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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Grizzlies

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The Spurs slink off into the All-Star break with a frustrating, but necessary, win.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Has anyone tried unplugging the Spurs and plugging them back in again?

Hopefully the upcoming All-Star break will be a chance for everyone to reset their minds and come back to this whole enterprise with a fresh outlook on life. Whatever this malaise is that they’re currently mired in no longer seems like a passing concern. They are regularly getting out-hustled and out-played night after night. The only real saving grace at this point is that the Clippers are openly trying to miss the Playoffs and the Lakers locker room has turned into a real Lord of the Flies situation. The Spurs are hanging on to their position in the West by their fingernails right now and it . . . is . . . stressful.

Let’s take a step back. The Spurs won a real basketball game last night against a real basketball team (kinda). That’s not nothing! At times, they even looked like they were on the road to figuring things out and various stretches of this game were downright encouraging. Davis Bertans is real and legitimate part of the rotation. Rudy Gay can be called upon to dominate possessions when he has too. DeMar DeRozan is working his way back to normal and showing flashes of the game changer we know he can be. There are good things happening out there amidst all the missteps and it does us all a disservice if we ignore them.

The Grizzlies are not very good though. One of their best players played zero minutes tonight and their other best player is now wearing a Raptors jersey. In a perfect world, the Spurs would’ve rolled into Memphis brimming with confidence and ran these guys out of the gym. They have 10 days before they have to suit up again, so why not go all out and leave it all on the floor in this one? Instead they looked tentative all night. The picked their spots and attempted to simply wear the Grizzlies down and let their overall talent win out. Not exactly and inspiring battle plan. I’m sure it wasn’t in anyone’s roadmaps to let Avery Bradley log 33 points but, hey, with the way the Spurs defense has been playing lately I suppose it had to be someone.

I wanted the Spurs to come out and play angry in this game. They just got pushed around in four different matchups and not a single one was exactly a fair fight. They’ve had injuries and they’ve had to be away from home and they’ve had to play one of the greatest collections of talent the NBA has ever seen on the first leg of a back-to-back. That’s annoying. That’s frustrating. Act like it! When the schedule lords finally serve you up a team that’s playing Joakim freakin’ Noah 20 minutes a night, go beat the brakes off them.

I know they have this gear. I watched them explode out of the gate on the night Kawhi came back to town. I saw them dismantle the Celtics and I witnessed them take every punch that the Thunder could throw at them and still come out on top. They’ve got a win against every team above them in the standings, and they are as good as anyone in the league. I just wish they would act like it again.

But, hey, who wants to roll into the All-Star break with momentum anyway? That’s a sucker’s game. What would you even work on during your time off? Maybe this is just Pop’s version of four dimensional chess. Whatever the case may be, the break seems to be coming at the most opportune time for this team. There’s nothing critically wrong with the Spurs, well, nothing that’s easy to diagnose anyway. Everything is just running a little slow at the moment.

Shutting things down for a bit might be exactly what they need.

Takeaways:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge is a mountain of constancy standing tall against the storm of self doubt and instability whipping around this team right now. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but Aldridge continues to provide a steady set of hands while the Spurs navigate these murky waters. He was aggressive running the floor all night and was always a threat against the Grizzlies overmatched front court. He’s an invaluable weapon to an offense that can’t quite figure out who it wants to be. When in doubt, LMA is probably down low with his hand up ready to make something happen.
  • I don’t know what to do with Patty Mills sometimes. His energy off the bench is unrivaled, and he really does change the way the Spurs look when he’s on the floor. Without him, they are methodical. With him they are a rush of movement and chaos that can, at times, be the exact shot of life the team needs. It can also result in rushed shots, turnovers and confusion. It’s impossible to predict. Where Marco Belinelli’s job is to come off the bench and be the chaos, it seems like Mills’ job is to come out and orchestrate the chaos and, because of that, it’s way harder to judge how good of a job he’s doing. When things are going poorly, is Patty actively making them worse or were we playing the odds anyway with the calculated deployment of a chaos bomb? These are the things that keep me up at night but, look, if Mills wants to go ahead and shoot 6 of 8 from three every night then it makes things way less complicated.
  • Davis Bertans is obviously still one of the most dangerous three point shooters in the league (no matter what those three point contest nerds think), but the most interesting thing about his game at the moment are the little baby steps he’s taking towards being aggressive off the dribble. Every game he grows a little more confident with his pump fake-put it on the floor move and I swear that one of these days he’s going to realize that he’s 6’10” and can probably just take it to the rack if he wants. Come on, Davis. We believe in you. We want some nasty.
  • MARCO WATCH: I truly believe that Marco truly believes that all shots are good shots. Every single one of them happens on a continuum and the end result has less to do with one’s shooting ability and more to do with things like where the Earth’s rotation around the sun is at that particular moment. The shooter himself is merely a conduit for the energy of the universe, setting the ball in motion for whatever it’s fate may be. You think you’re seeing a missed three pointer but, in actuality, what you are witnessing is a shot being freed from the shackles of nonexistence and bursting forth into world, manifesting it’s destiny as a living, breathing, beautiful action in our reality. Marco is not a basketball player, no, Marco is a liberator. Vivi la rivoluzione!