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Morning Rehash: Signal or noise

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What to make of the Clippers' beatdown of the Spurs?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Whys and Wherefores

The Clippers, currently sitting as the best offense in the NBA, drubbing the Spurs on their home floor isn't something particularly noteworthy, on its face. The Spurs aren't the Warriors or the Hawks; beatdowns are going to happen on both sides of the court, and can happen on any given night. Chaos reigns in professional sports; really, it's the only reason to watch. Part of the reason people have so much trouble with the Spurs way of life and basketball (otherwise known as the Popovich Doctrine) is that it seeks to remove all semblance of chaos from the equation. Take out everything that cannot be controlled. Reduce the game to its fundamental advantages and disadvantages, exploit ad nauseum. If watching the Warriors play basketball is akin to watching Jimi Hendrix set a guitar on fire, the Spurs are Eric Clapton. Mechanically, coldly, brutally beautiful, but somehow inhuman. Like basketball, life is made up of chaos. It's what makes things fun.

For the most part over the last 15 years, the Spurs have done a very good job sticking to the script of their cold, computer-like reality. Over the next two weeks you will doubtlessly be hearing about the Spurs magic on the Rodeo Road Trip, and how it always seems to end up the same. The computer rights itself. Since Kawhi Leonard has come back, the NBA writersphere has been quick to jump on these articles. Point out how everybody is sleeping on the Spurs, neglect to notice that really nobody is sleeping on the Spurs, except to service your article, wash, rinse, repeat.

Except that's not really happening, is it? The ever astute Aaron Maguire of Gothic Ginobili pointed this out 5 days ago, and I would point out that he has certainly been proven right through this week:

It feels like the cold heart of chaos is worming its way into the Spurs system. The offense has not been up to snuff. The interior defense is suffering while Tiago Splitter figures out whatever the heck it is that he's trying to figure out. Tony Parker is not being Tony Parker. The machine feels vulnerable. Nothing is certain; the Spurs Way is lost, for the moment.

Which is not to say that the sky is falling because Blake Griffin decided to play like the second best power forward in the game that he is (the first is obviously Anthony Davis, so stop wondering). Chaos in the short term is expected. Chaos in the long term is unsustainable given the Spurs age, lack of athleticism, and reliance on determination to work out the kinks in a system. So the question is posed... was tonight small term noise, or long term signal?

After having a rough few months of the season in which I was unable to go to many games, I've recently been rebounding and trying to catch as many as I can of this team going forward towards the playoffs. I've been privy to the last three games of Spurs basketball (wins against the Bucks and Hornets, this loss to the Clippers), and dishearteningly the loss tonight looks like more signal than noise. Wins are wins, and I of all people have been loathe to look gift horses in the mouth when they appear. But the third quarters of both wins this past week were horrid affairs, the Spurs capitulating run after run in a mad dash to either extinguish a lead or dig deeper into a deficit. The starters have so far proved unable to come out of the halftime tunnel with anything somewhat resembling "energy." Plucky, young and chaos-filled teams are throwing enough little problems at the machine that at a certain point the whole thing breaks down and you get an 11 point quarter.

But those are the Hornets and Bucks. Their place in the East standings aside, the Spurs can afford to sleep through quarters, hell even halves, of games and still not feel like what they've gotten themselves into is insurmountable, so long as one guy gets hot and Cory Joseph is around to hustle. And hey! Kawhi Leonard seems healthy and ready to take over the mantle of being a go-to guy. That should be enough right?

It's not. The Clippers are a buzzsaw of chaos, packed with athleticism, intelligence and inhuman scoring ability at all positions, they are a living embodiment of the things the Spurs try to erase from a basketball game. DeAndre Jordan, he of the "I'm going to block you so hard it goes out of bounds so you get another possession" fame, Blake "whirling dervish of unbelievable post footwork" Griffin, Jamal "score from anywhere" Crawford... Chris Paul! It's enough to make your head spin, thinking about how good the Clippers can be. Up until recently, the Spurs machine has handled the chaos that is the Clippers running attack with relative ease. We all remember the sweep in 2012. But instead of that, the Clippers threw so many wrenches into the gears of the Spurs on both sides of the ball it was hard to see where the Spurs were doing anything right. Oh sure, Kawhi Leonard had 24 points on 18 shots... but he also posted a game worst -20 +/-. Nothing happened properly for the Spurs, and when things start deviate from their proper path, the Spurs machine breaks down.

Which is where we are accustomed to seeing one of the Spurs Big Three take the reigns and steer us out of the skid. A couple Tony isos. A Manu pick n' roll, fadeaway, or big steal. Tim Duncan just being Tim Duncan. These are the normal little bits of chaos inherent in the living organism of the Spurs machine, and they're anomalies that help the machine stay afloat. Throw all the chaos you want at us Doc Rivers... we'll give you some back, but just enough to give us time to reset the system.

