SAN ANTONIO – There was no shortage of storylines in the Spurs’ 107-99 season-opening victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at the AT&T Center.
From the Silver and Black starting the season without All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard and veteran point guard Tony Parker, to new Spur Rudy Gay’s comeback from an Achilles injury and second-year pro Dejounte Murray running the offense, there were plenty of subplots.
It all started when Spurs players stood and locked arms during the national anthem. NBA icons David Robinson and Tim Duncan joined them on the court.
After the national anthem, a message composed by Spurs coaches and the players stressing the importance of freedom of speech, social justice, and equality appeared on the Jumbotron above the floor.
The sellout crowd of 18,418 responded to the message with a loud ovation.
“I want to congratulate our fans on the way they reacted at the beginning of the game after the national anthem was played,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “They obviously also buy into the messages that were sent up on the Jumbotron.
“I’m so proud to be in this city when we have fans that understand that it’s important for everybody. Kudos to our fans.”
The message was a response to some of the backlash Popovich has received for his criticism of President Trump, veteran Spurs guard Danny Green said.
“He’s speaking out for us. We have to speak out for him and back him,” Green said. “He’s taking a stand and, obviously, some of his comments have been criticized. But we felt we should do something.
“Obviously, it’s been back and forth on what we should do. I thought it was good. I didn’t think it was too much.”
Green said the message was a collective effort of the team’s coaches and players.
“Everybody talked about it and it was something we discussed,” he said. “Like I said, we’ve got to back our coach, especially when he’s speaking out for us.”
LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Spurs, who improved to 19-2 in season openers under Popovich, who started his 22nd season as the team’s head coach. He took over the job 18 games into the 1996-97 season.
Green and Murray, who turned 21 last month, scored 17 and 16 points, respectively. Green drained 3 of 7 three-pointers, with his last one giving the Spurs a 105-95 lead with 46 seconds left. Gay (14) and Kyle Anderson (12) rounded out the double-figure scoring.
Gay, who started his 12th season in the NBA, was the feel-good story of the night. He played only 30 games with Sacramento last season before he sustained the Achilles injury. After months of grueling rehab, Gay opted out of the final year of his contract with the King and signed with the Spurs as a free agent this summer.
He scored his first basket since January on a fast break with a minute left in the first quarter, taking a pass from Manu Ginobili and finishing at the rim with a tomahawk dunk. The play brought a roar from the crowd.
“I kind of got emotional early in the game,” said Gay, who made 5 of 9 shots and finished with five rebounds. “I’ve been through so much these last couple of months. Reading so many text messages motivating me, keep going. I don’t need the motivation, but thank you for everybody sending me texts.
“They (text messages) just remind me of what I’ve been through, like I said before. I got a text from someone saying five months ago you couldn’t walk and now you’re out there playing.”
And where would Gay rank the dunk he got for his first points as a Spur?
“I think I can still do better,” he said.
Popovich was heartened Gay’s overall performance.
“Rudy had a really good game and half the time he was probably wondering where he should be on the court,” Popovich said. “But he’s a talented young man and we used that tonight and it helped us win. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures out what we do defensively.”
Murray played only one season at the University of Washington before turning pro in 2016. The Spurs took him in the first round of the NBA draft with the 29th overall pick that year.
Murray had a solid game Wednesday night, getting his 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting and adding five rebounds and two assists. He ran the offense fairly well considering his inexperience, committing just two turnovers.
“I thought he had a really good game,” Popovich said. “Overall, he played well at both ends. He was composed offensively. He didn’t make too many mistakes, worked hard on defense and I thought he showed a lot of composure throughout the game. He did a good job.”
Murray was 6 of 6 from the field through three quarters.
“I don’t focus on that,” he said. “You are going to make shots and you are going to miss shots. It’s how you bounce back and that’s the kind of guy I am. I think I am confident enough to just keep playing through whether I miss seven shots or whatever.”
The Silver and Black shot 46.1 percent (41/89) overall and 38.1 percent (8/21) from beyond the arc.
Forward Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 26 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 18. The Timberwolves shot 43.5 percent (37/85) overall and 42.1 percent (8/19) from the three-point line.
The Spurs play at Chicago on Saturday night and host Toronto on Monday.