It couldn’t go on forever.
As much as I was prepared for the Spurs to ride a 20 game win streak into the playoffs, a loss was bound to happen somewhere in here. It’s okay, I think. I’m sure that, like me, you all spent the last few days reading various national media stories checking back in and asking, “The Spurs: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out!” and it was sort of easy to get a bit swept up in our own hype again. The last time the rest of the basketball world checked in on the New Age Spurs they were tip-toeing over on the edge of tumbling all the way out of the playoffs and now, all of a sudden, they’re the Same Old Spurs who always find a way.
Have you noticed that no one can quite figure out if this is a veteran team or young team? I hear it both ways all the time and it cracks me up. The Spurs can be whoever you want them to be depending on the narrative you’re trying to sell. Is this a group of seasoned veterans finding wily different solutions to combat all the new pace-and-space shenanigans for one last heist? DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay are right there to be your poster boys. Are they an inexperienced group of young guys who represent a way forward for an aging franchise? Hark, a wild Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, and Davis Bertans appears. Of course, the answer to these questions is a resounding: Yes.
The Spurs are everything. They’re chewing gum and walking down the street at the same time. They rely heavily on the mid-range assassins and lead the league in 3 point efficiency. They are not a particularly good defensive unit that has now climbed into the NBA’s top 10 defensive rankings. Sometimes their stars carry the load and sometimes their bench rides in and outscores everyone by forty points. Some nights they put together a resounding performance against the defending champs and some nights they are flummoxed by a 2-3 zone for three quarters. They are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
After their win against the Warriors, I wrote that the win streak didn’t matter and I meant it. The win streak was a wonderful momentum boost that I think this team really needed after the bruising their collective egos took during the Rodeo Road Trip, but at the end of the day it was just a number. The most important thing that was happening during that streak was that the Spurs were playing better. They were focused, they were intense, and were putting themselves in a position to win every single game and, for a brief moment in time, everything was falling their way. That’s how this whole thing works. You make your own luck. You don’t play well for most of the game, but you fight tooth and nail to somehow crawl back into things and then, with 38 seconds left on the clock, DeMar drives into the lane and kicks it out to a wide open Rudy Gay for a three point shot to tie things up.
Some nights that shot goes in. Some nights it doesn’t. C’est la vie.
- This was not really a banner game for anyone offensively but it was, uh, evenly distributed? The Spurs had six players in double figures on the night but none of them managed to score over 20. I love it when they spread the ball around and get everyone involved, but I just have to think that this particular stat can’t be a great indicator for sustained success most nights.
- Patty Mills had an excellent game off the bench, dropping in five from beyond the arc and generally just doing lots of cool, fun Patty Mills things. He seems to have a particular affinity for off-setting his relative height deficiency by going up and under for reverse layups and I think it’s extremely awesome of him. Look how badly Hassan Whiteside wants to swat this shot into oblivion but, instead, Patty just cleanly drops it in over on the right. Patty Mills is the best.
- Speaking of Whiteside, he only had one block in this game, but his presence is just downright terrifying in the post. I don’t know if our guys still have memories of the game back in Miami where he just went off for like double digit blocks in the first half but I know I sure do. There were a couple of things the Heat were effectively doing in the first few quarters that was throwing the offense off its game, but I have to think factoring in a human swat factory like Whiteside into all their drives was a key to the whole “no Spurs player ever getting in a rhythm” thing.
- It’s been a fun ride, but I think we got a little preview of the Spurs having to slowly pivot away from the Jakob Poeltl-LaMarcus Aldridge twin towers arrangement tonight. I hope it’s not something the Spurs go away from completely, but unfortunately it feels like one of those gambits that teams are going to seize on come playoff time and focus entirely on eliminating from Pop’s rotation. I mean, if you were an opposing coach in the playoffs watching tape on the Spurs, don’t you think you’d run across the epiphany pretty early? “Hey, they are way better on defense with Poeltl out there. Should we just play lineups where they can’t play him?” I don’t know. Maybe it’s not quite that simple, but thinking about it is already starting to gnaw away at me. The NBA Playoffs: Where the fun begins!
- MARCO WATCH: The easy Marco Belinelli comparison has always been Manu Ginobili. They share the same, uh, zest for life while out plying their trade on the court. They both hunt in the in the wildest corners of the basketball world to bring us joy, pain, and general astonishment at what can be accomplished in the game of basketball if you’re just crazy enough to try it. I love the Manu comp for Marco and I think, honestly, squinting my eyes during games this season while Marco flails about on a wild adventure into the lane makes me feel close to Manu in a way that I didn’t think was ever going to be possible. For this, I will always be eternally grateful. However, I would like to posit another little fun ode to the Spurs of yore that Marco has been doing lately. On a few recent drives, Marco has busted out this old Tony Parker maneuver I like to call, “Surprise! I already shot it.” Tony used to do this thing all the time to confound would-be shot blockers where he would release the ball up towards the basket at various different parts of his drive that make almost no sense if you are even remotely familiar with the proper technique for how to shoot a layup. It’s not a floater, that’s a whole different thing. This is a layup done off the wrong foot or with the wrong hand or even at the wrong angle. Obviously this technique would appeal to a basketball anarchist like Marco. After holding his defender with a little hesitation, he charges forward and then begins the layup before he even really gets into the lane. Whiteside comes out to do what he was put on this earth to do and send this ball into the fourth row of the stands but, before he can get there, Marco has already whisked it away high up onto the glass, literally as high on the glass as it can go, before it drops back down to earth for two. Never try to block Marco’s shots where you think they are. You have a much better shot aiming for where you know they aren’t.