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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Blazers

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A rough night in Portland leaves the Spurs still searching for their first win on the Rodeo road trip.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard not to feel like the walls are closing in on you a little bit during a losing streak. One loss can be easily written off. A second loss, sure, that can happen to anyone. A third loss? Well, now you have to start paying attention.

Deep down, I know that these three losses are not a disaster. This team will likely be able to overcome this bump in the road and will end up battling its way into the playoffs. Once that happens, who will even remember that time the Spurs sputtered their way through the pacific Northwest in February? It’ll just become a part of the larger collage that makes up the season. This trio of defeats isn’t the end of the world; it’s also not very fun.

Even when Rudy Gay decided to go all Supernova in the 3rd quarter there was a creeping sense of inevitability to this loss. There’s something about even being in a situation that requires a superhuman effort from Rudy that’s quietly devastating. As he was just reeling off bucket after bucket, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “how much longer can he keep this up?” Then, in spite of all the heroics, the Spurs still found themselves down 6 when the quarter ended. It might as well have still been 20.

The limits of the Spurs potential are being put to the test right now. That throwaway game in Golden State notwithstanding, the Spurs have matched up with two teams this week that are roughly in the same stratosphere talent wise and, in both cases, they haven’t been able to keep up. The offense can put up points, sure, but it’s simply not designed to go out there and win these 120-plus point shootouts. Meanwhile, the defensive resurgence we were all so proud of in December has quietly gone by the wayside recently. The last time the Spurs held an opponent under 100 points was thirty days ago on January 9th.

Against the Grizzlies.

In a losing effort.

I’d love nothing more than to blame all of this on Derrick White’s injury and, of course, that’s no small part of this recent swoon. The Spurs really miss him out there on both ends of the court and these past few games have been a real showcase for how valuable he is to the team’s overall success. But even that line of thinking has a pretty frustrating conclusion at the end of it. Are the Spurs really so fragile that the whole operation goes up in smoke without a second year guy continuing his first significant playing time this season?

Again, losing streaks are just bad for everyone’s state of mind. Until they get that next win that is SURELY right around the corner, it’s hard not to focus on all the things going wrong at the moment. However, the ceiling for the Spurs success has not changed in the past week. They are still solidly in the middle of the pack in a loaded Western conference and on their best night they are able to compete with any team in the league. This is the case right now and it’s been the case pretty much all season.

I guess the issue is perspective. It’s easier to look at that same conclusion with rose-colored glasses right after the Spurs have just taken a win off the Thunder in double overtime instead of staring down the barrel of three straight losses and a tough matchup with another playoff contender coming right down the pike. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the walls aren’t closing in on us right now. Not really, anyway.

They were just always a little closer than we thought.

Takeaways:

  • My attitude about this loss is doing a great to disservice to a truly incredible performance from Rudy Gay in that 3rd quarter. I mean...wow. He literally couldn’t miss there for a while. He was hitting from deep and plowing through the lane for tough buckets at the rim. It was incredible. When he really has it going, his game looks almost effortless. He’s taller than most people and he just drifts and glides around the court like some sort of regal bird of prey. Even his pump fakes look casual, almost like he wasn’t intending to deceive anyone it’s just that he saw a different place on the court that he wanted to take a shot from at the last minute. This loss will probably fade from memory pretty quickly, but Rudy’s 3rd quarter adventure will stay with me for a while.
  • It’s been long enough at this point that it now catches me off guard that games in Portland might be a little weird for LaMarcus. His time there felt like it happened in a different universe. Can you even imagine Kawhi coming back for a game in San Antonio four years from now and having it barely even register as a blip on anyone's radar? Sometimes the passage of time is wild.
  • It’s incredibly good news that DeMar DeRozan looks like he’s getting back into the scoring groove. It certainly wasn’t his most efficient evening, but almost anytime one of our guys puts up 35 points it’s obvious they did a pretty great job. For the time being, I’m going to ignore that annoying little voice in my head that’s shouting about how DeMar’s best games recently have come in losses because we don’t acknowledge coincidences, ONLY HARD SCIENCE.
  • The Blazers are very good and the Spurs do not match up particularly well with them. On the Spurs best night, I’m not sure they quite have the horses to run with Lillard and McCollum when they’re in the zone. You’d have to hope we avoid them in the first round of the playoffs but, then again, I’m not exactly sure who the cupcake is out of the West’s top 8 seeds. What’s that saying? If you look around a room and can’t figure out who the sucker is, it’s probably you.
  • MARCO WATCH: An icy night from Belli out there. It never quite felt like he could find the spark of inspiration and, to his credit, he didn’t try to force it too much. It was an impressive show of restraint from him, honestly. There’s a sense that every time he touches the ball that he needs to make magic and that can be an overwhelming edict for anyone. After all, this is still a team sport and any great artist must know and recognize the boundaries of the form if they’re ever to push to great heights. Marco ceded the floor to other maestros during this game and that’s okay. Great art isn’t made in a vacuum, and the absence of Marco’s light will make it shine all the brighter once it returns.