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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Pistons

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The Boys are back in town (the boys are back, the boys are back).

NBA: Detroit Pistons at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

I’m such a sucker.

The Spurs are coming off of a truly brutal stretch of basketball at one of the absolute worst times of the season to have such a stretch. Losing 7 games on the Rodeo Road Trip has caused them to slide all the way down into the muck and grime of a fight for the last two seeds in the Western Conference. They’ve shown an inability to consistently play effective defense or offense, two of the most important things you can do to win games, and they are running out of time to fix the myriad of other problems that seem to affect them night after night. Things are pretty bleak in Spursland at the moment.

At least, they were right up until the Spurs went out and totally righted the ship on Wednesday night against the Pistons. The Spurs are back and it’s like they never left. What defensive issues? What shooting issues? With this one good performance against a fringe playoff contender from the East, I think it’s safe to say we can throw out all the litany of evidence suggesting that this team might not be very good. Those losses were aberrations, false positives, and bad luck all rolled into one. This was the real Spurs and, if I may be so bold, I think they look like they can make a real run in the playoffs this year. Golden State wants NO part of San Antonio in the first round. Mark my words, they are quaking in their boots.

I want to believe. I really do. I know that it’s ridiculous to ignore all the bad games and troubling tendencies the Spurs have displayed for us lately in favor of pointing at a single good performance and saying, “Look! That! That’s the real Spurs!” But, still, what’s the alternative? Sitting around for the rest of the season and waiting for the other shoe to drop? That’s no fun. Let the front office and coaching staff worry about things like that. It’s not like anyone is handing out prize money for being a realist.

Tonight was probably not the real Spurs. It was more like the aspirational Spurs. This is the team we know they can be, the one we saw a couple of months ago that haunts us while we’re watching familiar looking impostors in Spurs gear going 4-24 from three against the Nets. They seemed energized by being at home and having a somewhat fresh start to help them shake the cobwebs off. The shots were going in, the balls were bouncing their way, and everything just seemed to come a little easier. It was certainly fun to watch after what seemed like a full month of the team being replaced by the physical manifestation of flop sweat.

It’s impossible to know if this performance can be a springboard into the final stretch. The next two games, while mercifully still at home, will see them match up with two of the top teams in the league in the Thunder and the Nuggets. It’s going to be real sink or swim situation. We could potentially be sitting here on Tuesday morning with two inspiring wins under out belts and a newfound sense of purpose, or we could be on the receiving end of two brutal blows and on the outside of the playoff race looking in. It’s all on the table. Are the Spurs the team that was flying around against Detroit or the the team that floated listlessly through the tri-state area over the weekend?

Now, before the answer to that scary question comes rumbling down the pike, take a breath. Enjoy this win. Luxuriate in the knowledge that the Spurs are not the worst team to ever take the floor in the NBA and that there is hope for the future. The schedule gods have granted us almost three full days to bask in the glow of some competent basketball and I think we should all take that time to naively go ahead and feel good about the Spurs. It’ll be fun.

It might be our last chance to do so for a while.

Takeaways:

  • Let’s hear it one time for the big guy, Jakob Poeltl! He tossed up a cool 11 point, 14 rebound performance against the Pistons and that great stat line doesn’t even really do justice to how effective he was on the court. He helped anchor the defense all night, keeping the Detroit’s two big guys from ever being able to get going, and he was weirdly a focal point for a large part of the Spurs effective offensive possessions. I think you would expect someone of Poeltl’s size to be pretty stiff and stationary, but he is actually the opposite. Jakob is busy on the offensive end. LaMarcus Aldridge has his spots that he likes to get to and establish position, which is great, but Jakob seems like he is almost constantly in motion. He’s trotting up to set a screen at the top of the key, or he’s working to free up guys on the wing, or he’s making precise cuts to the basket with a surprising amount of grace and agility. I’m constantly impressed with how confidant and smooth his finishing around the rim is and I think the confidence bleeds into the rest of the guys on the court with him, knowing that they have a foolproof outlet when things go a little haywire. He also went ahead and told Andre Drummond that he’d decided the night was over pretty emphatically. Jakob was great. Jakob is great.
  • I love watching DeMar DeRozan go ballistic and score like 34 points or something, but I think that nights like this are actually more in line with what the Spurs need from him game-in and game-out. If he has to carry the team on his shoulders, it’s just not going to work. I love his skill-set and think it’s extremely valuable, but it’s also just not conducive to going on James Harden-esque scoring runs that keep the team afloat when things aren’t working. DeMar is going to thrive on nights like this, when he has the ball in his hands a lot and makes everything on offense go. He’s always a threat to score so teams have to pay attention to him as a focal point, and this allows him to pick his spots, distribute, and essentially wreak havoc all over the court. I’m sure DeMar would love to get more than 17 points, but he took the shots he was given tonight and was efficient in doing so. He was aggressive when he needed to be and didn’t force things. This is the DeMar DeRozan the Spurs need.
  • Turns out when the Spurs don’t get a total goose egg from their bench that everything else looks a lot better. Good to know. I’m right on the precipice of worrying about whether or not something is wrong with Rudy Gay, though. His sudden demotion to the bench hasn’t really been remarked upon and he hasn’t looked quite like his normal self in a while. I’m hoping that Gregg Popovich is simply trying to log some rest time for him heading into the stretch run because the Spurs really need a healthy, happy, and thriving Rudy Gay.
  • Hey, Bryn Forbes? Please don’t be hurt. Thanks.
  • MARCO WATCH: Marco really brought all of his tricks out in this game after spending a few nights wandering in the wilderness. There were normal wide open threes, pull up threes off the dribble, and lean-heavy, catch and shoot adventures ending with him on the floor or in the stands. He even had one nifty little reverse layup that resulted from running absent minded figure eight patterns for 20 seconds before Derrick White finally realized Marco was open under the basket. Most importantly, there was the pièce de résistance. I’m talking of course, about the 26 foot three point shot hit by Marco Belinelli at the 3:47 mark of the first quarter. After catching the ball way out beyond the three point arc, he swiftly shimmied his shoulders and surged past a screen set by LaMarcus that swallowed up his defender, Luke Kennard. Almost immediately he was met by noted very tall man Drummond. A lesser genius would maybe swing it to a wide open Patty Mills in the corner or slip it to a rolling LaMarcus, who now had a clear path to the basket, but Marco found a different way out of the darkness. No one had thought to try jumping off one foot, spasming in the air, and launching the ball over the outstretched hand of a seven footer. Why would they? They have neither the style nor the elegance to execute such a maneuver. Marco Belinelli does. Marco has it in spades. He thrives on the impossible. This shot capped a truly bananas 72 second stretch of game that saw Marco score eight points, fire up the crowd, and show his teammates that all is not lost. When things seem at their bleakest, when life throws a proverbial seven footer at you, there is always a way out for those who truly believe.