Only now that's not happened. Tony Parker is either hurting, trying too hard or losing his step. Manu Ginobili is visibly having trouble getting past defenders of any size and speed. Tim Duncan can no longer shoot over taller or bigger defenders, even if his wiles often provide him with enough openings to get his own production. It's felt good over the past two months to see the Spurs push out wins with Cory Joseph, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli or hell, Aron Baynes as a force to right the ship. But that enjoyment only persists so long as the Spurs Big Three are able to extend upon that. If they're not... well then we've got a bigger problem.

I'm not sure of the answers. It'd more than likely be wise not to ask Gregg Popovich if the Machine right now is losing its failsafes and being outdone by an excess of chaotic Western Conference brilliance. Because maybe, yeah, the Spurs just had an immensely bad shooting night. Maybe the sky is falling. Maybe we'll wake up tomorrow and find out that University of Phoenix Stadium has descended into the molten core of the Earth and the Super Bowl will be forced to play at an adjacent park. We don't know if things are going to be ok, and the more the Spurs play as they have been, the more that doubt is grounded in signal over noise. Perhaps that's the most disconcerting of all. There's time to figure things out. We'd be wise not to doubt. But everything looks a bit too chaotic on the court right now, and that's not a good sign.

Pop Quote(s)

Pop really is the best.

POP REALLY IS THE BEST

Game MVP

You're kidding right? I mean, I could put Blake Griffin or Chris Paul here... but that just seems like trolling. And yes, Kawhi Leonard had a good game... but scoring is hardly the most valuable place his presence is felt and quite honestly, his defense and rebounding was spotty tonight.

Numbers Game

  • 8002 - Boris Diaw's career points. Congrats, Le Morse de Terres!
  • -20 - Final rebounding margin in the game. The Spurs have always had their troubles rebounding, and DeAndre Jordan compounds these problems. But man, the second chances were brutal for the Clips tonight.
  • 16-4 - Clippers offensive rebounds to Spurs. I mean, rub it in some more, eh?
  • 3 - The number of home games (out of 657) in Tim Duncan's career in which the Spurs neither won or tied any of the four quarters of a game. Last time it happened was in 2002. Ignominious historical landmark, achieved!
  • 19-10 - Clippers bench scoring vs. Spurs bench scoring. The Clippers bench is comprised of Jamal Crawford, the corpse of Hedo Turkoglu, Doc Rivers' awful son and a man-bun sporting stretch 4 named Spencer. This was unacceptable, and basically sealed the Spurs losing. The Clippers starters are so good, and their bench so bad, that our bench not pummeling them signed our death certificate.

Run the Tweets

Somehow Minnesota will screw up having Andrew Wiggins right? Because that kid is starting to look unbelievable.

Oh god yes.

Man I missed a good Twitter night, didn't I?

DeAndre keeps becoming a better defender, even if he's still not up to Doc Rivers' proclamation last year that he could be as good as Bill Russell. But his infuriating lack of common sense on a basketball court and the consistent blathering to opponents and teammates is nauseating. He's like a taller, less talented Dwight Howard.

Seriously, that man-bun is a crime against humanity.

The midwest has three of the most exciting young players in the game (Wiggins, Giannis and Jabari Parker). Don't screw this up, midwest!

Could also be submitted as a recap of this game.

I don't know that this is true, but it's hard to argue. When Tony is not a leading scorer type guard, the starting lineup has no true offensive mindset.

Not a big fan of repurposing song lyrics to fit Spurs stuff, but damn this is good.

Miscellany

  • Tonight was 90s night at the AT&T Center, and it was fun. Much cheesier music, the Coyote dressed up as Lloyd Christmas, and a reminder that we are all slowly aging into a state of non-existence, where we will forget our memories of all culture, regardless of the decade of its release, and sink into the ground. DJ Quake was on point though.
  • The best part about 90s night was the Spurs introductions were scored to "Y'all Ready for This?" or whatever that song is called. I personally was a bit miffed the PA guys didn't use the old Avery Johnson drop from the Alamodome days, but perhaps that's too much to ask.
  • The Spurs missed a golden opportunity to gain ground on Western Conference teams tonight. The Rockets, Blazers lost and the Clippers could have. Nights like this are the moments we'll look back to and regret when we're a 6th seed in the playoffs.
  • This may seem cruel, but any time I think about what a strange, disappointing year this has been for Spurs basketball, I remember how awful this Thunder season must feel to Thunder fans. Because good golly, that season sucks.
  • Worth noting that since 1998 (16 years), there has only been one NBA Finals without Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant. That would be 2012 OKC vs. Miami. We know that Kobe won't be joining us in June (unless it's on a tv show), and the Thunder certainly aren't looking like contenders to get Kevin Durant's name into that list of Finals guys. Which, of course, leaves Dirk and Tim. We could be headed for a very outlier-y Finals, the way things are going.
  • Lastly, as a little pick me up... I hope you all are enjoying the snot out of this insanely likable and watchable Atlanta Hawks team. It's not a lost season as long as I can be happy for Coach Bud.
  • Lastly Lastly, although it is a common idiom, I took tonight's headline from Brian K. Vaughan's seminal "Y: The Last Man" graphic novel which, if you haven't, you should definitely devour right this instant.