San Antonio Spurs 99, New Orleans Hornets 95: New season, same Tim Duncan

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We know that Tim Duncan is a finite resource. He’s not going to be around forever. But he is still here and on opening night in a 99-95 win over the New Orleans Hornets, he made that abundantly clear. Duncan turned in the type of performance that if you simply looked at the box score, you would have no clue what year it was — until you saw Kawhi Leonard’s name, then you would figure out that it was at least 2012. Duncan looked about as quick and athletic as he’s been late in his career, putting up 24 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and three assists against the Hornets.

The hype coming into the game was Duncan facing off against #1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis, the latest in a long line of “next Tim Duncans.” I remember Chris Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge also being tagged as the next great Tim Duncan-type big man when they came into the league. Admittedly, though, Davis has a higher ceiling than both Bosh and Aldridge. His defensive potential is off the charts and his offensive versatility might be greater than what Duncan has been able to reach in his career. Whether or not Davis is able to live up to his potential and have the same mental control over the game that Duncan does remains to be seen. Davis finished with 21 points and seven rebounds in the first game of his career.

Things didn’t look promising early in this game. After all the talk of the Spurs emphasizing defense in training camp, they let the Hornets do almost whatever they wanted in the first quarter. New Orleans finished with 31 points on 59% from the field in the first. Offensively, the Spurs looked completely out of sync. No starter outside of Duncan or Tony Parker had much effect on offense and the second unit looked lost without the playmaking of Manu Ginobili. Things were bleak.

Then Kawhi Leonard happened.

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich talked Kawhi Leonard up a bit over the summer, and it seemed for good reason. Leonard had a fantastic rookie season and looked like he was improving in all the right areas during the Las Vegas Summer League. It still seemed irresponsible to think he could have much of an impact this season outside of playing harassing defense and knocking down corner 3s, though.

If the third quarter of the Spurs’ win over the Hornets is any indication, we probably shouldn’t assume anything of Kawhi Leonard for a while. Instead, let’s just see what happens.

Leonard took over the third quarter and single-handedly helped break up any sort of rhythm the Hornets’ offense had. Leonard tallied 12 points, four steals and three rebounds in the quarter, making Pop look like someone who knows what the hell he’s talking about and me look like a jackass for forgetting to update my fantasy basketball lineup before the game (Leonard is sitting comfortably on my bench right now). Plain and simple, Leonard raised hell in the third quarter and the Spurs were better for it.

Kawhi seemed to have some freedom to roam defensively in the preseason. When he wasn’t matched up on a go-to scorer, he took some liberties in help defense and jumped passing lanes more than I remember him doing as a rookie. With long arms, good anticipation and huge hands, Leonard is able to get to a lot of balls that normal NBA players are not. It’s not a stretch to think he could have the type of off-ball impact that Rajon Rondo or LeBron James do. I’m getting ahead of myself, I know, but there are some positive developments with what we’ve seen from Kawhi since training camp started.

And after the quarter of Kawhi, the game came back to Duncan. The Big Fundamental was matched up on Anthony Davis for a stretch and just for a moment, the basketball world stopped to take notice. The OG against the young buck. In one of those stretches of basketball that remind you why you spend so much time watching, the two went back and forth. Davis fronting Duncan in the post, who smartly sealed off the rookie and got a pass from Boris Diaw who (smartly) recognized the front and flashed to the ball to open a passing lane for Duncan.

Duncan got another basket on the other side of the floor in the same situation. On the other end of the floor, Davis rolled to the basket and caught a lob for a dunk that Duncan could only hope to have ever been able to reach. Back down the other way, Duncan rebounded his own miss and put it in. Duncan produced nine points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter.

Sometimes matchups between two players are billed as hype. Used by the league and networks to draw in viewers, when in actuality there will be very little matching-up between the two players. It was looking like Wednesday night would turn out that way, and for the most part it did. But for a beautiful two minute stretch we got see what we all wanted, and it was great. And the Spurs got the win.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats.

  • DorieStreet

    24, 11, 3, and 3–but the caveat is 34 minutes. It is after the summer off, and a light preseason. But #21 came with an attitude- I still got it- and I am ready to show it.
    How does this season go forward- can the supporting cast -frontcourt crew especially- step in and up to allow Tim to get through 2012-13 cruising (significant game here and there- to keep sharp) so come late April, May, and June- he can perform on this level 3 games in a 7-game series (or less)?

