Technically, the game ended around 10:15 Saturday night, but truthfully, it felt over in about 17 seconds. So what, every team goes through a night like this, where the whole game is torture, it seems to last a hundred years, where they play so unspeakably awful that you know the coaching staff will just burn the tape immediately and just forget the whole thing happened, like it was some hallucinogenic fever, a Japanese dream with bright colors and sounds but signifying nothing. It's not the end of the world, right?
Watching the disintegration of the Spurs at the hands of the Clippers, I have to admit that doubt has crept in and I'm starting to lose some faith. It was a strange day to be sure, watching the team make sloppy disinterested cut after sloppy disinterested cut, watching them struggle to even catch the ball or retain possession, watching the Clippers push them around underneath the glass, watching them struggle to closedown on open shooters, refuse to fight, while Tony Parker kept fruitlessly flopping around trying to draw fouls and Manu Ginobili kept succumbing to the trap, trying to thread the ball through a forest of arms and legs and turning it over. For the first time in forever Tim Duncan looked his age, throwing up weak stuff and seeing it repeatedly thrown back in his face by DeAndre Jordan, screaming "Give me it!" and worse after emphatic swats.
The most frustrating aspect of the game for sure though, worse than the Spurs inability to stop the primary ball handler in transition, worse than the caterpillar's pace they played at, was how poor the spacing was of their offense. It brought everything down to a grinding halt and caused the ball to get stuck. I tried asking Gregg Popovich about it and got "Popped," much to my lament. He looked at me like I was high but at least I kept staring at him, determined not to show fear. Trust me, I'm as scared as you would be when he yells at me for 40 seconds, but I'm doing my best to fake it. You have to brush it off, like "Another day, another Popping." You have to not take these things personally, to just let it have a short term effect on your psyche if any at all, because it's not like he's going to apologize or even remember it a few hours after this, so you better not either. There's no point in whining about it in a letter to Elise, your sympathetic aunt, because it won't do any good. Boys don't cry anyway.
Inbetween days where I watch the live games, I keep watching the playoff games from last year at night when I get home from my other job. It's like I'm watching a completely different team. Like Charlotte sometimes, or maybe Indiana. Just somebody really anonymous and mediocre. The Duncan, Ginobili and Parker in my DVDs feel like three imaginary boys, and watching their games is just like heaven for me. The music ABC uses for their Finals intros are my lovesong, the Spurs out of this world ball movement my sweet lullaby. I know it's sick, this must already be the 13th time I've re-watched those playoffs. Instead of trying to find a date on a Friday I'm in love with a basketball team so I stayed in. It's a strange attraction indeed, me and a bunch of gigantic strangers in tank-tops. "Why can't I be you?" I find myself asking co-workers inside my head, the scream echoing inside my brain, the loudest sound imaginable, not even an actual whisper, but they can't see the world in my eyes. They don't speak my language. Nor would they want to. "Hey You!" I tell myself, "You need to ask Wendy out, go do things, life is more than this," but then other voices filter in, rationalizations go into overdrive and Wendy time will have to wait because I'm watching the Spurs again, back when they were good.
It felt like the Spurs were hotter than a fire in Cairo that whole playoffs, the way they shot the ball, but the secret was the passing. Ball movement and man movement. Five guys constantly adjusting as one to the opponent. The ball never stuck. They were so good, but never like the Patriots in football, this club America was rooting against. Quite the contrary, they had a pure, lighthearted "play with me" approach to one another, a genuine love for one another. They created a snow in summer type of wonder about them, like in the end of Edward Scissorhands. Maybe someday I'll be able to explain it better, but words fail me right now. All I know is that it's doing the team a grave injustice to just chalk up last year to them being hot! hot! hot! from outside, there was much more to it than that, but unless you walk down that fascination street that I do with the team, you'll never get it, YouTube montages or no. That love song I hear will be a plainsong to you, a wrong number on the cell phone of your consciousness, a distracting annoyance.
