There’s no such thing as a must-win game in November. Teams are either already so far out of contention that they’re likely tanking already or they’re blessed with enough time left in the season to write off any loss as a building block towards future success. The Spurs are fortunate enough to still be in the latter camp, so Monday night’s tilt against a very young Bulls team would likely not rock the boat too much in either direction. All of that being said....
The Spurs needed to win this game.
Not because a loss would drastically change their probability for making it to the playoffs and not because a win would ensure that everything would finally be smooth sailing from here on out, but because they are better than the Bulls. Wins are a precious commodity in this league, especially with how many teams are bunched up in the West right now. Go ahead and take a look at the Western Conference standings.
The Spurs are not currently in the playoff picture and yet they’re just 3.5 games out of first place. That’s insane. The Western Conference playoff race is going be an absolute junkyard brawl and the scariest part is that said brawl is already underway. Every game is important and every win is vital and every matchup against a team with a losing record is a beautiful oasis in the middle of a harsh desert. Dropping a game to a contender like Milwaukee is one thing, but blowing a game against a team whose fans are probably watching Zion Williamson highlights might as well count double.
The Spurs shouldn’t be playing footsie with a team like the Bulls. These should be comfortable wins where the starters get to spend the 4th quarter covered in towels and we get to see Chimezie Metu run around and stretch his legs. I say that not out of some sense of hubris, but more as a statement of fact. Right now, the Bulls are playing for their future and the Spurs are playing for their lives.
It didn’t seem that way much of this game. It’s not like the Spurs weren’t trying their best, but it felt like everyone was a step slow. Passes were continuously thrown behind a cutter and defensive rebounds kept bouncing just out of reach. The game was close the entire time and, yet, it sometimes felt like a scrimmage. I continue to give these guys the benefit of the doubt because I know the NBA season is a grind. I just feel like this particular Spurs campaign is extremely fragile at the moment. They can afford a couple three game swoons, but I’m not sure the season could survive one that stretched out to six. It gets harder and harder to make the math work.
There’s no such thing as a must-win game in November.
This is an objective fact and it’s one that I hope the Spurs start to ignore. They need to play with a sense of urgency on nights like this cold Monday in Chicago when they would probably rather stay in the hotel. They need to act like each game might be the one that makes a difference between making the playoffs and missing out.
The Spurs need to win these games in November because, if they don’t, the real must-win games are going to come a lot sooner than we think.
- After Zach LaVine tossed up a three that would’ve put the Bulls in the lead, I wrote down in my notes “wow. weird win but I’ll take it.” I then realized that there was still 3.6 seconds left on the clock and began to sweat. Had I just done the unthinkable and jinxed this Spurs team into oblivion? Sure enough, 3.6 seconds was just enough time for the Spurs to royally bungle and inbounds play which lead to Ryan Arcidiacono getting a pretty decent look at the buzzer. The Spurs had trouble executing all night and their last play was pretty representative of that. There was confusion about who should inbound the ball and then there was confusion about where people should line up and then, once the play started there was a ton of movement that never felt like it had any purpose other than to create “chaos” instead of actually getting our guys open. Everything about the sequence was sloppy and it really didn’t need to be. After the buzzer sounded, DeMar collected the rebound and chunked the ball down the court in frustration. Fun way to close out a win everyone!
- I think I’m developing a soft spot for Jakob Poeltl. He works really, really hard every second he’s out on the court and when he does things right it makes everything seem to work a little smoother for the Spurs. Every game he gets better at positioning himself within the offense and, as a result, gets a ton of good looks while opposing defenses trip over themselves to collapse on the Spurs more obvious offensive threats. He’s also developing a nifty little passing game that’s good for at least a couple great give & goes a night. There’s a long way to go, but he’s doing a half way decent job of filling the Pau Gasol void in my heart and that’s not nothing
- Would anyone be upset if the Spurs just started the game feeding LaMarcus the ball until he scores 20 points and then went from there? It’s only crazy until you do it.
- LaMarcus seemed like he was asserting himself a little more in this game. He had a few opportunities where he was presented with his preferred mid-range jumber and instead opted to use his body and post hard towards the basket to get his points. I still want him to find his shot as the season goes on, but being physical like this and having it pay off looks like it gives him a little more confidence and that can only be a positive thing for the Spurs. If he’s making plays like this one towards the end of the game where he pump faked Robin Lopez into next week then I think he’s headed in the right direction.
- I’m a little bit in awe of Zach LaVine’s raw athleticism. He’ll take off towards the basket and hang in the air just long enough to where my brain loses track of time. He makes the kind of plays that force you to sit back and wonder whether or not you are even the same species as him. Can we get him onto a better team? But someone still in the Eastern Conference, please.
- I’m still struggling to come to grips with Gregg Popovich’s beardless visage. I feel an acute sense of loss and longing for the white strands that used to reside on his countenance. They were a comfort in these trying times. They were a lighthouse guiding us through stormy seas. When I saw that beard, I sensed an overall feeling of wisdom, strength, and even whimsy. Maybe he just needed a change. Maybe the beard was itchy. I don’t know. I just don’t know. This truly has been a season of change for the San Antonio Spurs and, with that change, we must grow and learn. But a some lessons hurt more than others.