  • assistman

    Monty Williams is heck of a coach, on paper this wasn’t supposed to be so competitive a game. Some credit goes to the defensive roster they have there in New Orleans, including several long bodies inside. If they had their scorer tonight, it could have been ugly for our guys. Spurs fans keep talking about how we should be so much better this year, and while that is a fair point, I don’t see us having the competitive edge we had in a lockout-shortened season. Few teams needed training camp and practices as little as the Spurs did, and so all that practice time around the league should help out our opponents significantly this year.

    Well, anyway, let’s get a “W” tomorrow against the new-look WC champs and go up 1 full game on both OKC and LAL to start the season!

  • MG20TD21

    matched up with the young buck or not, our OG got it done. At about 2pm I was hanging with my friend and I said, I’m taking the over and over on Timmeh. 14.5 and 8.5. I said 20-12-and 2 blocks. Tim is a prideful man, and with all the talk about The Brow I figured Tim would come out with a little something to prove. I did not see the game being so close we would need Tim to do his thing to eek out a win. I was wrong there, but was right with Timmy over and over. Spurs win! They didn’t cover, but a W is a W. I’ll take it.

  • MG20TD21

    Two up on the Fakers in the loss column.

  • http://twitter.com/ifaerman Ivan Faerman

    I really can’t remember how that second unit played last season when Manu was injured, but if last night was any indication SA desperately needs Manu to be healthy. They certainly looked out of sync. Might be the kind of predicament OKC might find themselves into this season without Harden.

    As to the OG/YoungBuck matchup, I believed SA was lucky that it came to it in the last minutes of the game. Duncan’s experience outweighed Davis’ athleticism, and there was no way SA could have lost in a ball for ball kind of closing. NO needed to be up at least by 10 to avoid a loss in the last couple of minutes.

  • cheyenneharty

    For much of the game, we looked God awful. Still, it was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Tim Duncan, for whom one particular play, indicative of Tim’s role in the whole, stands out. After several dunks and forays to the rim, Tim once again drove hard; but this time, as the Hornets defense collapsed on him, Duncan dished a no-looker to Kawai, who faked a short jumper and passed to Tony, who squared up and calmly drained a three.
    A few months ago, during the playoffs, when the streaking Spurs could do no wrong, 48moh wrote a piece themed around the concept of “total basketball.” The blog suggested that the Spurs offense was a dynamic machine, in which various pieces were becoming increasingly interchangeable. I think the aforementioned play was a good example of total basketball. Tim’s hockey assist looked very much like a Parker drive-and-kick; Kawai’s behind-the-key fake and pass was a standard Duncan play; and Tony’s position behind the arc is one usually reserved for the Bonner-Green-Kawai-Manu-Jackson-etc. hydra. This was no beautiful bailout, a la the ’08 Phoenix Duncan playoff tres, but rather an intended fluid exchange between teammates who read each other well. Though much of this first game was hardly that pretty, the play made my bitter Pilsner go down a little smoother. Cheers to that.

  • junierizzle

    First game and it was a nail biter. I’m so glad the NBA is back. Even when the Hornest were looking like the Miami Heat, I knew the Spurs would settle everything down. I would have liked to see them pull away and maybe with Many they could have. But Hornets actually have a decent team and Month Williams always has his team splay tough D, so it wasn’t a shock that they ca
    me back and took the lead.
    PROs:
    Timmy, Leonard, TP(who hit the dagger three), D picked up after adjustments were made

    CONS:
    The Bench got outplayed(without Manu), Patty Mills looked raw, Gary Neal looked in preseason form, and NEWSFLASH: Spurs aren’t the only team that want to get out and score quickly.

  • junierizzle

    *Manu

  • junierizzle

    You have to give POP credit for knowing were the league was heading and planned accordingly.

  • shockog

    Bonner was painful to watch as usual. We couldn’t have kept Curry, Powell, or Brown instead. What the hell? Blair didn’t even play 1 min. he must be getting traded or something.

  • lvmainman

    Not convinced Parker can make clutch 3 pointers, Duncan can make 2 clutch FT’s, a coach will guard Duncan in the 4th with someone that weighs as much as Capt Jax, in the future.
    Ginobili was sorely missed.
    The next 4 games will be a good barometer to start the season.

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