With about a 1:15 left in the 4th quarter, the Spurs were tenuously holding on to a hard fought three point lead. I say “hard fought” because, goodness, that little hole they dug for themselves in the first half was quite a thing, wasn’t it? Any time you can go down 20-4 right out of the gate you simply must do it because, surely, there can be no better team building exercise than banding together with your friends and clawing back into things, right? The Spurs seem quite familiar with this move, considering they’ve been doing it an awful lot this year. Sometimes you just really need to get those team building chops.
DeMar DeRozan, our aspirant All-Star, team leader, and high scorer, had spent most of the night mired in what would end up being the 5th straight game failing to reach at least 20 points. LaMarcus Aldridge, the other pillar upon which this Spurs campaign was built, had also been largely absent from the night’s proceedings due to a touch of the foul trouble. The two of them went three quarters of this game on silent mode before finally coming around in the 4th. Now we were in crunch time and our star players were playing like it. DeRozan was hitting shots, finding open men, and looking like a different player altogether. Aldridge, in spite of his foul tally, anchored the defense with his physicality and toughness.
All of this hard work brought us here, to the brink of closing out a much needed win on the road against our neighbors to the North. A three point lead is good but, man, a five point lead with under a minute to play would all but seal things up. DeRozan wanted the ball. He was finally full of confidence again and he wanted to finish the job right here. The Mavs teenage phenom, Luka Doncic, was the only person guarding him out on the wing. He slowly pushes in towards the paint, methodically dribbling back and forth, before striking baseline. He easily blows past Doncic and sees DeAndre Jordan slide over to block the way. DeRozan rises up and past Jordan, finishing with a beautiful up and under to complete the sequence.
Except . . . the ball didn’t go in. Everything about the play worked except that one little detail where the ball didn’t go in. Before anyone had time to be disappointed though, there was LMA. Right where he needed to be. And there was much rejoicing.
It wasn’t a pretty play, certainly not as pretty as DeMar’s move that lead to it. It was just a quick tap in. A basic hustle play he’s done a thousand times before. Pay attention to the end of that clip though because that’s what I want to focus on here. Everyone begins to run back on defense, but the Mavs call time out. As the Spurs head over to their bench, DeMar finds LaMarcus. I’m sure he meant to quickly dap him up and move on but, instead, he just sort of collapses into his teammates chest. It’s a brief moment, no more than maybe 3 seconds, but it was beautiful.
It was a gesture brimming with relief and gratitude. They both look exhausted. The good kind of exhausted but, nonetheless, pretty tired. I think if the Mavs had gotten that rebound instead, it might have taken the wind all the way out of DeMar’s sails. For all the talk of how he’s evolved as a playmaker this year, DeMar is still, at his core, a scorer. He was put on this earth to get buckets and, during this recent little stretch, he’s been having a tough time with that. I can’t imagine how much it’s killing him to not be able to contribute the way he knows he’s capable of. The 4th quarter of this game had all the makings of a slump buster and all he really wanted was an exclamation point play to really get his groove back. That reverse layup should’ve been it.
It wasn’t. But I think it might’ve been good for DeMar in a different way. Instead of showing his teammates that he was ready to take the weight of the world back onto his shoulders, his teammates continued to show him that he doesn’t need to. They are right there where they need to be, ready to pick him up and ready to finish what he started.
DeMar DeRozan is going to have many more great games this season. He’s going to score a million points and throw down cool dunks and be the playmaking star that we want him to to be. This is not something I’m worried about. Hopefully, DeMar is learning that too. He’s got a team full of great guys right by his side each and every night. Most of the time, he probably won’t need anyone to finish off his missed shots.
They’re going to be there for him though. Just in case.
- Near the end of the game I texted a friend of mine, “the spurs are up 6 on the mavs with 5 min left in the 4th and i am petrified of being a viral luka highlight.” You know the ones I’m talking about? Luka hits a deep buzzer beater from the corner to win or Luka hits a step back moon shot from the logo or what have you. Pretty much as soon as I sent this text, he went on a freaking tear. He weaved into the lane for a floater and he bulldozed past Derrick White for an easy layup. He threw multiple laser passes that, in the hands of competent shooters, would’ve been dagger threes, and then he tossed up a beautiful pass to DeAndre for one of those DeAndre Jordan Alley-Oops that will always infuriate me until the end of time. Over the course of about 4 minutes, Doncic pretty much erased the Spurs advantage all by himself. It is possible that the lesson here is I should never text. Regardless, he is a sensation right now and I totally get it. He’s electric to watch as a neutral and terrifying to watch as an opposing fan. Very annoyed that the Mavs get to have him for the foreseeable future.
- Possibly my favorite thing the Spurs do on offense right now is DeRozan and Davis Bertans’ version of a give-and-go. It starts with DeMar driving through into the center of the lane and Bertans hanging out in a corner. As DeMar finishes his drive, he naturally becomes the center of the universe for opposing defenses which allows Bertans to casually slide up into DeMar’s sphere of vision. It’s not really a give-and-go, per se, but it serves the same function and I don’t have a better name for it. It’s unbelievably satisfying for DeMar to have an effective safety blanket like Davis ready to fire whenever he ventures into the lane and they seem to have developed a nice little chemistry on plays like this.
- I normally am pretty okay with the folksy charm of Bill Land’s Spurs commentary. His “g’day mate” on Patty 3’s or his “Sparty” for Bryn Forbes sort of wash into landscape of the game after all these years and makes me feel at home. He had one Wednesday night that caught me off guard though. Bertans drained a three and, without missing a beat, Land lets out a “COUNT THAT SUCKER, BERTANS DIALS IT IN FROM SLOVENIA.” Now, let’s discount for a moment that Davis is very much from Latvia . . . I reeeeaaaaallllllly don’t care for “count that sucker.” I would very much like to not make that a thing. However, later in the game Land did try out “ENOUGH OF THAT NONSENSE” on a different Bertans 3 and that one really worked for me so I don’t know. I guess I’m glad that he’s playing around in the space but, please, retire “count that sucker” immediately.
- MARCO WATCH: Poor Devin Harris. Early in the 4th quarter last night, he attempted a “Marco.” He came around a screen and hoisted a three while kicking out his legs, falling to the floor, and missing the basket entirely. Did Bryn Forbes hit him on the elbow? That’s besides the point. A true “Marco” means you are always in a perpetual state of fouling, getting fouled, or getting fouls called for you that you probably don’t deserve. You have to commit to the bit or it doesn’t work. Harris went back down the floor complaining to the refs. He even committed a foul of his own just so play would stop and he could get a few more words in with the ref. The telecast looked over the replays, discussing it and having a laugh. While all this was happening, our elusive chanteuse was poised and ready to strike. Literally before the replay was even done playing through, the real Marco had already scored. SURPRISE. Never try to out Marco a Marco. That’s how people get hurt.