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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Rockets

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The Spurs fall slightly back to earth in Houston on Saturday night

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, the narrative really would’ve liked that one, wouldn’t it?

The resurgent Spurs take their new-look lockdown defense on the road and shutdown their high scoring rivals in a continuation of their John Wickesque revenge tour, cementing their status as would-be title challengers in the West. That looks pretty good. In fact, I really enjoyed writing it.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case. Life is rarely tidy in the ways that we want it to be. This loss, while not devastating to the overall trajectory of the Spurs season, does help bring us back down from the clouds after a brief trip into a world where the Spurs beat everyone by over 20 points and magically regained the ability to play defense like it’s 2005. The most realistic version of this team will ultimately settle somewhere between the extremes. They are a group that has to work hard for every win and on some nights the specific set of circumstances needed to result in a victory won’t go their way. Some nights they won’t get calls. Some nights the jumpers won’t fall. Some night’s Marco Belinelli won’t be able to put a blindfold on and drain a three with 4 defenders in his face while riding a motorcycle and lighting up a cigarette. That’s life.

This game was probably doomed from the start. The Spurs we’re riding high and playing on consecutive nights and the Rockets, in the wake of losing Chris Paul for a bit, have spent the past few days hearing everyone tell them that, actually, their season is over now and they should probably just pack it in. Of course James Harden went off for 39 points. Of course Clint Capela dropped 21 and snagged 23 boards. The Rockets are a good team and it would be silly to pretend otherwise.

The Spurs played a decent first half, weathered an intense barrage in the 3rd, and ultimately had a chance to win in the 4th. Most nights against good competition we’d take that state of play and be fairly confident in their ability to pull it out. There is no need to panic in Spursland. Only lessons to be learned and narratives to be tinkered with.

This one would’ve been nice. There will be others.

Takeaways:

  • I will never use this space to complain about the refs. They work really hard and, for the most part, are doing a pretty good job. They are human beings out there trying their best and they deserve our respect. Again, I will never use this space to say negative things about the refs. I just won’t do it. I don’t care how many times James Harden shoves his elbow into Derrick White and doesn’t get called for it, you hear me? I. Will. Not. Complain. It’s a part of the game. Bad calls go both ways and probably even out over the season. In fact, I’m so committed to not trashing the refs on this website, that I won’t even bring up all the ticky-tack fouls Harden got down the stretch that helped kill any momentum the Spurs had and effectively neutralized their ability to play the type of lockdown defense that’s made them so successful in the last stretch of games. I mean, how would you like it if some guy on the Internet wrote a bunch of words about how your inability to do your job correctly ruined a perfectly good basketball game? It’s almost Christmas, y’all. Have a heart.
  • We haven’t seen DeMar DeRozan have to pull out his hero ball bag of tricks very much of late, which has largely been a good thing. During the recent run of games, it’s been fascinating to watch him adjust his game into the flow of the offense and facilitate things in his own way. He has the ability to open the game up for the Spurs and, when everything’s clicking, his playmaking is the key to unlocking it all. It’s safe to say that Saturday night, everything was not clicking. The shots weren’t falling and the team just felt a little out of sync. In the 2nd half, after the Rockets went on their run, the Spurs went to their ‘break glass in case of emergency’ plan and pretty much relied on DeMar to go get buckets. Which he did. Which was great. Kind of. As much fun as it is to see the Spurs have a guy who can go toe to toe with Harden in an offensive back and forth, we bumped up against the specific limitations of his game tonight. Three is still more than two. For the umpteenth time in my life, math ruined the party again.
  • Today’s edition of ‘Davis Bertans can do stuff now’ features a cool move he’s added to his arsenal where he puts it on the floor a bit before executing a little pull up jumper. I know, right?!? And people say the Spurs are boring. Jokes aside, it’s very cool to see him add little wrinkles here and there to his game. His recent form means that teams are going to start putting guys on him instead of just letting him post up out beyond the arc and rain down treys on their heads. If he can show the ability to move with the ball a bit then it’s going to open up whole new worlds for him. I couldn’t be prouder.
  • MARCO WATCH: Recently, Marco Belinelli has been a catalyst of creativity on the offensive end. His fearlessness from beyond the arc and his aggressive mindset have sparked a bench unit that’s become a real weapon for the team. His movement without the ball has been cited by many, including Gregg Popovich, as something that’s been invaluable and it looks as though he’s starting to imprint his ways onto the young guys. That’s exactly why you bring in a guy like Belly in during the off-season. He’s a knowledgeable vet who can show everyone the ropes and teach the children how to win in this league. You don’t blow out teams by tons of points without your role players showing out and Marco has been leading the charge on that front. Why is this fawning preamble so long you ask? I can assure you it has nothing to do with the fact that Marco air balled a layup tonight. I just think he’s really great and an important of the Spurs success. If you happen to check out the video I post below of a ball maybe missing all of the rim after it leaves Marco’s hands from right under the basket then that’s your business. For all we know, this was a pass.