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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Hornets

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The Spurs suffer another tough loss on the road and, honestly, can the playoffs just start already?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

I can already feel people circling around the final shot of regulation in Charlotte, crouching down and snapping their fingers like some sort of insipid West Side Story gang. Their chants are getting louder:

DeMar’s not clutch *snaps*

DeMar’s not clutch *snaps*

DeMar’s not clutch *snaps*

DeMar’s not clutch *snaps*

DEMAR’S NOT CLUTCH!

It’s infuriating. It’s unhelpful. It’s boring.

DeMar DeRozan put on an obscene display on Tuesday night all in the service of dragging the Spurs woebegone carcass back from the brink of destruction. He spent the entirety of the 4th quarter raining lightning bolts down from on high, spinning around the court and generally just being untouchable. He took charge and directed traffic. He flew around on defense and grabbed rebounds. He embodied every bit of the star player that his glowing pedigree indicates that he is. Right up until that last shot.

Even when it works, this version of the last shot is never all that satisfying. Everyone spreads out to the far corners of the universe. One guy casually dribbles in place while the seconds tick, tick, tick away until, finally, he takes two or three steps, jumps back and fires away a prayer. It just seems...uninspiring? The Spurs had plenty of time left on the clock when they got the ball back and two timeouts that, last time I checked, don’t roll over to the next game. Far be it from me to question this coaching staff about their decision making but...I just don’t get how this was the best answer? Maybe they didn’t want to show any cards this close to the playoffs but, like, why not even throw together a little pick and roll or something? There’s bound to be plenty of tape out there already of us doing that about a thousand times over, right? I don’t know. Like I said, this version of the last shot is never satisfying and this is me being a boy, standing in front of a basketball team, tell them I’m not satisfied.

The loss is frustrating, sure, but now we’re also stuck here with this dumb, oversimplified narrative on our hands that DeMar “can’t get it done in the clutch.” It’s my least favorite argument in the world. On tired legs, near the end of the season, DeMar couldn’t knock down a step-back, off-balance jumper with a hand in his face from about 22 feet out. OF COURSE HE DIDN’T. IT’S AN EXTREMELY LOW PERCENTAGE SHOT. If we want to question is decision making here in the moment then, sure, that’s maybe a conversation worth having but still, I maintain that we should never be putting him in this position in the first place.

It’s all more frustrating that all this happened in the shadow of Kemba Walker putting on a show of his own on the other side. It’s tempting to watch Kemba carrying his team over the line in overtime and go, “that! that’s what I want!” I get it. I, too, would’ve rather seen the Spurs win this game than lose it but pouring all of our frustrations about it into wondering whether or not DeMar will ever be clutch loses sight of the forest for the trees.

DeMar spent the entire 4th quarter being clutch. The Spurs were dying out there and he kept them alive practically by himself. He’s one of a handful of players in the world capable of having an entire opposing team throw the kitchen sink at him and still come through with bucket after bucket after bucket. The Hornets should’ve put this team away five or six different times and DeMar simply wouldn’t let him. The fact that he ran out of steam after regulation doesn’t take anything away from what he did out there.

I can almost guarantee he’s going to have a moment in the playoffs this year where he hits some shot at the buzzer for a win and everyone will sit back with a satisfied smile and say to themselves, “ah, finally, DeMar came through in the clutch. He’s erased his playoff demons! What a guy!” and that’s going to be great. There’s a part of it that will be frustrating too because, if you’ve been paying attention, DeMar’s been clutch all along.

Make or miss, one shot doesn’t change that.

Takeaways:

  • The Spurs ball movement seemed especially feisty in this game, did it not? It felt like there was a particular vigor to how everyone on the team was really whipping it around and making the extra pass. It resulted in a lot of open looks and a lot of pretty good shots that, unfortunately, didn’t go in as often as we’d like to see but it was still pretty interesting. It almost felt like there was a directive handed out at the onset of this game for everyone to just really focus on moving the ball and using every second on the shot clock. I think it sometimes contributed to the guys being a little too passive at times when simply attacking the basket would’ve been a better call, but maybe this was just something Popovich and co. are trying to work on in the lead up to the playoffs.
  • This is the second time this season that Kemba Walker has really torched the Spurs and I don’t think I’m alone in being pretty okay with him having to hang out over in the Eastern conference come playoff time. There’s plenty of monsters to deal with out here without him coming in and going supernova every time he sees Silver & Black.
  • A couple of times down the stretch, the Spurs just came down the court and almost immediately threw a long pass over the top to LaMarcus Aldridge in the post and he just caught it, turned, and dropped it in for an easy two. This is quickly becoming my favorite play in the Spurs arsenal and I honestly wish they would just run it like every third time down the court. One of LaMarcus’s underrated skills is that he’s really great and getting up and down the court quickly and, more often than not, he gets down there and set against a guy who really has no business being alone with him in the post and it ends up being about as close to an automatic bucket as you can get. It’s almost like when the game is tied up and the clock is winding down that I wish someone would call the play where we throw it to our practically unstoppable huge guy under the basket, but what do I know?
  • MARCO WATCH: Marco had a wonderful game here, pouring in 17 points and going 4 of 7 from three point land. This is all well and good and awesome but there’s something more pressing that we need to dig into here on Marco Watch today. While casually scrolling through twitter during the game, I came across something that has honestly been dominating my thoughts ever since. Mike Finger, a veteran columnist for the Express News, casually tossed out this anecdote and set my brain on fire, “I’ve been to maybe a dozen NBA arenas this season and in every single one of them I’ve seen Marco Belinelli greet an usher like his long-lost friend. Everybody loves this guy.” Excuse me? Marco has a secret underground network of friends posing as ushers in every arena around the league and, most likely, the world? Is that what you’re trying to tell me? I’m imaging this being sort of like a John Wick situation where this is a mysterious society that you belong to and can only access with a special coin or something. They move about in the shadows, collecting on debts, harboring rogue fugitives and carrying out various acts of benevolent kindness or nefarious mischief depending on who’s paying the highest price. It actually makes a lot sense the more I think about it. Do you think Marco functions within the organization as some sort of prized up and comer or is he comfortably settled in to more of a Godfather role at this stage of his career? Are the ushers there for his protection? Do they keep a weathered eye out for threats while Marco takes care of official business on the court? You know what, let’s take this conversation offline. You never know who might be listening. I’ll see everyone at the usual meeting spot. The truth is out there.