Spurs memory No. 30: Torrid San Diego shooting spoils Spurs’ first game

Late San Diego blitz ruins Spurs’ opening ABA game

Date: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 1973
Place: The Arena, San Antonio
Score: San Diego Conquistadors 121, San Antonio Spurs 106.

The Spurs’ team history began with a whimper with the kind of debut that was anything but memorable.

San Diego erupted for 48 points in the final quarter, storming back from a deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to claim a 121-106 victory over the Spurs in the team’s first regular-season ABA game. San Antonio blew a 77-73 lead coming into the final quarter.

San Antonio coach Tom Nissalke’s team struggled defensively as Stew Johnson torched them for five 3-pointers and Bo Lamar added two more in the Conquistadors’ victory.

San Diego coach Wilt Chamberlain had hoped to be playing for the Conquistadors after jumping from the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead, he watched from the bench in his first regular-season game. San Diego assistant Stan Albeck was involved in directing the game for the Conquistadors, foreshadowing his association with the Spurs later in the team’s history.   .

Johnson finished with 38 points and Lamar added 30 to pace San Diego. Rich Jones led the Spurs with 25 points and Joe Hamilton tallied 20 points and a game-high 10 assists.

The game nearly never came off as a strike between ABA owners and players was averted only a few hours before the opening tip-off. ABA players won the right to fly first class on all trips of longer than an hour. NBA players already had that perk at that time for all flights.

The Spurs led for most of the game before San Diego’s late charge. The game was actually much closer than the final margin as San Diego scored 10 points in the final 90 seconds, including a 3-pointer by Billy Shepherd at the final buzzer.

San Diego blistered the Spurs from outside throughout the game, hitting 8 for 11 from 3-point territory in the game.

The game attracted a crowd of 5,879 — seventh largest for a basketball game in San Antonio at that time.

They said it, part I: “They’re more willing to shoot the 3-pointers than most teams are, and when they hit them like they did tonight … ” Nissalke breaking off in mid-sentence his comments about the Conquistadors’ torrid outside shooting.

They said it, part II: “They have spirit and togetherness and are good 3-point shooters,” Chamberlain to the San Antonio Light about his team’s shooting performance. He had been with the team for only the previous 10 days.

They said it, part III: “It’s a long season. In a business like this you can’t let yourself get too far down when you lose, nor can you get too sky far up when you win. It’s a game in which too many things can happen,” Nissalke to the Light about the Spurs’ late collapse.

They said it, part IV: “The new San Antonio Spurs have promising young backcourt men in James Silas and lefthanded rookie Bird Averitt, last year’s top college scorer from Pepperdine. They also have a quality forward in Rich Jones, but for the Spurs to improve significantly center Bob Netolicky must stop playing defense like Santa Anna.” Sports Illustrated’s preview of the Spurs  in their Oct. 15, 1973 issue.

The upshot: The Spurs and Nissalke didn’t forget San Diego’s late run at the buzzer in the opening game.  San Antonio won the next four games against the Q’s and seven of the next eight. The Spurs claimed the season series over San Diego, 8-3. The Spurs lost their first four games in franchise history before notching a 116-106 victory over Virginia on Oct. 16, 1973, for the first victory in team history. Their fortunes changed after George Gervin was acquired from Virginia later in the season, paving the way for a playoff march that saw them win 11 of their last 15 games. They lost in seven games to ABA defending champion Indiana in the first round of the playoffs. Chamberlain and the Q’s won a one-game tiebreaker over Denver to qualify for the playoffs and then lost in six games to Utah in the first round of the playoffs.

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