San Antonio Spurs 110, Utah Jazz 100

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In a rematch of last year’s first round playoff series, very little appears to have changed between the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs following the Spurs 110-100 victory at the AT&T Center.

The principle players remain, give or take a new Williams (Mo) or two (Marvin), as does the disparity between both teams. But even as the Spurs and Jazz continue on their preferred paths of continuity, neither team expects to be the same team that stepped on the court tonight.

Between Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Gordon Hayward, Utah features a young core ripe to grow leaps and bounds by next spring.

The Spurs still feature consistently stellar performances from Tim Duncan (19 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks in yet another turn back the clock performance) and Tony Parker (24 points, 10 assists). And while they have less room for growth than the up and coming Jazz, the old dogs are still performing new tricks.

Though the core of Duncan, Parker, and Manu Ginobili have been around for a decade, this is the first time in years the Spurs enter the season with no major turnover in their rotation from the previous season.

This level of continuity alone ensures a certain level of improvement just through continue refinement of the Spurs system. The early returns on the Spurs defense have been uneven but promising.

Until the last seven possessions of the first half, the Spurs appeared to have found the defense on a string rotations that were the hallmark of their championship days. Rotations were crisp, hands were active, and passing lanes were narrow and brief. `

Of course the team still remains vulnerable to bouts of individual brilliance, supplied tonight by Mo Williams, and questions of overall consistency. And after shooting 74 percent in the first half, the Spurs were due some regression to the mean which the Jazz took ample advantage of with a flurry of quick hitting shots.

Individually the younger players are still potentially primed for substantial growth, especially on the wings.

Manu Ginobili and fellow bounce path enthusiast Nando De Colo weren’t the only season debuts for the Spurs tonight. While second-year forward Kawhi Leonard followed his back-to-back five steal efforts without notching a single theft, he unveiled his first NBA post move–a two-pivot process that recalled more thoughts of Tiago Splitter than Tim Duncan unfortunately.

Leonard remains a low usage, high efficiency player, but one showcasing several subtle nuances added to his game, notching three assists and the pull-up jumper he first began working with during summer league.

Green, coming off his first full season with the Spurs, showed an increased comfort within the system curling off a screen with impeccable footwork for a catch and shoot jumper on the move in the game’s first possession.

Even without any noticeable additions to his skill set, there is a knowledge within the system that figures to create opportunities that simply didn’t exist last season–like the backdoor cut for a layup late in the second half usually reserved for Parker or Ginobili.

The individual improvements will be subtle and slight, but the corporate knowledge base is growing.