Spurs edge Hornets in Home Opener

Published: October 31, 2012

That was a fantastic game, even if it was a loss.  The Hornets, oozing blood from a limited and injured guard rotation, managed to hang tough against a veteran squad and keep it close down to the very last minute.  If anything, the game exposed the fact that Monty was essentially playing possum all pre-season.  The team that took the floor tonight had a very different agenda and game-plan than the one we had been watching in the games that didn’t count.

As a result, there’s a ton to talk about.  I want to touch on everyone who saw the floor, but I’m not sure which guy to start with, so let’s just go with the thing that surprised me the most:

Grievis Vasquez

Vasquez had an excellent game en route to setting a career-high in assists to go with a pair of turnovers.  Yes, the Spurs don’t force a lot of turnovers, but after seeing his averages in the pre-season, I was braced for a disaster tonight.  It didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen for one, primary, all-consuming reason:  Monty Williams let slip the reins.  After displaying a plodding, horrific pace in the pre-season, this Hornets team was pushing off of misses and turnovers  and looking for early offense.  Vasquez, who is only a moderately talented half-court point guard, displayed that if used in a quick-hitting attack he will make the right decision nearly every time.  The result was 19 fast break points and numerous early offense shots.

So let’s talk a moment about Vasquez’s running mate.

Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu’s statline was great tonight – but he hasn’t changed.  Don’t fool yourself in that regard.  What made him effective, however, was the Hornets running – and his blistering athleticism.  He regularly beat his man down the floor and made himself available to finish in transition.  (Oh! The alley-oops!)  He also was under clear direction to rebound and start the break (though he was supposed to give it up before hitting half court) and he filled that role admirably.  Given his transition scoring and his excellent help defense, Aminu easily compensated for his limitations in the half-court offense.  Oh, and when I say excellent help defense, I mean it.  He was the best defender the Hornets had on the floor tonight.

Anthony Davis

Okay, okay.  I’ll get to the rookie.  Davis was calm.  He had ice in his veins as he nailed free-throw after free-throw.  He showed his athleticism around the basket, his knack for grabbing boards, and his touch finishing tough shots.  He even showed a nice midrange game.  This guy will be amazing once he figures out his one problem:  help defense.     The start of the first and third quarters, when the Hornets were getting torched by Parker on the pick and roll?  Davis wasn’t playing on the ball, but he did have the job of coming over to help under the basket if the primary defenders were beat.  Go back and watch it – he was consistently late rotating over once Vasquez and Lopez managed to trip over one another trying to stop the play.  It hurt, and I’m sure Monty will be pointing it out to him in film tomorrow. Still – that’s just a speed and experience thing.  He started to get it in the fourth.  I expect he’ll continue to pick it up those nuances over the season. (Let’s say the jury is still out on his perimeter defense too.  Stephen Jackson was eating him for dinner.)

Still, as far as the first game for the rookie against a good team?  Impressive.

Austin Rivers

If you look at his statline, you’ll condemn Rivers.  I’m not going to.  He kept being thrust into that lead guard role, and he’s just so outmatched physically out there he’s going to struggle, especially defensively.  Even with that, he found ways to attack the defense and break it down, and that was invaluable in the half-court where Vasquez is inconsistent and Roger Mason inept.

Roger Mason

He hit two big shots, but Mason should be spotting up for threes, not being asked to probe the defense off the dribble.  That was way outside of his skill set, and the Hornets lack of guards forced him into the role.  He did not thrive.  If only we had a guard who could come in and let him only have to play 10 minutes a game as a spot-up shooter . . .

Darius Miller

Miller still has growing to do (he had a pair of bad turnovers) – but he’s always where he is supposed to be and already has the ability to knock down the deep jumper.  That pair of skills makes him ideal to develop into one of those role-players the Spurs specialize in and everyone else is jealous of.

Now let’s move to my one complaint about Monty in the game.  (There’s always a complaint, isn’t there?)

Robin Lopez

Lopez had a fine game as a rebounder and post defender, but he was a wreck defending the pick and roll.  Monty was trying to match up his best post defender against Duncan, but Duncan wasn’t attacking from the post very often – and Lopez kept failing to recover to his man after jamming the guard on the pick and roll, leaving Duncan (usually) open for dunks.  I think Lopez had value, but I would have preferred to see some of his minutes moved to Jason Smith, who has the footspeed and energy to jam and recover on those pick and rolls.

Jason Smith

I mean, what do you say about a guy who gives you 12,6,1,1, 1 in only 17 minutes with a single turnover and foul.  Smith continues to grow as a player, and he’s becoming a master of the mid-range pump fake to bait his defender so he can put down a single dribble and attack the rim.  Two years ago, those moves would be turnovers.  Today, they make him a double-threat offensively.

Ryan Anderson

The Spurs were tracking Anderson hard all game long – giving him the Peja treatment.  He missed shots I expect will go down more often than not in the future.  Honestly, the best part about Anderson tonight was the way he fought for rebounds.  He’d wade into a trio of Spurs jerseys and clear out space for himself – and on several occasions he cleared out extra defenders so Davis and Smith could swoop in and snag offensive boards.

Brian Roberts

Sorry Brian, but I’m going to call you out.  You were put in the game for one play to guard speedy Tony Parker.    You were rubbed off on a screen by Matt Bonner – this was fine – but instead of remaining with Bonner as Bonner’s man did the right thing and chased Parker, you ran towards the paint to . . .  I don’t know what?  Force your way through a wall of bodies to try and steal the ball?  That, of course, left Bonner wide open.  Parker hit Bonner with a flip pass, and he drilled the three calmly as you desperately tried to reach him.  Read the scouting report, please.   Bonner is there to do ONE thing, and you let him do it.

Other stuff:

  • The Hornets rebounded 20% of the available offensive boards.  That will need to improve.
  • Eric Gordon was booed by the crowd when he was shown on the jumbotron.
  • I enjoyed the new broadcast team.

Next game is Friday!


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