In a way it made sense that almost nothing about this actual game was rational.
The energy was high all night, but it was a weird energy. It was focused, but it was focused elsewhere. For the most part, I think we’ve all done a pretty good job of embracing the radical change that’s come with this season. It’s been hard at times, but I think we all have come around to the idea that this is a pretty special group in it’s own right and we’re lucky to have them in Silver & Black. It doesn’t do to spend all your time dwelling on the past when the future is right there in front of you. The outlook for this team is bright and what they’re getting done in the present is pretty fun night in and night out.
Unfortunately, Thursday night was pretty much all about dwelling in the past. How could it not be? This was Manu’s night. The telecast kept showing Manu highlight packages, the crowd was given blue and white balloons, and even the warm-ups that the players wore all had Manu’s face emblazoned on them. It was impossible to escape. Imagine being one of the newer Spurs players out there on the court for this game. The spectre of the Spurs glorious past is ever present with this franchise but, in this case, the literal manifestation of it was right there in the stands watching you. That’s pretty heady stuff.
I’m not saying any of this was bad. In fact, I loved every second of it and wouldn’t have changed a single thing. It was a wonderful night and no one in the world deserves a full evening of adoration and celebration more than Manu Ginobili. What’s even the point of being a Spurs fan if you aren’t going to drop everything you’re doing to talk about the time Manu defied gravity and dunked in Chris Bosh’s face during the Finals? Why are we even going through this whole song and dance of getting emotionally attached to a basketball team if we’re not going to get all hyped up about celebrating it? You put in the work of being a fan, stuff like watching summer league games and weird January blowouts, because the reward is a night like this where you get to bask in the glow of a team that feels more like a family.
All I’m trying to say is that, for the players, all of this had to have been a little bit . . . distracting. Right? You’re are out there trying to box out Tristan Thompson or whatever, and it feels like everything you’re doing is an afterthought. The Spurs we’re down 10 in the 3rd quarter and the atmosphere in the arena still felt like a party. That’s weird! This was a weird game, and it felt weird!
In a perfect world, the Spurs would’ve come right out the gate and blown this Cavaliers team out of the water. They are significantly better and, lest we forget, these games are not unimportant by any stretch of the imagination. For all our talk about the playoffs being a forgone conclusion at this point, nothing has actually been clinched yet and, for that matter, the fight to not have to play Golden State in the 1st round is looming over everything. This game really mattered, and yet for long stretches it felt like it didn’t.
That’s okay, though. Honestly, it is. The last five minutes or so of this contest all of sudden seemed like a playoff game. It was some of the most fun I’ve had all season. The crowd came alive and the players looked like they caught a bit of that fire too. I mean, we all saw what happened when Patty Mills hit that three in the corner to ice the game, right? The place erupted! Patty spun away, fist pumping and yelling and hopping around. The bench lost their minds, and DeMar DeRozan ran over and wrapped him up in a big hug. Everyone was dancing around like we’d clinched a series or something. It was amazing.
I don’t care that it took a little bit of amazing to wrap things up against this terrible Cavs team. It was fitting. There was a mischievous, almost mystical vibe in the air for this game, and it affected everything. It was like the universe wanted to join us in celebrating our beloved, weirdo friend one more time by making things a little zanier than they probably needed to be.
You know, for old times sake.
- Massive caveat for any and all takeaways from this game because, as we have established, it was a weird one. However, I was really impressed with the performance from DeMar here. I know, I know, a player of his caliber should be tearing it up against the Cavs anyway, but I think we can all agree that’s easier said than done. It wasn’t even just that he scored a bunch; it was that he felt extremely honed into what his role is for the team in this game. He was efficient with everything he did and he kept his cool through a tough first half and simply refused to let this game get out of hand. More than anything, DeMar was a leader. He scored when he needed to, he was active on defense, and he was resplendent in how he was able to create opportunities for his teammates to score. This is the DeMar we want to see in the playoffs. Shoot, this is the DeMar we need to see.
- Here is a fun little worry that’s been percolating in and around my head for a few weeks that I will now pass on to you because I’m a jerk. Derrick White getting into foul trouble is a real problem for the Spurs. Forget about how badly we need him to not be injured because, at this point, I think it’s a forgone conclusion that the outlook for this team goes off a cliff without him. Foul trouble worries me because when Pop has to give him an early hook in the first half, it really does a number on our rotations. It makes the team have to expend a lot of energy defensively just to tread water and it gets a lot of people in a position where they are trying to pick up the slack on all the little things he does. If he were simply missing the game that would be one thing, Pop can game plan around that a little better, but when he unexpectedly is just out for most of a half, then everyone has to scramble, and it’s really bad news. Lest we forget, Derrick is a young guy who probably won’t get the benefit of the doubt with calls in the playoffs against guys like, I dunno, James Harden or Steph Curry? Anyway, I think about this a lot, and now you have to think about it too. Sorry.
- LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t have a great night, and the Spurs were still able to pull out a win. In a roundabout way, I think that’s progress? Maybe? He’s been on a pretty decent tear lately, and I really do think it’s good practice for the rest of the guys to figure out what they need to do on a night when LMA might not be firing on all cylinders. Hopefully it doesn’t come up very often, but, you never know. The playoffs are weird. It was probably good for LaMarcus to be able to get some work in figuring out different ways to contribute when his shot isn’t falling like he wants. His defense is always pretty good, but it does feel like he steps it up a little bit when he knows his offense is lacking.
MARCO WATCH: Was Manu ever as weird as Marco Belinelli? Is Marco as weird as Manu? I’ve found myself thinking about this a lot during this season of paying particularly close attention to Beli’s exploits. It’s been brought up before, but it’s impossible not to compare these two. They have a very similar sort of crackling energy on the court that really grabs your attention. It’s their creativity that sets them apart and draws us to them. They see different angles and shots than everyone else. It’s like they took the rules of basketball and translated them into their own special language and then went ahead and translated it back into ours. It looks pretty much the same but, you know, slightly off-kilter. In spite of their similarities, they are relatively distinct in how their eccentricities actually present on the court. Manu was all passion and fire and intensity. He attacked the action and erupted with joy when it worked. Marco is so different in that way. He drifts into the action, not lazily or anything, but almost with a purpose that seems detached from the actual game-play. Manu was locked in a never ending battle to defy the basic laws of physics while Marco is engaging in a delicate dance with them. The end result is that both of them end up creating moments and plays that are unlike anything else we usually get to see in this sport, and that’s where the similarities snap back into place. They are both purveyors of wonder and magic, and we’re all just fortunate to be along for the ride.