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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Timberwolves

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The end result wasn’t what we wanted, but something else necessary happened.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs
Not a single cell phone in sight. Just a father and his son, living in the moment.
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it happened again. Not unlike Bill Murray in a certain 90’s flick, I tucked myself into my couch yesterday evening expecting change, and at the sound of the final buzzer was greeted with cheerily jarring tones of a Sonny and Cher song.

Obvious fabrications in my point of comparison aside, being serenaded awake by the sounds of a diminutive yet mustachioed dead man and a woman who by this point must be at least ninety percent plastic would still be less jarring than the feeling of inescapable futility I experienced while watching the San Antonio Spurs lose yet another game to a team that they had held a lead against midway through the fourth quarter.

Like Phil Connors I couldn’t help but take a moment to indignantly marvel at the familiarity of the conclusion in spite of the variety of adopted changes, as the Minnesota Timberwolves spent the latter part of the fourth laying waste to a defense that just can’t seem to get stops when they need them most.

There were no real late game injustices this time, no calls on which to hang the balance of the loss. For the second time in as many meetings Karl-Anthony Towns and company walked off of the court with a double-digit victory in their back pockets, while the Spurs yet again retreated to lick their wounds and re-assess, what realistic changes, if any, can be made to avoid this fate in their next contest.

Most perplexing in my Groundhog Day analogy is that I am not in fact trapped in a 24 hour time loop. This haze of confusion has lingered for the better part of a month and nineteen games, as different teams and days of the week have rotated their way through the occasionally varying array of results.

In a game in which Gregg Popovich started Jakob Poeltl and Derrick White, and played Marco Belinelli a grand total of seven minutes, there was no respite from the plague of inconsistencies that this team has displayed since the first contest of the year.

It would be dishonest to not mention the slight improvements since the changing of Popovich’s rotations. The last two games have featured a Spurs team that has appeared more balanced. The defense has made strides (though considering the extent of their struggles this is not as strong an endorsement as I would like), and the starting unit is no longer putting San Antonio in fifteen-plus point holes.

And to be sure, it would be impatient of me to suggest that a definitive conclusion can be drawn about a unit that has just now begun seeing extended usage. But lingering at the back of my mind is the voice that reminds me that this ‘new’ starting unit did in fact spend a lot of time on the court last season. It’s not as unfamiliar a configuration as I’d like to pretend, and at some point both this team and its fans will have to reckon with the possibility that this team’s incongruencies might not be fully reconcilable.

The stark reality is that in this case, I have mistaken myself for Bill Murray’s character, when in fact it is this Spurs team, taking the place of Phil Connors after a parade of self-inflicted wounds and indignities, that must figure out whether they are capable of becoming a better version of what they have been so far. And, in answering that question, we may find all find ourselves (like Andie MacDowell’s character Rita) greatly affected by whatever may come, for better or worse.

Takeaways:

  • On a MUCH cheerier note, one of the changes that did finally come as a result of a yet another double-digit deficit, was the loosing of one Lonald Walker the 4th. In an obvious attempt the shake things up, Pop went with his wild young colt of a sophomore rather than the still-struggling Belinelli, and the result was marvelous. Scoring eleven points in thirteen minutes, Walker immediately affected the flow of the game with his butter-smooth brand of interior scoring and an energetic and long-armed stymieing of the then scorchingly-hot Andrew Wiggins. It was a moment in time that took on the air of a long-awaited ascendance, as a holiday-travel afflicted level of ovation rose to an amplitude approaching the full might of the AT&T Center each time Walker scored. Not since the early days of Manu’s rookie season has such a limited appearance drawn such fervor, been so legitimate in the degree of elation, and so immediate in on-court effect. Whether or not Lonnie will be able to sustain such instantaneous positive affect (even Manu’s first season got a bit bumpy here and there), it seems almost certain that he will be getting his chance at matching it in the very near future.
  • Lost in the well-deserved Lonnie Walker hubbub, was DeMarre Carroll’s DNP. On a night in which Belinelli and Trey Lyles were given a combined fourteen minutes of playing time, his defensive presence was sorely missed, especially against Andrew Wiggins and Keita Bates-Diop who combined for forty-two points on the night.
  • Speaking of Wiggins, I have to admit that I am begrudgingly impressed with his newly discovered capacity for converting threes. Having been pointed at for so long as the living, breathing definition of a poor shot profile, I’m forced to admire his offensive adaptation to the modern NBA, as he is now launching on average 7 threes per game, and making them at a league average 35 pt%, which rather unsurprisingly has led to a career-high scoring average for Wiggins. This was made all the more obvious in the presence of another mid-range maestro who has thus far refused to make the same change in spite of its obvious necessity, both for the individual and their team.
  • Also, Karl-Anthony Towns is very good at basketball. After a game in which the San Antonio front-court held Anthony Davis in check, Wiggins all but annihilated the laid best plans of mice and men, as he used to the gravity of his potent three-point stroke to run Jakob Poeltl off the court. In Poeltl’s absence San Antonio’s interior woes arose once again, as the Timberwolves drove to the rim seemingly at will, and each time that Pop attempted to right that imbalance by placing Jakob back on the court Wiggins would unleash yet another three. It was a great example of the limitation of coaching chess moves in the face of an in-containable force. There’s was virtually nothing Pop could do about it. Well, except maybe try and play Carroll?
  • Something that should also feature in the context of this loss is San Antonio’s shooting woes on the night. This might have been a very different game if the Spurs hadn’t shot (17!) percent from deep, so take my earlier diatribe with a grain of salt. I’m very sleepy, it’s been a very long day, and I don’t like losing. So in that respect I have an awful lot in common with a small child, and you wouldn’t let a small child’s temperamental opinion of your team get you down, would you? I didn’t think so. Go Spurs Go.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by R.E.M