We all sort of felt this coming, right? The Spurs jumped out to a 4-1 record to begin the year, perched atop the Western Conference standings and, from the outside looking in, appeared to be off to the exact kind of start every team in the league would hope for. We knew, though. We knew. Something wasn’t quite rotten in the state of Denmark, but it definitely had a bit of a stink to it.
The victories were against teams that should’ve been a given, and they were all tougher than they should’ve been. Both the perpetually rebuilding Knicks and the suddenly rebuilding Warriors made the Spurs work. A nice win against Portland was marred by an apathetic start and 4th quarter collapse. Wins are wins, sure, but none of these were particularly encouraging. The flashes of brilliance were right there walking hand-and-hand with ominous trends that portended trouble. I think it’s safe to say those fears came home to roost on Tuesday night in Atlanta.
All the obvious caveats apply here. One specific loss isn’t enough reason for everyone to freak out and assume all hope is lost. The season is still impossibly young. Nothing about this game needs to be set in stone, and there’s a great chance that in a month or so we won’t even remember it, but that doesn’t change the evidence we currently have staring us in the face. This team continues to show an aversion to beginning the game on time. The starting unit drifts through the opening minutes of the first quarter like a teen begrudgingly getting out of bed before school. They turn the ball over, they settle for for jumpers, and they pay lip service to the idea defense. Sometimes their opponent will play down to this level and everything works itself out, but other times the hole gets too big to dig out of. The rhythm doesn’t just automatically find itself.
The team has a tendency to lapse in and out of focus, and they’ve been bitten by that repeatedly. We’re seven games into the season and they’ve already blown significant leads in the 4th quarter multiple times. That’s unacceptable and extremely worrying because it’s not the type of thing where you can just go to the gym, get up some shots and hope it all works out. This is a mental toughness problem and, of all the things I was worried about coming into the season, it’s definitely not something I thought would be an issue. This team is full of veterans who’ve been doing this for a long time, and even young guys like Bryn Forbes and Derrick White have been in the league long enough to know what kind of concentration and effort it takes night in and night out to win in this league.
Maybe this is all histrionic, and maybe I’m overreacting. There were certainly things in this game that weren’t all the way terrible, and I still think the Spurs are likely going to be fine. They’ve shown how good they can be in stretches, and they’ve also shown that, when push comes to shove, they can hang with some of the best talent in the league. The thing is, they’ve yet to show that they can put together a full 48 minute performance. They’ve had great moments, but I think we can all agree they haven’t had a great game yet. You can maybe survive for a little bit riding on that wave, but sooner or later it’s going to catch up to you.
The Spurs still have a lot of time to figure out what kind of team they are going to be this season. We know that they can be better than this, but it’s definitely not a given that they will be.
- I spent last season on this site chronicling the trials and tribulations of Marco Belinelli. I found him fascinating to watch, a true basketball renaissance man who answered only to the whims of some fanciful basketball deity. Good or bad was irrelevant when it came to analyzing his game because his divine purpose seemed to be less about scoring three points and more about bending the idea of what a jump shot’s physical contours can actually look like in a mortal human body. I like Marco. I love Marco? I care about Marco. Unfortunately for me, and frankly for the entire world of basketball, I’m afraid I must join the chorus of lost souls calling for Coach Pop to maybe cool it with all the Marco minutes. I know the Spurs desperately need outside shooting, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening for him right now. He looks lost and more than a little out of ideas. His defense, which was never exactly paying the bills around here, is genuinely becoming a liability, and if he can’t make that up on the other end then it’s hard to see what the point is. Ugh, I hate seeing him like this. It’s the opposite of fun. Maybe there’s a few more chapters yet to be written by him down the line of this season, but right now it feels like every minute he’s out there takes a year off my life. These are dark days indeed.
- This was maybe DeMar DeRozan’s best game of the season so far, and there is definitely some comfort to be had in that. He looked more than a little rusty to kick this year off, but if he can get back in the rhythm and throw together performances like this consistently, then that has to be a good sign for the Spurs. What’s that? You’re wondering whether or not DeMar’s version of a good game in 2019 is incompatible with the Spurs being able to play well as a whole? Haha. Well...see...the thing about that is...uh...hey, look at this cool euro step!
- Patty Mills is quietly putting together a nice season offensively. Defensively is maybe another story, but there are lineups he can exist in where his active nature and tendency to cause havoc can be an asset and not a liability. Yes, I’m talking about lineups that don’t pair him up with Marco. If Patty is the worst defender on the floor, then that’s something we can all live with. If Patty is the second worst defender on the floor, then things have gone horribly wrong.
- It’s with a heavy heart that I must admit...I think Trae Young is pretty fun to watch. I take no pleasure in reporting this.
- TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: A lone bright spot in the darkness on Tuesday night was this gorgeous light blue blazer Timmy donned for the evening’s festivities. It’s a rich, deep color that works to evoke a sense of casual grace and relaxed elegance. You have to be swimming in confidence to rock a jacket like this into your place of business and Tim looks like he’s on the top of his game here. Is he coaching a basketball game or is he sipping a martini at the blackjack table before heading out to see a show? It’s impossible to know. A