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Morning Rehash: Are you carrying the fire?

The Spurs and Nets seem mirror images of each other, with identical color schemes and legends on both sides. But in the reflection lies the deepest of disparities.

One of these 37-year-old big men is not like the other.
One of these 37-year-old big men is not like the other.
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In Cormac McCarthy's The Road, an unnamed father and son travel across a post apocalyptic nightmare in search of hope. They fight roving gangs of cannibals, severe hunger, gruesome injury, and the tempting embrace of madness in their quest to find some kind of stability amidst the chaos of a ravaged United States. It's an incredible story, and throughout their journey, the father asks his son the same question:

"Are you carrying the fire?"

For his part, the son is initially amused by the question, but the father knows there is purpose in his asking. He wants to know if the son is still here. Not just physically alive, but present, aware, stable. The father wants to know that the son still has hope. With a world desolated by the violence and rage of evil men, the father knows that it isn't merely physical provision that sustains but spiritual nourishment, as well.

That question is the heart of McCarthy's great book, a simple phrase that is very difficult to grapple with. If it's possible to be physically alive but spiritually dead, how do you recognize the symptoms of internal decay? You don't have to be in a life or death struggle to pose the question, either. It's the fire inside that staves off futility, irrelevance, despair, or death.

Throughout his career, Kevin Garnett was an unquestioned carrier of "the fire." The headbutts to the stanchion, the often terribly inappropriate trash talk, the fantastic production - the spectacle provided by Kevin Garnett was a symbol of true passion in the NBA, a beacon that challenged the competitive approach of each player caught in its light. Though dynasties would rise and fall around him, Lord Garnett's empire remained, built on the unquenchable flames of his relentless rage.

As much as Gregg Popovich absolutely terrifies me, he's one of my absolute favorites coaching at any level. -Burke

That Kevin Garnett is dead, his empire in ruins. Unable to fight off the ravaging effects of time and severely hampered by an impossibly chaotic team situation, there's nothing left to fill Garnett's jersey but the smoky remains of a once great basketball icon. He's several steps slower than he was in his late career Celtics form, and the physical drop-off seems to have initiated an even steeper internal one. What stands out to you as you watch Garnett isn't the missed jumpers or the guys blowing past him, it's the silence that accompanies his effort. Where once there was shouting and chest thumping, there is now a quiet lowering of the head, a lifeless run through the motions.

Tuesday night, these subtle but profound changes were magnified by the brilliance of Tim Duncan. Both men are 37, established NBA veterans with stellar, championship-certified careers. But in the Spurs' 113-92 pasting of the Nets, it was clear that only one of them was carrying the fire. Duncan posted a quiet 15/5 in 24 minutes. Garnett didn't score a field goal in his 17 minutes in the game.

Perhaps that's unfair. Duncan, for his part, started the season with some awful shooting nights. But even in his most abysmal performances this season, Duncan displayed a quiet frustration indicative of a player who still had reason to improve. More than anything, the desolation of the Nets seems to have robbed Garnett of any reason to care. His team has been ravaged by injury, has already had a coaching controversy, and currently sits 12th in one of the worst Eastern Conferences in the history of the NBA.

It's enough to quench the fire of the most competitive of athletes, and Garnett's decline is only the most blatant example on a fireless Nets team. Paul Pierce and Jason Terry look constantly aggravated. Deron Williams is always a dribble away from an ankle injury. It's depressing.

One might think seeing Garnett this way would be a treat for his detractors, but it really isn't. Fans of Tim Duncan always entertained the thought that he'd outlast his greatest rivals, but few, if any, of us imagined that Duncan's durability would be assisted so much by Father Time. Garnett's decline is straight up difficult to witness, like Al Pacino dancing in a club in 88 Minutes or hearing Bob Dylan live in the last ten years. Seeing him go to the bench a defeated shell of his former self left few smiles or laughs.

Maybe it's because we know how fortunate we are to have what we do in Tim Duncan and the Spurs. At 37, he's done his part to stave off irrelevancy, and the team has done its part to support him with a balanced, cohesive roster. In a season like this one, where Duncan's games against his former rivals seem more like visits to retirement homes, it's easy to see how this thing could have gone.

The Nets, as abysmal as they have become, are really the best opponent for the Spurs' last game of the year. The two teams seem mirror images of each other, with identical color schemes and legends on both sides. But in the reflection lies the deepest of disparities. When the buzzer finally sounded, only one team went to the locker room with hope for the season. Only one legendary big man went home carrying the fire.

Be sure to read Fred Silva's recap if you haven't already.


"Manu, what are you doing?"

- Pop, during the game (but probably also during every game)




















Tony Parker had a really good game, and while playing well is not the biggest of challenges against the Nets, it was good to see him go out and compete amidst the controversy surrounding his use of an obscene and racist gesture. (For more detail on that, you should read JR Wilco's piece.) Parker apologized and did his best to put it behind him. I'm not attempting to gloss over what happened, but looking strictly at the game's performances, Parker's efficient night stood out the most. And he continues to shoot three-pointers with surprising accuracy. (He's 45% for the season, though he is only attempting about one a game.) More games like this please, Mr. Parker.




















(See above.)


  • Pretty big night for hilarious Gregg Popovich pictures:Bc2pc0hciaaljhnBc1p3t6ceaaetbq
  • The Spurs put out a really odd lineup to finish the game, as Cory Joseph, Patty Mills, Jeff Ayres, Aron Baynes, and Matt Bonner got the privilege (?) of mercifully ending the Nets' night.
  • One guy on the Nets who you can make fun of guilt-free: Andrei Kirilenko. He chose the Nets over the Spurs (among other teams) and now gets to wallow in this dumpster fire for a full season. In Russia, bed makes you.
  • After the Lakers last season, the Spurs during the Finals, and the Nets this year, we have to ask: Is there a Sports Illustrated NBA curse? There are some other glaring examples if you go down the rabbit hole.
  • Shouts out to Kyle Burkholder for somehow arranging the greatest Christmas gift ever. (I know this New Years advice is addressed to me, but really, Matt Bonner is speaking to all of us.) Also, daps to Luke Bonner for the assist.



  • .2: At the end of the game, the Spurs were dribbling out the clock, but there was a shot clock/game clock disparity of .2. The final horn sounded as the players left to their respective locker rooms, but hilariously, the officials refused to call the game. The Nets only had three players left to take the court, so they had to call back two players give them enough for a final possession. For the Nets, it was a brutally embarrassing end to a brutally embarrassing night.
  • 0: The number of field goals Kevin Garnett made in the game, only the sixth time he's done that in his career.
  • +30: Kawhi Leonard's +/-, the best of any player on the floor.
  • 37: Years Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have walked the earth.
  • 3,014: Career minutes differential between Garnett and Duncan. Garnett has more NBA minutes, but Duncan's college career likely makes their basketball ages pretty similar.
  • 39: Spurs points in the 3rd quarter, a welcome change from recent games where its been the Spurs allowing that many points in a quarter.
  • 15: The final #PattyMillsShotCount, the most field goals attempted by any Spur in the game. Way to end the year in style, Patty.


"Oh, I'm just like you / I never hear the bad news / And I never will / We won by a landslide"


Plan some bench activities for the starters. This game probably won't be the snoozer the last meeting between the Knicks and Spurs was, but I can't imagine the Spurs losing to any team from New York right now. Somebody needs to make a donut sign for Carmelo Anthony.