A nail-biting preseason game. As oxymoronic as that sounds, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Atlanta Hawks preseason game last night was pretty exciting, and although the players are obviously still shaking off some rust, bring on the analyses and predictions about the upcoming season.
The San Antonio Spurs narrowly escaped a loss to the Atlanta Hawks, winning 106-104 thanks to an Aron Baynes go-ahead floater with just seconds left.
Don't worry, Spurs fans. It's just the preseason, and head coach Gregg Popovich rested his aging team, playing his starters for 21 minutes or less, while Pop's former right-hand man and first-year Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer played his starters for 30 minutes or more.
The Hawks' starting shooting guard Kyle Korver had a game-high 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting, one of seven double-digit scorers for the Hawks.
For the most part, the Hawks, who registered three double-doubles from their starters (Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford) looked good under their new coach, who according to Horford already has the players respect.
The Hawks' pace was fast, which Coach Bud wants from his new team, but the third quarter showed some defensive weaknesses, allowing 38 points by the Spurs starters.
And although they "rallied" in the fourth to give them a chance to win on a Korver three, they did so against the third-string Spurs.
The Hawks have a new coach and a new system, which it seems most, if not all, of the players have bought into. For the last few years, the Atlanta Hawks have been under the radar. No huge marquee players, no real exciting play, but they still manage to make the playoffs.
There's not many people talking about the Hawks.
If Coach Budenholzer (there's got to be a great nickname coming for this guy) can keep these Hawks on the same page and crackdown on the defense, the Hawks can make the playoffs again this year and total more than their 44 wins from last season. And if they can continue this fast pace, look for the Hawks to make some noise this season, getting people talking about Hawks basketball.
The Spurs' starters (Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green) were a little sluggish at the start of the game with the exception of Duncan, who was described as "spry" by J. Gomez of SB Nation.
Tony Parker, who was worried he may be tired after summer basketball in Europe, turned it on in the second half, scoring 14 of his 17 points in the third quarter.
Even-keeled Kawhi Leonard never really seemed to turn it on, scoring just seven points on 3-of-5 shooting and grabbing just three boards in 21 minutes of play (the most of any Spurs starter.)
I wouldn't worry about Leonard, though. The buzz surrounding him this offseason could prove too much pressure for him, but my guess is it won't affect him. Not much does.
Plus, he did have a double-double in the Spurs' preseason game against the Denver Nuggets just days ago.
The Spurs second-string group, which is probably the most international group in the league (Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Nando de Colo, Boris Diaw and Jeff Ayres) looked good, giving the Spurs a much needed spark before the half.
The Belinelli-Ginobili combo was fun and effective. They are definitely entertaining to watch and meshed really well, moving the ball beautifully together.
Ginobili looked like his old self again. He shot 2-of-4 from three and scored 11 points in 18 minutes, including an and-one and a throwdown dunk.
He still had three turnovers, however, making every Spurs fan relive his horrific turnover frenzy in the playoffs.
His mobility and aggressiveness bodes well for San Antonio's upcoming season.
While most think Kawhi Leonard is the X-factor for the Spurs, the real X-factor for this season is Manu Ginobili. Kawhi will definitely be the X-factor when Ginobili retires, if he hasn't become the star yet, but whether the Spurs can actually make another run at the title this season will be determined by one fiery Argentine.
As always, if the Spurs can stay healthy, which they seem to be right now, they can seriously make a run at the title. If the Belinelli-Ginobili combo continues to improve, "boring" Spurs basketball will be back in the NBA Finals.
Preseason games really don't mean anything, which is why Coach Pop sat his starters for the fourth quarter even as Kyle Korver hit shot after shot, giving Coach Bud a chance to beat his former boss. These games are more of an evaluation tool for coaches to see who they want to keep or who they want to play in the rotation, and for fans, who want to see what their teams will look like in the coming season.
For these two teams, one with a new head coach hoping to make a splash in the East, and the other with pretty much the same team as always hoping to cement their legacy with one more championship, the season looks bright.