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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Blazers

The Spurs somehow manage to fit all their strengths and weaknesses into a single game

Portland Trail Blazers v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

The pieces are there, but the picture hasn’t quite revealed itself yet. Or maybe, the puzzle has been put together but someone keeps spilling their drink on it? Gregg Popovich, perhaps, has all the pieces but won’t let us use them right now because said pieces are on a minutes restriction? I don’t know, look, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere but, just like the Spurs, we’re all still shaking off the rust over here.

Last night’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers was a truly bananas affair that looked like it had gotten out of hand before we’d even reached the half way point of the first quarter. The Spurs came out of the gate flat and disinterested, and the Blazers came out looking like they were unfamiliar with the concept of missing shots. It was legitimately upsetting to see the entire Spurs team look like a group of haggard dads huddled over wet firewood on a camping trip helplessly banging flint and steel together and praying that something would happened before the sun set. It was the type of start to a game you would maybe expect in the middle of January, but certainly not three games in. DeMar DeRozan hit a jumper around the five minute mark of the first quarter to bring the Spurs point total to six and cut the deficit to a clean seventeen. Right then, it felt safe to wonder whether or not this just wasn’t going to be their night.

The eventual turnaround in this game, while certainly welcome, was also frustrating in its own right. From that point to the middle of the fourth, the Spurs managed to flip their nineteen point deficit on its head and go up nineteen themselves. Their defensive activity picked up across the board and guys were attacking the rim instead of settling for weak jumpers. It almost seemed, for lack of a better word, easy? Everything was clicking into place and looking like it was supposed to. I felt like screaming at the TV, “You could’ve been playing like this the whole time?!?!?” I don’t think I was mad that the Spurs were winning, I just felt a bit weird about everything. It was like I was being gaslit by my favorite basketball team.

That the nineteen point fourth quarter lead collapsed on itself down the stretch can be disappointing, but it shouldn’t be surprising. The Blazers are really good and Damian Lillard, who had been quiet the entire game, is always a threat to burst into flames at any given moment. You could feel the focus and effort start to slip from the Spurs. They had obviously worked really hard to crawl back into the game and shoot out to this big lead, but it was clear that they thought they had done enough to coast on through to the end.

I guess they were right though. Lillard’s final three swirled around and out of the rim, the hype team got to run out onto the court with their “Spurs Win” signs, and we all got to dance around a little bit and smile about a hard fought victory. Like the previous two games of this very young season, there was a lot to like in here and plenty of positive things to build on. Three wins on the spin is certainly nothing to shake a stick at, but this league has a habit of punishing people who think they’ve already done enough.

They have the pieces, they’re just still putting it together.


  • I know we’re all desperate to see Lonnie Walker IV and DeMarre Carroll get more time in the rotation, and I know every single one of us is having a slow motion panic attack every time Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli are on the floor together. I know these things, and I promise that I’m thinking them too. Still, I think we just have to trust that there is more going on under the surface with these lineups. I mean, does anyone really think that our personnel rotations won’t change and evolve over the course of the season? Three games in and Pop is like, “Yes, we’ve got it. This is now set in stone.” Has that ever happened? I think Lonnie, for all his raw talent and athleticism, is still really young, and I think DeMarre is going to be a useful piece for the Spurs but is still in the process of learning our system. Without a doubt, those guys are both putting in work and, right now, I think we have to make our peace with the fact that it’s going to happen behind closed doors for the time being. Pop isn’t stupid; he knows the limitations of guys like Patty and Marco, but he also knows how valuable every single win is going to be this year and at this point in the season, maybe he just values having guys on the floor with a bit more corporate knowledge.
  • Derrick White was unreal in this game on both ends of the floor. As soon as he checked in, he put the team on his back and dragged them back into the game. I’m still surprised at how graceful a lot of his finishes are. He’s obviously got a strong, physical aspect to his game, but that tends to belie the speed and touch that are a huge part of what makes him elite around the rim. He finds weird little angles and glides in for floaters or delicate finger rolls. Look at this fast break: he catches it on the run and sprints towards the basket. He then fights off Lillard and slows down just enough to slip the ball up off the glass and out of the reach of Mario Hezonja flying in for the block. This is such a difficult play and he makes it look easy.
  • My favorite ongoing subplot of the Spurs season so far is Pop continuing to put up the facade of being the only person not utterly charmed by every aspect of Dejounte Murray. Dejounte has got big Chance the Rapper energy, he’s all enthusiasm and love and positivity. He’s practically dancing with excitement at all times on the floor. He just radiates how pumped he is to be out there. The crowd feeds off it and sends it back to him, and it’s all just one giant love fest any time he does practically anything — right up until he maybe gets a little too far out over his skis. Maybe he takes one too many dribbles, or maybe he tries out a behind the back pass that could’ve been a bounce pass, you know, any number of young guy mishaps. We all get to have a little laugh at this bout of youthful exuberance, but Pop? Well. Pop has lessons to teach.
  • TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: I’m going to be honest with you guys, this wasn’t Timmys best night. The ensemble itself is . . . fine . . . I suppose. Dark blazer, white shirt, grey slacks is a little bit of an “I’m off to my first internship at a bank” vibe, but I guess I can appreciate that he is technically at work right now and sometimes you have to maybe be little more boring than you want. The thing I’m going to take issue with here is the collar. Look at that guy sneaking out over the lapels like that. This escaped collar routine is becoming a bit of a pattern for Tim and I find it troubling. It’d be one thing if he was leaning into a cool 70’s spread collar look, but this is really hanging out in the “what exactly is an iron?” zone. The Spurs are heading out on their first road trip now and, guys, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried about Tim on the road. Does he have a hanging bag? Will he just buy shirts off the rack when he gets to L.A.? Buckle up, folks. This might get worse before it gets better. B -