Following the Spurs so far this season has been a roller coaster ride, for better and for worse. Not knowing how they’ll compete from night to night makes every game all the more interesting, but long term uncertainty can shake the confidence of even the most optimistic fans.
It was easy to believe early on. The Spurs started the season off with a very respectable 6-2 record led by MVP-level performances from newly-acquired star DeMar DeRozan. Things were looking up quickly after one of the roughest summers in Spurs history. There were some warning signs even then, but the success was undeniable. Only when the wins stopped coming would the ongoing issues come to the forefront. It didn’t take long for that to happen.
November brought a 5-12 stretch that saw the Spurs fall all the way back to 14th in the conference, which was all but unprecedented for a Gregg Popovich-led team. The offense sputtered for stretches, but even when it was clicking the defense couldn’t make enough stops. By December 6, after a two-game road trip that consisted of two costly losses against teams the Spurs were in direct competition with for a playoff birth, the Spurs had seemingly hit rock bottom, sporting an 11-14 record and showing no signs they would be turning things around any time soon. It was easy for doubt to start creeping in at that point.
Then, out of nowhere, everything clicked. The Spurs returned home for six straight games, beginning with the same two opponents they had just lost to. First, the Spurs exacted revenge on LeBron James and the Lakers. The defense still struggled, but the bench stepped up, and the offense flowed with precise ball movement. Next, the defense showed huge improvement against the Jazz, with everyone looking more in sync than at any other point in the season. From there, the Spurs went on a historical run, winning five of six games all by over 25 points. Yet losses to the Bulls and Rockets brought back old ghosts.
It was hard to go through all of those ups and downs as a fan and not get at least a little restless and start wondering if the front office and the players were feeling the same way. Fortunately the people in charge took the longer view.
One of biggest keys to that turnaround has been, in Pop’s own words, patience. As he told ESPN’s Michael C. Wright:
“I just thought they deserved a lot of patience with the group [being]two-thirds new. I knew that patience is like the first step in showing confidence in somebody or in a group.”
Even when facing adversity the Spurs are staying optimistic. While they suffered a setback in Houston before their Christmas break, they seem determined to stay positive while learning from their mistakes against the Rockets.
“We stayed in it and fought,” said DeRozan, who led the Spurs with 28 points and eight assists. “We had a chance. It came down to a couple of rebounds. I thought we could’ve taken advantage of the one-point lead. We fought. We’ve got to be happy about that. But we can’t have the start in third quarter like we had.”
It’s not about just one game. The commitment to being patient and to understanding that coming together will be a long process comes from the top. Pop knows that progress has been made but also understands better than anyone that it’s going to take time.
“We’re more together as a group. They trust each other a little more. They understand each other a bit more, which is all logical. That’s what would happen with basically a team with eight new guys. I can’t expect them to catch on to everything right away and understand each other. If you expect everything quickly, that’s just not gonna work. It’s gonna hurt their confidence. If it’s new, you’re patient. If it’s something that should have been instilled by now, you’re probably a little bit less patient. It’s not a fine-tuned, in-stone rule. These are human beings.”
So where will they go from here? We don’t know for sure, but it sure is encouraging to hear the players talk about the path forward. Rudy Gay says they have a championship in them. DeRozan showed more restrain, simply stating he knew the wins would eventually come.
No matter what happens, knowing that the protagonists remain patient and optimistic even when it’s hard to do that as a fan makes it even more fun to root for this team through the ups and downs. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store.