Vassell, Walker lead balanced Spurs past Magic, 123-97
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has loosened things up on the court after years of structure and it resulted in another successful opener for the Spurs.
Devin Vassell scored 19 points, Lonnie Walker added 17 and the San Antonio Spurs continued their success on opening night by dominating the Orlando Magic 123-97 on Wednesday night.
San Antonio is 23-2 in season openers under Gregg Popovich, but Spurs guard Derrick White said this season is “a lot different than the teams in the past.”
White, the second-longest tenured Spurs player at five seasons, said the team’s young players are comfortable playing freely rather than running everything through a certain player.
“It was a lot of fun,” White said. “Get out, run, make a play for yourself or a teammate. The crowd’s into it. It was a lot of fun out there.”
Mo Bamba had 18 points and Terrance Ross added 15 points to lead Orlando, which trailed by as many as 28 points.
San Antonio finished with 32 assists and had seven players score in double figures.
Every Spurs starter scored in double figures with White adding 16 points and Jakob Poeltl adding 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Vassell and Walker provided a needed boost in scoring off the bench with the team losing reserves Patty Mills and Rudy Gay to free agency in the offseason.
San Antonio scored 21 percent of their points off fastbreaks, outscoring Orlando 26-6. The Spurs forced 16 turnovers while only giving up eight.
“That was it,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said. “We talked about it pregame. If we can hold this team and can keep them in the halfcourt, we give ourselves a chance. That’s a part of the possession game. When we turn it over, we’re giving them free points.”
The Spurs scored seven straight points in a 45-second span late in the third quarter on a 3-pointer from Walker, a steal and dunk by Vassell and a tip follow by Poeltl. Vassell capped a nine-point run to close the third with a 3-pointer for a 94-71 lead.
San Antonio used their defense to erase an early deficit and build a 14-point lead in the first half.
The Spurs, who emphasized adding 3-point shooting in the offseason, were 13 for 30 overall on 3s.
Doug McDermott, the team’s first free-agent signing of the offseason, had back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter and finished with 12 points.
Magic: Orlando guard Gary Harris did not play after suffering a pulled hamstring during pre-game warmups. His status is unknown. “We’re just going to have to go back and look and talk to our medical and see exactly where things are,” Mosley said. … Mosley said rookie Jalen Suggs was still getting over an illness, which was a factor in Cole Anthony starting at point guard over the fifth overall pick. Suggs started at shooting guard.
Spurs: As Popovich enters his 26th season, the league’s other franchises have gone through 291 head coaches. Every franchise has had at least three coaches during Popovich’s tenure with the Spurs. … San Antonio’s only season-opening losses came against Phoenix in 2008 and Oklahoma City in 2015. … Tre Jones made his season debut after missing the entire preseason with a sprained left ankle.
Spurs rookie guard Josh Primo played the final five minutes of the game, making him the youngest player who attended college to play in the NBA. Primo, who turns 19 on Dec. 24, received a thunderous ovation when he entered.
“It feels great,” Primo said. “I felt comfortable going in.”
Primo made his initial shot, a 3-pointer, for his only points.
Popovich is practically pleased that fans are back at the AT&T Center after fans were initially not allowed at Spurs game last season. Seating was limited in the second half.
“It’s way better with fans,” Popovich said. “That’s just not a gratuitous comment, it’s for real. It helps you generate competitiveness. It makes everything more enjoyable. Players react to it. So, having fans is fantastic. No pun intended.”
Magic: Host New York on Friday.
Spurs: At Denver on Friday.