SAN ANTONIO — A quick peek at the box score will tell you that the Spurs were no match for the Bucks in their first game against another team in months, but that was never really the point.
The 113-92 loss in a meaningless scrimmage is, well, meaningless. Plus, as Coach Gregg Popovich said earlier in the week, San Antonio's stint in the NBA's Disney bubble is more about development than it is about competing for a title, and Spurs fans got a peek at that development on Thursday afternoon.
Without LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles, the starting lineup looked quite different for San Antonio. Assistant coach Becky Hammon took the lead role for this game, and the starters she chose set Spurs Twitter ablaze with optimism.
Jakob Poeltl filled in for Aldridge at center and DeMar DeRozan started as expected, but she decided to run with Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV out of the gate. That trio had shared the floor for just six total minutes for the entire season, and they did more than that in the first quarter of the exhibition.
“We’re hoping to get some defense, some pace offensively. It’s just about experimenting a little bit right now and trying to figure out what groupings we like together," Hammon explained after the game. "The big thing is seeing Derrick and DJ play together and giving them a little bit of chemistry instead of strictly one running one group and the other running the other group. I think it will help us play faster, you couldn’t tell today in the scrimmage. We lacked a lot of aggressiveness on all areas on the floor. We’re just trying to figure out a defensive lineup that can give us a really great chance to start off the game well.”
Walker led the team with 14 points, and Murray and White were right behind him with 13 and 11 respectively. That trio may not start again, but the players involved were excited about it after the game.
"It's fun, This is something that we’ve been waiting on for a long time," said Walker. "Us three together, the difference maker about us is we love to play defense. We’re ready to get up and under people and play the right way. It felt good to just get our feet wet as a team together and do the right thing and play the right way. It’s all a work in progress. We’re still building up that rhythm as teammates and as players and it’s only a matter of time until that key starts clicking.”
“It was fun," said Murray. "Obviously, I don’t control the minutes, who starts or who doesn’t. But it was fun to get out, just run, go up and down, but it takes time. Lineups can change, they can stay the same and you build chemistry with experience. It was fun though.”
Hammon wasn't too thrilled with the play overall in the blowout loss, noting a lack of movement and intensity, but the team, especially the young core, showed flashes of their potential.
The only guy outside of the aforementioned trio to reach double-digit scoring was Keldon Johnson, who has teammates raving about his play and attitude. He logged 18 minutes, notching 11 points, 5 boards, 2 assists and a block.
Johnson plays with a high motor, and already shows great ability on the defensive end of the floor. At one point, he stuffed Khris Middleton and won the ensuing jump ball.
Before the game, Coach Popovich shared some insight on what he looks for in young players.
“Obviously, just the ability to learn is huge," Popovich said. "If a young player is picking up what you’re trying to teach and carrying it over to game situations that tells a lot because being valuable in that sense and growing is a huge factor in your development. Next thing probably is work ethic. Who is willing to spend the time? Who really loves the game? Who wants to really be good? Who stays after practice, who comes in early? Who works on skills? It tells a lot. And also, how players relate to teammates. Does this young person have the potential to be a leader later on? Is he a follower? Is he strong, is he weak, mentally in that sense? What makes him tick and how does that fit into the overall picture of your team. So, those are some of the things we look at while we’re developing young kids.”
The game's viral punctuation mark came with just over a minute left, when reserve center Drew Eubanks unleashed some punishment on the rim and Giannis' brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Antetokoumpo hit the deck hard, and Eubanks got hit with an offensive foul and an additional foul for taunting.
The play serves as a nice little metaphor for the game: it didn't count, and it didn't exactly go the Spurs' way, but watching it brought great joy to the Alamo city.