It’s hard to tell exactly how to feel after this win.
On the one hand, the Spurs looked really good for most of the night. Like, really good. In fact, this is probably their best all around performance since January. They held their opponent to a relatively low number, and the star players fueled an offense that looked like it could get buckets whenever it needed to. They never trailed, they built out a lead that hung out in the double digits for most of the night, and they looked like a far cry from dreadful mess that marched through the recent road trip. We should feel good about this win.
On the other hand, they only won by one? How? How did that happen? The Spurs were in control of this thing from the get-go and seemingly had no problems rebuffing any charge from the Nuggets all night. Then, right when it was time to put it to bed, the wheels fell all the way off. Jamal Murray absolutely torched the Spurs for the final four minutes of game play and probably should’ve gone ahead and finished the job. The Spurs simply couldn’t find an answer when it mattered most and the fragile nature of their “big” lead became readily apparent. The Nuggets had three pretty clean looks at game winning shots in the waning moments of this contest. The Nuggets should’ve won this game. We should not feel good about this win.
You can really choose your own adventure when sorting through the wreckage of this one. There is plenty of evidence to confirm that that the Spurs are back in business and ready to tangle with the league’s elite again, and there’s just as much out there indicating that they’re frauds who should be put on to an ice flow and sent out to sea. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve been going back and forth myself pretty much since the buzzer sounded.
At the end of the day, I think the final score matters less than how they got there. I said it at the top, but it bears repeating: the Spurs looked really good in this game. The energy looked good, each unit looked cohesive, and everyone executed the game plan against one of the best teams in the league. The collapse at the end was annoying, sure, but it has less to do with the defensive mettle falling apart at the seams and more to do with Jamal Murray briefly turning into an invincible ball of light like he’d gotten Star Power in Mario Kart or something.
Heading in to the past weekend, this little two-step with the Thunder and the Nuggets looked extremely dicey for the Spurs. They had just regained their footing with a solid win over Detroit, but were they ready to get back out there against some of the best teams in the West? Had they actually plugged all the leaks of their sinking ship yet? I mean, no one would blame them if they had lost these two games, but it would’ve likely meant that they briefly dropped outside of the playoff picture as they headed into the stretch run. Panic would be palpable, hope would be scarce, and, worst of all, many, many think pieces would’ve been written. The horror.
The Spurs passed this test. Sure, it wasn’t the prettiest and it didn’t answer every single one of the questions we have about this team, but it was still good. They showed progress in areas where they needed to show progress and, most importantly, they picked up two wins. Now they just have to keep building. They go to Atlanta next where the Hawks have been pretty feisty recently. Giannis and the Bucks come to town after that. Then It’s Luka and the Mavs followed by our recent nemesis the Knicks. After that it’s the Blazers, and then the Warriors, and...well, you get the picture.
There are no easy games left and every single one of them matters. This is going to be fun. Or it’s going to be a nightmare.
Again, choose your own adventure, folks.
- Well, would you look at that. It is possible for DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge to have great games simultaneously. Each guy looked like the best version of themselves in this one. DeMar was whirling and spinning into the lane and nailing his jumpers while LaMarcus was steadily cooking inside against Nikola Jokic all night. In a game where the Spurs as a whole team weren’t exactly shooting the lights out, it was a great sign to see these two out there confidently handling their business and keeping things in check. Patty Mills didn’t need to ride in off the bench and magically hit 5 threes and no one had to see if Marco Belinelli could conjure up any four point plays or anything. The star players just played like stars and everything worked out. Ideally, nights like this become more of a regular occurrence moving forward.
- Late in the game, an athletic guard wearing a number 4 Spurs jersey tracked Gary Harris back in transition, matched him step for step, and then rose up and casually swatted his layup away to a teammate. It was sort of fun to realize that, all of a sudden, 2014 Danny Green had magically been transported back onto the Spurs and all was right with the world. It is becoming increasingly likely that we look back on this season as “The Derrick White Season” and that makes me so happy.
- I spend a lot of time trying to quantify the value that Patty Mills brings to the team because it feels impossible that this undersized, back up point guard is so integral to the makeup of the Spurs and would be borderline impossible to replace. There’s just a confidence to him that is so infectious, even when he’s not playing particularly well. He’s gone through some extremely rough stretches this season and, even in this game, it’s not like everything was exactly firing on every cylinder. He’s always out there though, moving and working and trying things. He doesn’t hesitate on shots and he is always looking to make something happen. If you were trying to build the perfect player in a lab to run your second unit, you’d probably build something a lot like Patty Mills. This little steal he had in the second quarter is quietly amazing. It’s just two quick points, but it’s emblematic of how a player like Mills finds you little advantages on the margins throughout the game.
- I think that I aged about 1000 years during the final 30 seconds of this game. I’d almost rather just do without replays at this point because sitting there while the broadcast goes back and forth trying to zoom in on Rudy Gay’s blurry finger tip makes me want to whip my remote at the TV. Just let the refs get things wrong and then we can all go about our business arguing about it for days on end like our forefathers did. Also, bad ref calls make it so that you can just blame any and all calamities on the bad call instead of doing the work of confronting any real, systematic problems with your team like a responsible person would. Who wants to do that? Bad refereeing decisions are a time-honored tradition in sports and the advent of replay technology is trying to take it away from us. I’ll start working on a petition and I hope I can count on your support.
- MARCO WATCH: Marco did not bless us with any feats of extraordinary grandeur tonight. He had a solid game though. He hit a few threes, he played hard on defense, he ran around aimlessly in circles, undoubtedly annoying his defender to no end. It was nice. Sometimes Marco does things on the basketball court that make me question humanity’s place in the universe and then other times he does a quick v-cut out beyond the arc and drains an open three. He contains multitudes is what I’m saying. He certainly doesn’t need to journey out into the infinite beyond every night and, honestly, why would he even want to? Sometimes it’s important to reconnect with this terrestrial plane in order to understand what it means to be human in a world that is constantly assaulting the very idea of our own existence. A turkey sandwich. A hot shower. A corner three. The simple pleasures of life are as much a miracle as anything else. Marco doesn’t take that for granted and neither should you.