SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs opened a new season by using the same formula that has produced the highest winning percentage for a 16-year span in NBA history.
Aggressive defense, Patty Mills draining 3s, selfless ball movement, Boris Diaw shooting without hesitation and coach Gregg Popovich being jovial with reporters. OK, maybe it wasn’t quite the same old Spurs.
Five months after last season’s disappointing loss in the NBA Finals, a mix of “corporate knowledge” and new infusion of talent propelled San Antonio to a strong start in a 101-94 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
“We won,” said Popovich, who later complimented a reporter for a good question. “We have 81 more games.”
Kawhi Leonard had 14 points and Tony Parker added 13 points and nine assists for the Spurs, who improved to 16-1 in season openers under Popovich.
Tim Duncan left the game with a chest contusion after taking an inadvertent elbow with 10:50 left in the third quarter. Duncan did not return after retreating to the locker room. He had three points and six rebounds in 17 minutes. His status for Friday’s game at the Los Angeles Lakers was unknown.
“He’ll get checked out tomorrow,” Popovich said. “He had spasms in his shoulder and his neck. It looks like his chest is bruised. He caught an elbow, so it kind of affected (him) from his chest up through his neck at some time or another.”
With Duncan missing much of the second half, San Antonio’s revamped second unit dominated, outscoring Memphis’ reserves 53-38.
Diaw had 14 points and Mills and Manu Ginobili had 12 points apiece.
After frustrating Popovich by being a pass-first player last season, Diaw was aggressively seeking his shot while going 6 for 9 against the Grizzlies.
“He went and talked to a guru in India or something,” Popovich said. “I don’t know what he did, but he catches and shoots now. I got nothing to do with it. I’ve been begging him since he got here. His previous coaches have begged him. All of a sudden he’s a catch-and-shoot guy. It’s continued and we’re happy about it.”
Newly named as the Spurs’ backup point guard, Mills gave the team an immediate boost. He had a reverse layup and three straight 3-pointers upon entering the game. He was fouled on his third 3-pointer, draining the free throw to give San Antonio a 37-22 lead with 6:48 left in the first half.
“He was a great boost,” Parker said. “He has been playing well the whole preseason. He knocked down 3s all preseason and that is what he did tonight.”
Tony Allen had 15 points and Marc Gasol and Mike Conley had 14 each for Memphis. Quincy Pondexter had 13 points and Mike Miller 11 in his return to the Grizzlies after playing last season for the Heat.
The Spurs set a franchise record while outscoring the Grizzlies 30-7 in the second quarter.
“We let so many points come behind our back,” Allen said. “Whether it’s made baskets or missed baskets. Off the rebound they just kept pushing, they had the momentum and they did a good job of executing as a team.”
San Antonio held Memphis to seven points in the second quarter, a franchise low by an opponent for the period and the third lowest for a quarter in team history. The Spurs continually ran a second defender at the Grizzlies, forcing them to pass or take a contested shot.
Memphis failed to score in the opening 8 minutes of the second quarter, missing their first 10 field goal attempts. Before Allen’s 3-pointer with 3:45 remaining in the first half, the Grizzlies’ only points came on a pair of free throws by Pondexter in the opening minute of the second. Memphis finished the second quarter shooting 11.1 percent from the field: 2 for 18.
“We stopped moving the basketball and we tried to create our own shots,” first-year Memphis coach David Joerger said. “When the ball moves, the energy on our team goes up. We move, we cut hard, we screen harder, we rim run harder, but our defense wasn’t great. Give them credit. They ended up shooting a lot of layups.”
Continuing his struggles from last season’s playoff sweep to the Spurs, Zach Randolph was held two 2 points on 1-for-6 shooting.
“They had a good playoff series against us last season, they swept us and did a good job,” Randolph said. “But tonight was one of those nights; just one of those nights.”
Memphis started the game shooting 29 percent from the field, going 4 for 14. NOTES: Memphis has lost all 13 of its season openers since moving from Vancouver and is 2-17 in openers overall in franchise history. … The lowest point total for a quarter by a San Antonio opponent is 3 by Denver in the first quarter on Nov. 27, 2002. The second lowest is six by Toronto in the fourth quarter on Nov. 1, 2002. … Tiago Splitter, one of the least talkative Spurs, gave the welcoming address to the fans before the game. The center from Brazil promised the team would work hard on the court and in the community and punctuated it with `’muchos gracias.” … Memphis had to call a timeout 47 seconds into the game when no one remained in the backcourt to receive Conley’s inbound pass. … Memphis has lost 15 of 16 regular-season games in San Antonio, with its last victory coming April 9, 2010.