That hug at the end almost broke me. After an emotional night of cathartic booing and more than a little schadenfreude, the camera zoomed in on Kawhi Leonard walking over to the Spurs bench and hugging Gregg Popovich. He even smiled a little. I couldn’t totally process my feelings about it in real time. It was all too much.
Nothing but respect between Kawhi and Pop pic.twitter.com/0p1EW2DScx— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 4, 2019
This whole game sure was a lot, wasn’t it? Did we like it? Did it feel good? It did in the moment. I was fully Team Don’t Boo heading into the game but there was never a realistic version of Thursday night where Kawhi received anything but a shower of vitriol from the Spurs crowd the minute he stepped into the building and, I’ll admit that it was very easy to get swept up in it all. It was fun even.
Turns out there’s real value in being able to yell “You hurt our feelings!” over and over...without any words. I think I underestimated that. Throughout that whole arduous process last season, probably the most frustrating part about the whole thing was how powerless we all felt. We weren’t in the room and we weren’t a part of any discussions. The Spurs front office may have been in the dark about what was going on with Kawhi, but you can go ahead and double that darkness for the fans. We had no say in what was going on. We had no voice.
That’s what Thursday night’s game was about. The fans finally got to say their piece. That piece, as it happens, went a little something like, “We are very upset that you left the way that you did, sir! Very upset indeed!” This is all probably healthy, I’m sure. An end stage step in the process of moving on with our lives.
That hug at the end of the game though. I think that’s what I actually wanted. The booing felt good as it was happening, but it also felt a little bit like empty calories. I smiled and laughed as the crowd struck up the “traitor” chant in the 2nd quarter. I enjoyed it. Watching it back later, I was a little embarrassed with myself though. I wanted to be above it all. I wanted to be like Pop was in that moment after the game. Gracious. Forgiving. Understanding, even. Maybe it’s easier to feel that way right after you’ve just coached circles around your opponent en route to thoroughly demolishing them on national television. Maybe Pop’s just lived enough life at this point to know that hate like that isn’t ever going to be the answer.
In the midst of the emotional hurricane taking place, there was also a basketball game being played out there. A pretty good one too, depending on who you were rooting for. The Spurs continued to prove their mettle in a high profile game. They are, without a single doubt, one of the best teams in the league right now. They are firing on all cylinders and look like they are getting better by the game.
I regret that I spent so much of this matchup thinking about Kawhi. I regret that the beginning of this post was mostly about Kawhi. I’m tired of defining our season by what we are doing in his absence. The Spurs went out there Thursday night in front of a national audience and threw their hat in the ring as a real contender. Not just in the future, but right now. DeMar is ready to go. LaMarcus is ready to go. Rudy, and Bryn, and Derrick are all ready to go.
The future might be bright in San Antonio, but the present doesn’t look too shabby.
- I can’t say enough about DeMar DeRozan’s performance in this game. He was simply incredible and I’m so happy for of him. Can you even imagine how good that dunk felt in the 1st quarter? It was like he packed an entire six months worth of anger and frustration into one giant leap. It was also great to watch him back up all the pregame talk about how his game has evolved this year. Did you notice the national media finally starting to pick up on the “DeMar can do more than score now, he’s a passer too” narrative? Then he goes out and records a dang triple double as if to shout “and REBOUNDS too” right in their faces. What a guy. What a game. I can’t wait to see what he does in Toronto.
- There was a moment in the 1st quarter where Kawhi went up for a dunk and DeMar kind of slotted over, stuffed it and forced him into a travel. Right after that happened Patty Mills ran over and hugged DeMar so freaking hard while DeMar sort of sheepishly smiled. It was a beautiful moment in night full of them. Patty is such a great teammate and I think it’s incredibly hard to quantify the value he brings to this team.
- I mention Patty’s intangible qualities mostly as a way to put off, at least for a little while longer, taking too long of a look at his recent stats because, unfortunately, it looks like that reckoning might be coming sooner or later. Again, this is mostly the eye test talking, but it just feels like he’s missing shots at a pretty alarming rate right now. It’s not even just missing them either, he’s like clanging them off the side of the back of the rim and stuff. Let’s move on.
- Derrick White and Bryn Forbes were decidedly on one tonight. 39 points between the two of them to go with some pretty incredible defensive effort. Bryn was 6 of 7 from deep and White even played some pretty significant minutes matched up with Kawhi and kind of held his own. That’s a big deal. They both look so confident right now. The Spurs are getting some valuable experience this season for their young guards but, at this point, they are turning into essential parts of any successful Spurs game plan.
- Lonnie Walker getting into the game, immediately dusting some dude with a behind the back move and charging to the hoop while the crowd goes wild was an incredible moment. It was even more incredible when, in all his exuberance, he full on bricked the layup like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Along Came Polly. RAIN DANCE LONNIE!
- Danny Green, in his final act as a true San Antonio Spur, going 0-7 from the field against us was very a moving tribute. I love you, Danny. Stay safe out there.
- MARCO WATCH: Belinelli continues to make the most absurd step back threes look like a massive yawn. It felt fitting the that the Spurs’ final points of the game came from our master painter putting on a little dribble clinic out on the wing before burying his signature fall away three. A wonderful end to a wonderful night.