridge really started rolling.
The turnovers were still an issue. He led the team with three of them but when he’s posting a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio I’m certainly not going to nitpick.
This new, up-tempo style of play benefits DJ almost more than anyone. Let the team get running both ways, reduce the stagnation in halfcourt offense, and watch the wins pour in. If he plays out the rest of the season as well as he did last night the Spurs are going to be in a much better position than we thought a few weeks ago.
Next: Big Body gets the start
Dec 23, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Keldon Johnson (3) goes to the basket against Memphis Grizzlies center Gorgui Dieng (14) during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Keldon Johnson shows out in starting role for San Antonio Spurs
There is just something special about Keldon Johnson. He injects positive energy into every situation he comes into and that was incredibly evident in his play last night. Johnson got his first-ever non-bubble start and wasted no time in setting the tone for the San Antonio Spurs.
Johnson started the game out by knocking down a corner three to get the Spurs their first points of the evening. He was lights out from behind the arc in the bubble and while we didn’t expect him to shot almost 60 percent from three for a full season it’s clear he’s been putting in hours working on his shot.
Three’s are nice but let’s be honest, the best part about watching Keldon play is seeing him do Big Body things. He’s packed on muscle over the offseason and is clearly enjoying the fruits of his labor.
That's tough ? pic.twitter.com/4WsFgdlnvB
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 24, 2020
Jonas Valančiūnas is not a small human being but Keldon showed no fear charging right into him and getting the tough bucket. The rest of the Spurs’ wings and guards are more finesse drivers, the brute force approach that Keldon brings is refreshing and gives this team a valuable aspect of toughness.
He didn’t lead the team in any one statistical category but you can’t measure see everything Johnson does in the box score. He’s a true difference-maker for the Spurs and could be in line for a permanent position in the starting lineup.
Next: DeMar DeRozan as good as always
Dec 23, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) handles the ball against Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks (24) during the second half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
DeMar DeRozan remains the San Antonio Spurs closer
I couldn’t tell but do you think DeMar DeRozan took notice of his low ranking on ESPN’s NBA player rankings? ESPN foolishly put 81 players ahead of the former All-Star. And so far it looks like he’s out for revenge.
DeRozan put on a masterclass last night. He nearly had a triple-double, throwing up an impressive stat line of 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists, while also adding in a steal and a block for good measure.
There’s debate on whether or not the Spurs should offer DeRozan a long-term extension but when he’s playing as well as he did last night he makes that decision look a lot easier. He was in complete control, getting to the rim whenever he wanted and deferring to teammates when his opportunities weren’t there.
Almost all of his points came within the restricted area and he played out his role as the Spurs closer perfectly.
In the bubble, the Spurs did an excellent job of letting the young guys run the show for the first three quarters and then handing the ball over to DeRozan to close things out in the fourth. He didn’t have quite the monopoly over the ball like he did in Orlando but DeMar had a perfect final period.
When the Grizzlies started to mount a mini-comeback it was DeMar’s time to shine. He hit both of his field-goal attempts in the fourth, got to the line five times and knocked down all of his attempts, and dished out three assists to lock up the win for San Antonio.
It looks like DeRozan took that ESPN ranking personally and that’s bad news for the rest of the league. A motivated DeMar is not a player to be trifled with.
What an opening night for the San Antonio Spurs. Let’s see if they can keep this thing rolling when they take on Toronto, excuse me, Tampa (?) Raptors on Saturday.