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A tale of the Spurs' two seasons

The Spurs' beatdown of Minnesota is relegated to a Pyrrhic victory as Manu's ankle injury throws one more monkey wrench into a season practically made out of them.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best times, it was the worst of times.

It was the age of analytics and per 48 and corner 3 pointers, it was the age of overreaction to small sample sizes against non-playoff teams.

It was the epoch of belief in San Antonio, belief in a 3rd straight Finals appearance and a 2nd straight Riverwalk parade, it was the epoch of incredulity that a 5th seeded team could even reach a 4th straight Western Conference Finals. It was the season of Light, where Kawhi Leonard began to look like a franchise player and Tim Duncan an ageless demigod, it was the season of Darkness, in which Manu Ginobili's ankle took a bad turn in a blowout while the Golden State Warriors ran away with the League.

It was the spring of hope that March-es past would prescribe the future, it was the winter of despair and a late frost that kills flowering title hopes.

We had everything before us, including a game against the Knicks, we had nothing before us, neither the surety of good fortune and a full roster, nor tie-breakers with Portland or Memphis. We were all going direct to the pages of Basketball History, we were all going the way of Failed Spurs Title Defenses.

In short - the period is so far like the dramas of Spurs seasons past, that some of its noisiest authorities insist on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Or, you can forget all that, because this is the most consistently ridiculous Spurs season I can remember in 20 years of following the team. The narratives are more unpredictable, the games more intense, the injuries more plentiful and pervasive and untimely, the schedule more schizophrenic, and the team even more so than the schedule. Recency bias notwithstanding, never have the Spurs alternately sped and lurched toward the playoffs with more intrigue and tension as to their ultimate fate, or even their very identity.

So we still can't say whether the Spurs are Charles Darnay riding off into the sunset, or Sydney Carton in line for the guillotine. This latest stretch of gaudy victories against weak opponents further exacerbates the situation. That they played toe-to-toe against Cleveland, the one contender to visit the AT&T Center during that stretch - and that they did so largely without the services of Manu Ginobili, now gone for at least the next 7-10 days - should be encouraging, and many proclaimed afterward that the Spurs had been recalled to life despite the defeat. But what Popovich team ever allowed a single player to score 57 against them? If Kyrie Irving can do what he did, who's next? Westbrook? The Brow? Harden? The Splash Bros? Sure, we still have a top ten defense, a DPOY candidate in Tim Duncan and The Hand, Himself, but go through 65 games of a season like this and you start to get a little paranoid (and it's important to note here that the Spurs fan is naturally paranoid to start with.) All you can really count on is that the 2015 playoffs will have an extra helping of WTF? heaped on top of it's already sugar and calorie-laden cornucopia of thrills and chills.

In other words, it will be the NBA equivalent of Isla Nublar, a theme park that just happens to contain murderous Velociraptors, piles of Triceratops poop, ominous storms, missing embryos, and maybe even Jeff Goldblum's chest hair:

So a Minnesota Timberwolves team playing without Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, or Kevin Garnett - basically, they were Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Martin, and a bunch of whositzfaces - was the best of teams and worst of teams to bounce back from the Kyrienova. Take it from a father: When your kid falls off his bike and skins his knee, you tell him to get back on it, and you restore his balance by forcing him to face the same challenge. You don't buy him a tricycle to make him feel better about falling off the bike.

Nevertheless, a tricycle was given to the Spurs by the NBA schedule makers on Sunday night, and they raced it all around the neighborhood until the tires smoked. The lead in the fourth was 39, before Zach Levine began auditioning to follow up his Dunk Contest victory with an appearance in the 2016 3-Point Shootout. His last bomb passed through the net as the final buzzer sounded, leaving the Spurs' margin of victory at a mere 26, though anything the T-Pups did or could do at the end was a negligible damper on the proceedings compared to what transpired in the third quarter.

If this qualifies as burying the lede, do forgive. But the image is so fresh that it's tough to talk about the ankle sprain that ended the Spurs month-long run of #fullsquad, and managed to taint even a clobberation such this as a Pyrrhic victory. A 10-day Manu absence would see the Argentinian return for a SEGABABA against OKC at Chesapeake Energy Arena, in what is sure to be a spicy atmosphere. If the Spurs can continue to thrive or even to tread water without Manu (as I said, they have the Knicks next, followed by a road game against the Bucks and a homer against the up-and-coming Celtics), the FIGABABA in AT&T Center against Dallas on the 24th will have more meaning to each team than will the OKC game. Or, maybe by that point the Spurs will be in a dogfight with the Rockets for the 4-spot (SA is currently 2.5 games out), and all that the Thunder and Mavs will be are potential speed bumps toward that goal.

But if they flounder without #20, or if the nets began to cool on Tony and Kawhi, or if Boris Diaw continues his season-long no-show, or if Tim starts acting his age, or if Marco Belinelli responds to extra playing time with a spot-on imitation of 2010 Roger Mason, Jr., or if any of the other myriad absurdities which have defined this season continue to play themselves out, we may be talking about eighth seed implications a mere ten days after the Spurs took over fifth. In a season like this, exaggeration is impossible, and the only thing more extreme than the superlative is what transpires before our astonished eyes.

Vine of the Night, Manu Edition

Quote of the Night (and MVP of the game)

If there is hope, his name is Kawhi Anthony Leonard. He wears #2 on the floor, but he's #1 in our hearts:

Game co-LVP

Gorgui Dieng's left foot and Jeff McDonald's prognostication skills:

Photoshop of the Night