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Four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan delivered in his Spurs debut, pacing San Antonio with 28 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in a 112-108 opening night victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite an off shooting night, LaMarcus Aldridge contributed a workmanlike 21 points and 19 rebounds and combined with Rudy Gay’s 18 points and 7 rebounds, the trio represented renewed optimism for a fan base clamoring for a new big three.
However, all eyes were on DeRozan, whose stellar performance earned praise from his head coach and teammates.
“He’s a confident player,” said Gregg Popovich after the game. “He’s an All-Star, and he showed it. The game comes easy to him and he’s in a difficult situation because he’s still trying to learn the system and learn about his teammates. But he’s such a willing passer and plays hard. So it was special for him tonight, I think, because it is the first game in a new system with these guys, so it was great to watch him.”
“DeMar was great,” added Pau Gasol, who has suddenly become the team’s elder statesman and most accomplished winner. “Great poise. Made great plays. Read really well when they came to double team and made great passes out of the post. So I think he made great decisions. Great play.”
On a night when Kawhi Leonard scored 24 points in a Raptors uniform, 1,693 miles away in Canada, DeRozan’s effort appeared to gladly place the offseason drama in the rearview mirror for the Spurs. That it came against Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves, who seem content to be taking off-court dysfunction to the next level this season, was somewhat fitting.
Pop’s charges will be further tested with a two-game road trip that tips off against the Trail Blazers on Saturday and culminates in Los Angeles versus the Lakers. Portland’s polished backcourt, along with the looming threat of LeBron James, should serve as a solid early season indicator of just how far San Antonio’s defense has to go to keep them in the playoff conversation.Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.