Sometimes you get a sneak peak into the nitty gritty of what being an NBA player is like and it really helps add some perspective to things. The Milwaukee Bucks played a tough home game Saturday night and then flew directly to San Antonio. They got to their hotel at 5 A.M. and somehow still made it to the AT&T Center on Sunday night. I realize that the chartered flight, nice hotel room, and various other luxuries afforded to these guys certainly helps things, but, none of those perks can truly spackle over all the weird damage that must do to your body chemistry, right?
I promise I’m not trying to dampen the glow on what was a very fun, very affirming win that the Spurs acquired on Sunday because this really was a good one. If anything, watching the Bucks gradually lose their luster against a fresh, well rested Spurs team added some much needed context to the recent up tick in wins we’ve been seeing in South Texas these past few games. It was easy to freak out about how poorly the Rodeo Road Trip went because that performance was objectively about as bad as we’ve seen from a team in the Gregg Popovich era and there was a real, genuine cause for alarm. Was there enough time to re-learn how to play defense? Can all our guys ever get healthy at the same time? Do they automatically make you sit-out the Playoffs if you lose to the Knicks more than once? These are the the un-answerable questions that nightmare of a road trip incepted into our brains.
I bring up the Bucks travel schedule because I think we always try and analyze these things in a vacuum and that’s just never how life actually works. Guys get tired. They get knocks. They have annoying songs stuck in their heads that throw off their concentration. Davis Bertans brought a child into the world earlier this season and then played in a game 3 days later. Can you even imagine trying to focus on defensive rotations with that in the back of your mind? What I’m saying is that these guys are human and life has to be constantly getting in the way. It’s a variable that needs to be factored into the wins, the losses, and everything else in between.
With all that being said, there was a lot to like about this win. Sleep deprived or not, the Bucks are still one of the best teams in the NBA and also happen to employ a guy who is currently vying for the the title of Most Valuable Player. If you have any doubts about how good the Bucks are, take a look at the first half highlights and watch the Spurs almost get run out of the gym before anyone even knew what was happening. The Spurs didn’t panic though. The bench mob came in and steadied things out, the defense shored up, and LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan did what they do best: get buckets.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. The Spurs have their limitations as a team, sure, but they also have a lot of talent and are extremely well coached. All things being equal, they should be able to hang with every team they step on the floor with and, as we’ve discussed already, things were decidedly not equal tonight. The Spurs needed to win this game. The Spurs should’ve won this game. The Spurs did win this game. Handshakes and hugs for everyone.
Context is important. The Spurs were never as bad as they looked during the road trip and they probably aren’t quite as dominant as they looked at times on Sunday. However, the Spurs continue to show what they are capable of when the opportunity presents itself. The playoffs are about a month away.
Lots of opportunity out there.
- A good example of the Spurs defensive “prowess” is sort of difficult to find. When they are effective, they don’t exactly shut people down so much as they just hustle them to death. Look at this play from the 4th quarter. The ball starts with Giannis Antetokounmpo out on the wing being guarded by Davis Bertans and an extremely unsubtle hedge from Marco Belinelli. Safe to say this is still a mismatch, but it’s enough to force Giannis to give the ball up. This sets off a chain reaction: DeRozan sprints towards Khris Middleton, Belinelli deflects the pass, Patty Mills gets out to his man, and LMA gets up on to Brook Lopez out by the three point line. By the time the ball has made its way across the court to Eric Bledsoe, Belinelli has sprinted over to get in his face. He pushes Bledsoe baseline and Bertans helps. Giannis flashes to the basket but DeRozan is right there to deter it. The ball ends up back out with Middleton and Mills is there causing trouble. It goes down to the corner and there’s Bertans. Bledsoe tries to drive to the basket again and three Spurs collapse onto him. Someone’s bound to be open now right? DeRozan swings over, then Mills quickly rotates to the top of the key and then, before you know it, the shot clock is about to run out and the Bucks are left with Middleton taking a forced three with a 6’10” Latvian up in his business. This sequence is all motion and energy and guys reacting instinctively within a system. It’s the defensive version of the beautiful game offense and it’s pretty breathtaking when the Spurs actually pull it off.
- It’s extremely telling that the Spurs “shut down” Giannis in this game to the tune of 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists. That guy is a real handful.
- This was a fascinating game from Derrick White that really showcased his growth as a player. His stat line wasn’t very flashy and he wasn’t conducting a symphony out there like he did in Atlanta a few nights ago, but it still felt like he was very much in control down the stretch. With Aldridge and DeRozan shouldering a lot of the scoring load, White didn’t try and force anything, he just ran the offense like a seasoned veteran. He brought the ball up the court, set things into motion, and picked his spots when they were there. A lot of young guys in the league would feel the need to build on every great performance by going out there and trying to go off every single time but White is finding other ways to assert his presence on this team which is equally cool to see.
- I know we’ve talked a lot about Bryn Forbes’ finishing ability but, you guys, BRYN FORBES’ FINISHING ABILITY! Watch him just barrel into Pat Connaughton, take the full contact up in the air, and then kiss it up off the glass while practically flying horizontal towards the floor. In the offseason, the coaching staff talked a lot about how he bulked up over the summer and I just couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about. Well. This shot is the fuss. I’m fussing about this shot. Consider me fussed.
- Pau Gasol getting a full line of guys giving him big old hugs really cut me to my core. It’s easy to complain on the internet about a guy’s cap hit or relative ability to guard the pick and roll, but it’s nice to see a reminder like this of the value the Spurs put on personalities in the locker room. Pau Gasol was a valuable member of this team because he was a good guy and a great teammate. You think the Spurs aren’t going to see results down the line from their young guys getting to watch how someone like Pau Gasol handles his business as a professional? Stuff like that doesn’t show up in the plus minus stats. I’m glad we got to see Pau in a Spurs jersey for a while and it made me super happy to see the players and the fans give him some love.
- MARCO WATCH: Marco Belinelli did a lot of great things in this game. He played good defense, he poured in 16 points off the bench, and he even had a few beautiful little assists that would be more than deserving of a full “Marco Watch” dedicated to lionizing them. However. I think the true Marcoheads out there know which play really set fire to the eternal flame of our devotion. Near the end of a great 3rd quarter from the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge picked up a loose ball and got it out to Patty Mills on the break. On the far side of the court, a blaze of cosmic light in a tactical camo jersey shot towards the rim with one thing on his mind: Glory. Mills, ever the showman, saw what was happening and quickly fired the ball between two hapless Milwaukee defenders and now it. was. on. Our patron saint of 45 degree angles caught the ball in stride with a wide open path to the basket. Two quick steps later he was flying through the air full of grace, wonder, and a wild-eyed sense of possibility. Oh, it was beautiful. Giannis and his spider-like limbs almost got there but even they missed the mark. The ball was already in the basket and Marco’s physical manifestation was already flying off into the sunset. That the ball ended up bouncing up and back out of the basket is besides the point. This play is a beautiful monument to the hubris of mankind. This play embodies the spirt of our people, the same spirit that said we’re going to sail across the oceans or construct buildings into the heavens or send a man to the moon. Marco was on the ground and then Marco chose to rise up. May we all have that same courage to do so when life presents us with an open lane to the basket.