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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Rockets

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The Spurs drop another one on the road, contributing to a narrative that’s getting harder and harder to ignore.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

At some point, the Spurs are going to need to prove they can win against a quality opponent on the road.

The defeat at the hands of the Rockets on Friday night doesn’t have to mean anything more than a notch in the loss column, but it’s going to continue to feed the narrative that the Spurs simply can’t get it done outside the friendly confines of the AT&T Center. I know that they can. You know that they can. We all know that they can. Still, you can only talk your way around the facts for so long and their record on the road is starting to yowl in the background of this campaign like some sort of alarm bell and it’s getting harder and harder to keep saying, “It’ll shut off in a minute, stop worrying.”

Again, this game doesn’t have to mean anything. If the Spurs somehow end up playing the Rockets in the playoffs, whatever happened in the regular season will probably go right out the window as both teams punch and counterpunch accordingly over the course of seven games that will most likely cause my insides to turn to goo. The Spurs showed in stretches that they are every bit as capable of going toe to toe with the Rockets as anyone in the league. They even proved that James Harden going off for some mind boggling number of points doesn’t mean they can’t hold the rest of the team to a pretty respectable number like 111. Honestly, the Spurs only played about 18 total minutes of competent basketball this entire game and were still right there at the end. So, yea, the end result is not really what’s concerning.

If you really want ease yourself into this dark pool of worries and fear with me, then you should know that the thing that’s beginning to eat away at my confidence about this year’s squad is their mental toughness. I know, that’s a very ambiguous thing to worry about and far be it from me to question any of these guys fortitude. It’s just that, well, when I say “mental toughness”, I’m not saying that I think they get scared or that they have the yips or anything like that. It’s just that I think that this team has a lot of very good talent across the board, but I also think the peak of their talent comes to a rest slightly lower than a lot of other teams in the league right now. Like, if you just simulated this season on a video game and the only thing that mattered was every team’s net skill ratings, the Spurs probably wouldn’t do very well. This group is not blessed with the ability to coast in a game. Ever. They have to put in the work and sometimes, no matter who you are, the work simply catches up with you.

When this team is really humming, their intangibles are what make the biggest difference. They have to out hustle, out think, and out grind their opponents every single night. They need the best coach in the world putting them in the best position to succeed and then they still have to go out an execute on that vision. They need every player on defense working in unison to fly around the court to disrupt their opponents flow and they need to be doing it on every single possession. They need to have guys hitting mid-range jumpers at outrageously accurate rates. They need to have to have super young guys playing with the confidence of 10 year vets. They need to have crazy, Italian folk heroes pulling off insane shots left and right. What I’m saying is... it takes a lot of work for a team like this to be as good as they are.

When it comes down to it, that’s what I really think the road woes are all about. Winning on the road is tough. It’s harder to focus, it’s harder to come out with intensity, it’s harder to settle into the flow of a game. Frankly, it’s harder to do all the little things that make the difference between a team like the Spurs pulling off a win or coming up just short. Playing at home just makes things a little bit easier and, more often than not, that margin of error has really made a difference this season.

The Spurs are going to make the playoffs this year and they are going to rage like hell against whoever is unlucky enough to be matched up against them. They going to scratch and claw and work and hustle and throw every single ounce of their talent into the fight. It’s going be noble and inspiring and extremely fun to watch.

It probably won’t be enough.

Takeaways:

  • The Spurs definitely weren’t on their best behavior defensively in this game, but when James Harden is in a mood like he was then sometimes all you can do is hold on and hope for the best. It’s not particularly fun watching Harden go off, especially against the team you’re pulling for, but there is something sort of breathtaking about the way he can just manufacture points. Steph Curry always seems like he’s performing a kind of magic trick when he goes on scoring binges. He’s all slippery moves and sleights of hand and you’re never quite sure what just happened. Harden though, he’s more like a cobbler that’s making a shoe right in front your eyes. You know exactly what he’s doing and how he’s doing it and still, before you can even say anything, a perfectly made shoe is on your feet and you’re out the door. This is a perfect analogy and I won’t be taking any questions at this time.
  • Bryn Forbes had himself quite a little night tonight. He’s been somewhat quiet lately, taking a bit of a backseat to the emergence of Derrick White, but this game showed that he’s just as capable of grabbing the reins in a game and asserting his will. His three point shooting is so valuable to the offense but, honestly, I just can’t get over how good he is at finishing near the rim. He’s able to use his strength and his touch in equal measures and he has the confidence to take it against anyone. He had a few drives in the 4th quarter of this one that absolutely blew me away.

  • The refs are not the reason the Spurs lost this game. The refs are not the reason the Spurs lost this game. The refs are not the reason the Spurs lost this game. The refs are not the reason the Spurs lost this game. The refs are not the reason the Spurs lost this game........................okay. Are we good? Have we established that, like I said, the refs are not the reason the Spurs lost this game? Okay then. Ahem. HOW WAS THIS A CHARGE?? HOW? IF JAMES HARDEN SHAVES HIS BEARD THEN THIS IS A CLEAN TWO POINTS! WE DEMAND ANSWERS! OR ACCOUNTABILITY! OR A RECOUNT! OR A HAIRCUT! OR SOMETHING!
  • MARCO WATCH: Mmmmmm, this was the good stuff right here, y’all. This is what we talk about when we talk about Marco. The description of this highlight on NBA.com called this a “Belinelli Circus And-1” and I think I feel comfortable saying that the circus wishes it could bring in a talent like this. I almost feel for Gerald Green here because, by most standards, he actually plays pretty good defense on this one. He doesn’t bite on the pump fake, he keeps his feet and cuts Marco off from getting to the basket and then, when Marco is for sure cornered into a no-win situation, he gets his hand all the way up, right where it’s supposed to be. It’s a great piece of defending. The thing is, all this great defense is actually exactly where he went wrong. He fell right into the trap. He told Han Salo the insurmountable odds. He went ahead and made Dirty Harry’s day. The poor guy forced an impossible shot out of a man who specializes in things that simply cannot be done.