At first, it hurt. A lot.
There were the mandatory Game 6 highlights, talk of some sort of terribly contrived, self-produced Dwyane Wade documentary called 'Journey to 3', and the added insult that LeBron was going to kick it on the sideline all night.
And it only got worse once the game actually began. The Spurs started in a 2-3 zone that they might soon want to refer to as the Sea Sponge Defense, on account of its porous and slow-moving nature. Miami had no trouble finding the open guy on the perimeter, abusing the Spurs from the corner and making James Jones look like Stephen Curry. Jones' 18 points (on 6-8 shooting) were more than any Spur scored on the night.
Dwyane Wade pranced around the Spurs D to the tune of 25 points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals on 10-14 shooting. Granted he'd played little in the preseason, but Wade appeared a Eurostep quicker than every Spur on the court. It might be the preseason, but Heat fans should be extremely excited in what they saw after how broken down he looked at times last year.
Then there were the turnovers -- 22 of them to be exact -- with a big chunk attributable to questionable passes tossed into traffic. No single Spurs player is to blame for the sloppiness; it was a group effort.
All in all this was four quarters of poor, poor basketball.
Lost and forlorn, I needed to turn somewhere for some semblance of hope, or at least an explanation for why this was all happening. I continuously waited for shots of the Spurs bench, seeking some kind of reassurance out of Coach Pop - maybe him giving Manu an earful, or perhaps laughing this off as an exhibition match of no true relevance. But with every glimpse of the typically impassioned head coach I saw nothing but the utmost apathy. As he sat there on the bench I stared into his eyes, black and emotionless, like those of a great white shark.
And slowly but surely, I began to slip into that cold, dark place I had known so well in late June. Sounds and images from the game grew faint, muffled by my own disillusionment.
It was only until the fourth quarter that I saw what had been Pop's gambit all along: Michael Beasley.
The recently re-signed, infamously toxic power forward was starting to score, block shots, throw down dunks, and make a real case for getting playing time next season. It all seemed so simple now!
Any coach could try and avenge a Finals loss by winning a meaningless exhibition game. Pop, however, has his sights on the big picture.
Beasley remains on a non-guaranteed contract, with much of what he does in the preseason counting towards whether or not the Heat will retain him. Obviously they're not certain about B-Easy, who's exhibited his poor decision-making since he first entered the league. In fact, his first infraction was alongside starting point guard Mario Chalmers when the two got busted for weed during the Rookie Transition Program.
The Heat have no time for distractions as they attempt to go for their third championship in a row. At the same time, they know that to remain competitive in an improved Eastern Conference they need to improve upon their aging roster.
Enter Michael Beasley, who, like a Manchurian Candidate, could return to his old stomping grounds, infiltrate the organization that drafted him with the second overall pick in the 2008 Draft, and do more damage than any preseason loss ever could. That's what this is all about. That's why Pop played a 2-3 zone when he knew he shouldn't have. That's why he had to hurt us fans who were hoping for the slightest redemption with tonight's game. I can see that now.
As the final minutes ticked off the clock, one of the local Miami sportscasters, who had provided the painfully biased soundtrack to the game, said the words Pop couldn't have scripted better himself: "The Beasley meter is rising." Rising like a fox!
Well done, Pop. Well done.
* * *
In the case that I'm wrong though, and this was indeed just a bad loss, here are some other, less duplicitous takeaways from Saturday's game.
I'll start with the sole bright spot of the game. Kawhi Leonard is looking good. Really good.
Leonard got everything that he wanted offensively, going 6-7 from the field and 4-4 from the line for 17 points in just 12 minutes. Kawhi was hitting from stepbacks, threes and drives. I'm guessing Pop saw everything he needed to see in the dozen minutes he played Y (yes, that's his actual nickname) and is feeling encouraged by him more than anything.
At this point, I'm all in for Baynesy to see a solid eight minutes a night in the regular season. He's a reliable defender, rebounds well in space and can finish from up to about 15 feet away. New Zealand's finest had eight points and seven rebounds.
Ugh. Tony didn't bring his legs with him tonight and it showed from the get-go. Parker spent much of the first two minutes of the game on the floor, as he was incapable of negotiating even the simplest spin move. Overall he went o-fer from the field and the line, laying a big goose egg in 18 minutes of play. Let's move on.
I know it's early but I'm not yet convinced by Ayres at all. As much as I like the idea of a guy with his frame and skill set, there doesn't seem to be one fast-twitch muscle fiber in his entire body. Ayres is slow to react defensively and doesn't seem to block out nearly well enough to make up for his lack of size and spring.
Defensively, Belinelli was as forgettable as everyone else, looking totally lost in the zone. Offensively, Belinelli continues to show promise, moving well without the ball while looking for his shot. I like what I've seen of the Italian so far.
* * *
The Spurs head back to San Antonio for their final three games of the preseason. The next game is Tuesday, October 22, against Orlando.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- What Vegas thinks of the Spurs' chances this season
- Preseason Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Miami Heat
- San Antonio Spurs Season Preview
- Two Pounders to be chosen as Super Fans on Opening Night
- NBA Finals Game 7: An imagined oral history - Part 3