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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Clippers

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The Spurs lose the upper hand from the get go and then pretty much steadily throughout.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you’re ready for the All-Star break?

This was an annoying game to watch. The Spurs came out of the gate the opposite of firing. They fell behind, for what feels like the millionth time this season, and then could never quite get over the hump against the visitors. The Clippers came into San Antonio riding a five game losing streak and it showed. They were out-hustling the Spurs in pretty much every facet of the game and essentially played like a loss on Sunday night could very well end their season. Patrick Beverley alone looked like he could’ve gone out there 1 on 5 for the entire game and held his own.

So I don’t know what to make of this. I’ve written the “it’s a long season and off-nights are to be expected” narrative before. I’ve done the “Spurs are still coming together as a team” narrative multiple times. I could certainly weave together some nonsense about why this game could potentially be a turning point or I could see this game as further evidence that this particular campaign is nothing more than a feeble shout into the gaping maw of Golden State’s ever creeping inevitably.

Trying to ride the wave of an NBA team’s fortunes game by game is a real Bandersnatch situation. Is DeMar DeRozan going through a normal slump or is something more troublesome happening in front of our eyes? Is Bryn Forbes going to eventually regain his shooting stroke or did we jump the gun in anointing him as the solution to our three-point shooting woes? Are the Spurs good at defense or are we lucky the Clippers didn’t put 135 points on the board? Do we want to write this game off as nothing to worry about or freak out entirely? Do we want Sugar Puffs or Frosties?

How we choose to interpret this game has no real effect on the season. The Spurs will right the ship against Philly on Wednesday or they won’t. It largely has nothing to do with whether or not I’ve decided from my couch that maybe Marco Belinelli should play point guard on the second unit. Their fate exists outside the the sphere of my influence and will be decided by things I cannot control. The Spurs will finish the season with a certain record and a certain result and then that’s where the real work begins. That’s when we’ll get to decide how we feel about it.

Sometimes the Narrative that comes out of a game writes itself and then sometimes you spend a couple hours watching grown men bounce a ball around a court and wonder whether or not there could maybe be more productive uses of your time. This game hewed a bit closer to the latter. These Spurs are still a team capable of doing amazing things and they are also prone to recurring bouts of ineptitude. Sometimes it’s easy to make your peace with that being their identity. Other times you feel like you know they can be better than this.

What do you think?

Takeaways:

  • It’s hard not to focus on whatever is going on with DeMar right now. It’s a slump. He’s in a slump. I don’t think there is anything to be done about it except to just let him play through it. He’s going to keep getting his shots up and its more than likely that eventually they will start falling for him again. It’s painful to watch right now though, almost like seeing a superhero who has been stripped of his powers. The more troubling aspect of his performance against the Clippers is that he seemed unable to supplement his poor shooting with as much of the fantastic playmaking he’s been deploying this year. Each missed shot seemed to sap him of a little more fire. Put me fully in the camp of thinking DeMar has a breakthrough game coming just around the corner, even though my evidence for that is based primarily on me simply deciding it’s the truth. Did you know you could do that? It’s very easy.
  • I don’t really have anything new or different to say about this but STOP FALLING BEHIND BY DOUBLE DIGITS IN THE FIRST QUARTER YOU DUMMIES. We have like 72 years of recorded basketball evidence citing that it’s almost never a good idea to spot your opponents big leads early in the game. It’s like they are just determined to play the game on Hard Mode instead of Easy Mode because they think it’ll be more fun for us to watch or something. IT’S NOT. IT’S JUST ANNOYING.
  • The Spurs did claw back into the lead in the first quarter, like they usually do, and I actually started to relax a bit. “We’ve seen this movie before,” I said to myself. “Now that they’ve gotten their little 1st quarter swoon out the way it should be smooth sailing from here.” Reader . . . it was not. Take a look at the Lead Tracker Chart from this game. Do you see the little itty bitty grey blip down there awash in a sea of red? That little grey blip was when I told myself everything was going to be ok. Everything is dumb.
Via NBA.com
  • I’ve been very impressed with Jakob Poeltl’s hands this year (what a weird sentence that desperately needs context). I think it has a lot to do with my first impression of him through the early games was that he couldn’t catch a pass to save his life. These days he’s Mr. Reliable. Every thing that comes his way gets securely tucked away or quickly moved along to it’s next location. It’s extremely satisfying to watch. He only scored 2 points on Sunday, but they were sort of emblematic of what I’m talking about. Derrick White rises up for a shot but sees Jakob open under the basket and mid-shot changes his mind. He instead tosses it in to Jakob, who then attempts a mid-air catch and shoot alley-oop layup hybrid number that super goes awry. It’s misses entirely but then, before we have time to be embarrassed for him, he’s right there to deftly tip it back in. Both the catch and the tip require a dexterity that I think it’s super easy to overlook in guys like Poeltl, and it’s been a huge reason he’s able to contribute on offense as much as he has. If you didn’t happen to watch this game then, yes, the fact that I’m devoting this much space to a partially missed alley-oop layup is pretty indicative of how things went.
  • MARCO WATCH: I spend a significant amount of time thinking about the Spurs resident philosopher-poet and the ways in which he chooses to play the game of basketball. It occupies my thoughts while I’m at work or walking my dog or cooking dinner. It seeps into my reality and shapes the contours of my universe. How does he do the things that he does, sure, but more importantly, why does he do them? What purpose is there to be found in a man who defiantly turns his back on the architecture of this game? These are rules and norms that have been carefully laid out over many decades and Marco has decided that they no longer matter. Set your feet. Square your shoulders. Finish towards the basket. These are rules for the jump shot that might as well have been chiseled onto stone tablets by James Naismith himself. Marco has seen these rules and found them wanting. Take a look at this picture below. The ball is in the basket and Marco, with nothing more than a quick look back, has decided that he must ride on to his next adventure. There are secrets out there to be discovered. The perfect shooting form has it’s place, of course, but perfection indicates a period at the end of a sentence. Maybe Marco has simply decided to start a new one.