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