DeRozan impressive in debut as Spurs fend off Timberwolves
SAN ANTONIO — DeMar DeRozan responded to a trade he didn’t want with his usual boundless energy and fearless style in the fourth quarter for San Antonio. Jimmy Butler hasn’t received a trade he’s requested, and turned in a similar performance for Minnesota.
DeRozan had 28 points in his San Antonio debut, LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points and 19 rebounds and the Spurs overcame a 23-point performance by Butler in a 112-108 victory over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night in a matchup of teams coming off a tumultuous offseason.
“It was an extremely long summer for me, extremely long summer,” DeRozan said. “So, just to be in this moment, it feels good.”
DeRozan was acquired from Toronto after the Spurs responded to Kawhi Leonard’s trade demands by dealing their star forward and Danny Green for the Raptors’ All-Star guard and Jakob Poeltl. The trade shocked DeRozan, but he has since warmed to the Spurs and San Antonio.
Minnesota is facing a similar trade demand from Butler, who has opted to play through it. Butler, who has told Minnesota that he will not re-sign with the team in the offseason, added seven rebounds and three assists in an active 31 minutes.
“I’ve got 81 games, baby, that’s all the matters,” Butler said when asked if he expects to remain with Minnesota. “We’ve got to lock in on today, what tomorrow brings and see where we are at. If that (trade) comes to be, that comes to be, there’s nothing I can do about that. But in the meantime, I’ve got to figure out a way to help us win some games.”
DeRozan was initially upset he was traded, but has since embraced San Antonio and those good vibrations propelled him in the fourth.
DeRozan banked in the eventual game-winning shot in the final minute against Butler, driving hard to the basket against the 6-foot-8 forward and then pulling up from 12 feet to give San Antonio a 110-108 lead with 32.4 seconds remaining. DeRozan sealed the victory with a pair of free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining after Minnesota’s Derrick Rose missed a runner in lane.
“Hey, I’ve been doing it for some years now,” the 29-year-old DeRozan said about the late heroics. “I just feel out the game, always try to be aggressive and at the end moments, I always want to be there. I’m not afraid to make mistakes, but with that I’m not afraid to try to go out there and win the game.”
DeRozan’s debut was also the close of the Big Three era in San Antonio. Tony Parker left the Spurs to sign with Charlotte in the offseason and Manu Ginobili joined Tim Duncan in retirement.
DeRozan and Aldridge are now the cornerstones of the team, and each lauded the other in their debut.
“I haven’t played with a guy as dynamic as him since probably Chris Bosh in my rookie year,” DeRozan said.
Aldridge shot 7 for 23 from the field, and had three blocked shots and 11 defensive rebounds.
“He’s a great passer,” Aldridge said of DeRozan. “He’s always looking and probing and I’m too open. I have to get used to being ready and just taking my time. When I figure it out (and) I get my rhythm back, it’s going to be way easier out there to score having him.”
Rudy Gay had 18 points and Bryn Forbes had 11 points in his first start at point guard for the Spurs.
Jeff Teague scored 27 points and Andrew Wiggins added 20 points for the Timberwolves.
Karl-Anthony Towns picked up his third foul with 2 minutes left in the first half and fouled out with 4:18 remaining in the game and the Spurs up 99-92. Towns finished with eight points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes.
Timberwolves: Teague was down on the court for about 10 seconds in the fourth quarter after tweaking his right ankle on an offensive foul, but gave officials a thumbs-up and remained in the game. … Minnesota is 3-10 all-time when opening the season on the road. … The Timberwolves are 9-50 against the Spurs in San Antonio. Their last win in San Antonio was April 17, 2013.
Spurs: San Antonio had eight new players on its roster for the season opener for the first time since 1992. The Spurs finished 42-33 that season after firing Jerry Tarkanian 20 games into the campaign. … DeRozan has played 23,000 minutes in his career, joining Aldridge, LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook as the only players to do so since 2009. … Poeltl made just his fifth career start and first since Feb. 14 2017 with Toronto.
PAYING HOMAGE TO ALLEN
The Spurs observed a moment of silence prior to the game for Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen.
Allen passed away Oct. 15 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Aldridge, who played his first nine seasons in Portland before signing with the Spurs in 2015, said it will be difficult to return to the city after Allen’s passing.
“He was a great guy and he blessed me and my family and invited us into his world at times,” Aldridge said. “I went to the game against Green Bay in his suite. It’s definitely bittersweet going back this time.”
DeRozan has been taken aback by the love the Spurs fans have shown him.
“It’s crazy, I tried to get my mom a jersey last week and it was sold out,” DeRozan said. “I was trying to tell her that and she didn’t believe me.”
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
Popovich was asked if this could be his final year coaching in the NBA and he responded with his usual dry wit.
“Anything can happen. I might coach 10 more years or quit in a month,” he said.
Timberwolves: Host Cleveland on Friday night.
Spurs: At Portland on Saturday night.
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