Being an unpaid blogger in circumstances such as these seems a foolish arrangement indeed. You strive for accuracy, to be objective, to be numb to the losses like the other writers, and all I want is to make a career out of this and to be taken seriously, but I can't help feeling like a man apart and consequently I find myself filled with doubt even though those close to me continue to insist I can write professionally. I like to think I've steeled myself to control my emotions but the sinking feeling hits that this is a lie. I know once the Spurs get to the playoffs, I'll suffer my usual descent into madness, and that I won't be able to breathe when Ginobili hoists up another three, its parabola toward the rim taking a thousand hours. You all will be watching me fall in a way, some cheering me on toward the hanging garden as I become "a real fan" again, watching the Jupiter crash that is my credibility going by the wayside as I screw the nails on my own coffin, the blood on my hands as I rail against the refs on Twitter. The playoffs will be the holy hour of my reckoning for sure. I shiver and shake just thinking about it and I'm cold now. Every Harold and Joe can keep it calm and cool covering a team during the regular season, but I'm terrified of the playoffs, terrified the jig will be up and my part in the play for today will be recast to someone who doesn't call Parker "Frenchy McWonderbutt." It's this fear of ghosts that keep chasing me, literal mistakes from my literary past. I'll be in the same deep water as you then. They're going to pull me under from the edge of the deep green sea and turn me into the drowning man, clawing futilely with retractions and edits.
I'm probably being a drama queen. Doing the unstuck with the offense is Pop's problem, not ours. It's just embarrassing to lose so badly at home, to get thumped like that in your house, where all the pictures of you celebrating championships are. It's just that Popovich is supposed to be this curmudgeonly genius and Doc Rivers the figurehead, but their roles were reversed tonight. You'll forgive me if I'm jumpin' on somebody else's train with this line of thought but there's got to be a "Plan B" for Parker's continued awful play than Popovich's stubborn shake dog shake insistence that nothing is wrong and he'll be fine soon. Parker's not fine, and he hasn't been in a long while. No one on the team has, really, except for Kawhi Leonard, but Mr. Pink Eyes was hardly enough to avoid them a humiliating defeat against the Clippers, just like he wasn't enough to spare them the same fate at Chicago last week. Against good teams the Spurs need a lot more than just The Big Hand and an in-form Parker is at the top of the list.
I have to be a realist at the end of the day. No matter how beautiful you are, everyone has ugly secrets underneath. In the highlights that play in your head, the kiss off the glass is always perfect for Duncan. In real life, it rarely is anymore. The Spurs could've never existed as we know them and screwed it all up six different ways, irrelevant and untitled just like Clippers in the grand scheme of things, but somehow they didn't. We look at the players like each guy has a halo atop his head, but they're not perfect. They're flawed and fragile, physically and emotionally, just like us.
The problem isn't them, it's us. It's never enough for us. We're like gluttons, begging for just one kiss, one last dance, the icing sugar on the cake. Always narrative on top of narrative on top of narrative. Prayers for rain when the land's no longer fertile. We say we love the team unconditionally, but it's more like the love cats show their owners, where they'll only purr if you keep scratching their tummies. If we don't get our wins, then the past is forgotten, the way the baby screams in the middle of the night make young parents forget the moment of joy when they were born. We don't treasure the past enough, rather we take it for granted. We abuse Boris Diaw and treat him he's so obese he's about to burst, but in reality the exploding boy is in better shape than 99 percent of those who mock him.
I don't think the Spurs will win another championship in the Duncan Era. This team doesn't have "it" anymore, whatever it is. (My basketball-sense is like the definition of "pornography," I know it when I see it). I fear to some of you the end of the Spurs will seem sudden, like the grating screech of the subway song down the tunnel. That you're all still waiting for something magical to appear out of the heavens instead of enjoying the last day of summer in this twilight garden they've created just for us. To wish impossible things like another championship will only hamper your ability to enjoy the funeral party that'll be going on with or without you. The Spurs had a hell of a run, but soon it will be gone! If only tonight we could sleep dreaming about the good, and the next night, and all the nights after, and not live in regret.
Okay, enough babble. Let's go to bed. Forget this whole recap.
Your Three Stars:
3) Tony Parker (42 pts)
2) Danny Green (45 pts)
1) Kawhi Leonard (66 pts)
(p.s. It's all a lot less morbid if you realize the recap of the game is a game)