It has to be said from the top that these were the Warriors in the sense that they were certainly wearing the uniforms of the Golden Sate Warriors, but these were not the Warriors. With Steph Curry and Draymond Green out of the lineup, the team the Spurs played on Sunday evening did not represent the same challenge typically expected when the letters GSW appear on the schedule. In fact, after a fairly tumultuous week filled with excessive drama and uncharacteristic losses, it almost would’ve been a disappointment if the Spurs hadn’t managed to grab a win off of a team that’s pretty clearly going through a bit of a crisis.
But the Spurs took care of business, and managed to put a feel-good button on the end of a week that, frankly, we’d all probably like to move on from. One game isn’t going to exorcise the demons of the three game swoon, but the good guys still came out and executed in a way that seemed to say, “we can do this.” We know that they’re a better basketball team than they’ve been showing and they know it too. I think the Spurs can beat any team in the league on any given night. I really do. The problem is that, as they showed us in abundance recently, they can lose to anyone too.
Even though the season is still young, the sooner the Spurs find a way to consistently play with the kind of intensity they showed in this game the better.
- It can’t be overstated how important Rudy Gay is to this team. He hits threes, he takes guys one on one, and he plays stubborn defense. He does a bunch of little things that give the team an edge simply by him being a highly competent, professional basketball player. The Spurs don’t need 19 points every night from him, but when opposing defenses end up giving him looks, you know that he’s going to be able to take advantage of them. I also thought he did a great job whenever he had to guard Durant. The two of them are roughly the same body type and, as long as we aren’t relying on Rudy to completely shut him down, it’s nice to know we at least have a guy on the squad who can frustrate him from time to time and get him out of his rhythm. I’m growing more enamored of Rudy by the second and, as a result of that, also growing more stressed out about whether or not we can keep him healthy. Wrap his heel in bubble tape please. PLEASE.
- We can’t talk about Rudy Gay without mentioning his mammoth dunk in the 1st quarter. He takes off from about 3⁄4 of the way up the key and drifts through defenders making futile efforts to get in his way. It looks like he almost unfurls out to his full length and hangs in the air for a moment to let us admire what’s happening and then violently slams it home. We’ve already had some great Spurs dunks this year, but that one may go ahead and shoot to the top of the list. Also, while we’re admiring it, take a moment to throw some props towards LaMarcus Aldridge for keeping the play alive and tapping it out to Rudy in the first place.
- Speaking of LMA, it turns out he’s not the worst offensive player in the world after all. What a relief! He finished with 24 points on the night but, more importantly, he did it while shooting 10-16 from the field and hitting a lot of the little mid-range shots it seemed like he hadn’t been able to knock down recently. Granted, he was being guarded by Kevon Looney a lot, and the reality is that he should probably be taking guys like Looney’s lunch money automatically. However, it was still great to see him get his shot going and hopefully establish a bit of the momentum.
- Derrick White was moved out of the starting lineup in this game and, at least for the time being, that seems to be the right choice. It’s one less player that needs the ball in his hands to run the offense and letting DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge get into a groove early is easily the top priority for this team right now. If you haven’t seen it already, the great Tom Petrini over at Project Spurs did a massive deep dive trying to solve the puzzle of what personnel units are the most productive for the Spurs and you should go check it out right now. I’ll wait.
- Even with two of their best players missing, the Warriors still managed to trot out two of their other All-Stars in Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. It remains absurd that this team is allowed to exist like this. Durant finished the game with 25 points but looked off all night. He constantly seemed irritated with the refs and his shot would drift in and out, never able to quite decide if it wanted to be working or not. Thompson looked dangerous at times and also seemed disinterested at times. I guess that’s sort of the ‘Klay Thompson Experience’ in a nutshell, but it seems a little more pronounced when he’s more of a focal point for the Warriors. All night It felt like everyone was just waiting for Durant to take over and do his thing and that plan never quite came together. There’s a 99% chance they’ll still stroll to a championship this year, but I’d be lying if I said the schadenfreude wasn’t supremely satisfying right now.
- Marco Belinelli is an incredibly weird player to root for. He’s pure basketball id. When he feels something is right he pulls the trigger and the result is either mind boggling good or so bizarre that you wonder why Pop let’s him on the court in the first place. In the 1st quarter he had a sequence that began with him deciding to pump fake a three, take a step in and then abruptly decide that, no he actually did want to take a three after all. It rimmed out because of course it did. It was a terrible, off-balance shot. I was in the middle of writing out a note about how annoying that shot was and before I could even finish he proceeded to hit two great threes on consecutive possessions and pushed the Spurs lead to out to 6. It’s like he’s trying to channel Manu Ginobili’s anarchic spirit off the bench and, just like with Manu, I can never stay mad at him for too long.
- I know that all the rules have been thrown out the window in the NBA when it comes to jersey decorum, but it still feels incredibly weird to me to see the Spurs wearing their black uniforms at home. I love our black uniforms and think they look great, but it just feels a little off. It’s like running into someone you know from work when you’re out at a bar and not being able to comprehend seeing something out of it’s natural habitat.
- I absolutely love DeMar DeRozan firing these bullet passes up the court in transition for easy buckets. It’s so unexpected, especially watching on TV where you can’t see anyone leaking out, and it always looks like DeMar has suddenly been hit by a lightning bolt of inspiration and simply MUST get the ball up court as quickly as possible. Throwing an almost full court chest pass on a dime to a moving target is also unbelievably hard to do and he makes it look like it’s just a simple flick. The in-step finish from Patty ain’t half bad either. Incredible stuff. More please!