Don’t look now, but the Spurs have a nice little winning streak going at the moment. Seriously, don’t look at it. You might scare it away.
On its face, this wasn’t exactly the most encouraging performance from a team playing against a young group of guys (and Vince Carter) who are out of the playoff picture. The Spurs of yesteryear would’ve rolled into Atlanta, built out an easy 15 point lead, and let Tim Duncan watch the 4th quarter from the bench. That is decidedly not how this particular trip went.
The Spurs were sloppy in this game. They weren’t bad, per se, but it felt like everything was a little harder than it needed to be. It would seem like they were about to exert their grip on on things and then, all of a sudden, the focus would dip just a little bit and the Hawks would be right back in the thick of it. That’s how you get a situation where you’re leading by 10 for the majority of the 1st half and go into the locker room at the break down 1. It’s how you have two guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Derrick White playing out of their minds but you’re still only up 3 with two minutes left in the game. The Hawks are not pushovers, but you still would’ve liked to see the Spurs put this one to bed a lot sooner than they did.
This game emphasized once again, and for maybe the millionth time this season, that these are not the Spurs of yesteryear. This is not a team that is sure of it’s place in the world and simply using the regular season to hone it’s skills for the playoff fight to come. This is not a team with three future Hall of Famers on it. They don’t have the luxury of waltzing into an opponent’s arena with a built-in 10 point lead based on their foundation alone. These guys are still earning it and (I can’t emphasize this enough) that’s okay.
I know we’re all still adjusting to the reality that our time as perennial threats to make the Finals has been put on pause for the time being, but I hope that disappointment doesn’t cloud how genuinely compelling the group we have in front of us is. Night after night, these guys are figuring things out and learning how to play together. How to win together. The veterans are adjusting to being veterans and the young guys are learning exactly what they’re capable of doing.
Look at Derrick White. He’s had some pretty good games in a Spurs uniform this season, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen him completely take over a quarter before like he did on Wednesday night. He was the best player on the court, hands down. He got to the rim when he wanted to, he made jumpers when he wanted to, and he found open looks for almost every single one of his teammates. He did everything. Shoot, he’s only just now learned that he’s really good at blocking shots, I mean, who knows what else he’ll be good at two weeks from now?
I found myself frustrated for pretty much the entire 48 minute run of this game and then, as soon as it ended, I couldn’t get over how lucky we are to get to watch this. This is a team that’s building for their future in the moment as much as it’s fighting for a spot in the playoffs — and the future is looking brighter by the game. There aren’t a lot of fanbases who can say that about their team.
I wish the Spurs were better right this second. I’m sure we all do. But they’re getting there. Let’s enjoy the ride.
- Derrick White, though. I know I already talked about him but...DERRICK WHITE, THOUGH. I just can’t get over how good he looks. Game after game he seems more confident and more assured that he knows what he’s doing out there. Sure, he still has some heat-check moments where he’ll get himself trapped in a move that he thinks he can get out of and instead winds up turning it over, but I love that he’s trying things right now. I’d much rather him be making mistakes like that instead of being timid and trying to play it safe. The time for being safe is over. Derrick, along with the rest of us, is starting to realize how good he is and I want him to push against his ceiling every single time he’s on floor until it shatters. Seriously, whenever you get frustrated with this team, take like five deep breaths and think about Derrick and Dejounte Murray absolutely terrorizing opponents on defense next year before bounding up the court and doing something like this...
- Another quiet 32 point game from LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s incredible. He really is. I’m sure its not fun for like 90% of casual NBA fans, but it’s so great when he’s really feeling it and sort of realizes that the other team simply doesn’t have any one who can do anything about it. Like, I’m sorry, Alex Len, but take a seat, please. At one point in the 4th, LaMarcus hit a turnaround jumper over Vince Carter and I think it was then when I was said out loud to no one in particular, “WHY AREN’T WE WINNING THIS GAME BY 30?” Anyway, LaMarcus was, is, and will continue to be great.
- Welcome back to the party Davis Bertans, we’ve missed you! I’m not sure what’s been going on recently, but Davis looked confident out there again. He wasn’t hesitating on shots and he even went on a couple dribbling adventures into the lane from time to time. I know it’s sort of being greedy to ask for him to shoot better than 40% from three in a game, so I won’t. All I’ll say is that the offense sure does seem to generate a lot of great looks for him out there and if he were to hit, I don’t know, two or three more of those shots then that would be a real boon to the old scoreline for the good guys. (Also, I have no problem being completely unrealistic about my expectations when he shoots a three. The man is nearly averaging 50% from deep. If he’s going to be ridiculous about it, then I will too.)
- Pau Gasol is a great guy and was a good player for the Spurs and I will miss having him around. That being said, BOY am I suddenly excited about the Drew Eubanks era! Has he always been this fun and I just haven’t been paying attention? I was a little nervous about not having Jakob Poeltl in this game but then Drew came in and just kind of tore it up every time he was on the floor. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but he plays really big. Like, of course he’s actually big, but when he’s out there fighting for rebounds or clogging the lane, it’s almost like his energy and exuberance sort of inflates his presence a little bit. Whatever it is, he’s fun to watch and I wish I’d been paying close attention to him sooner.
- MARCO WATCH: Sometimes we focus on Marco’s offensive creativity only in terms of the shots he takes. Stuff like the 45 degree angle shots or the ones where he kicks his legs out into a triangle or the ones that make everyone go, “no, no, no, no, no, no, YES, wait, what?” Truly that is how the Marco bread is most often buttered, but please for a moment consider that he also has the capacity to throw bananas passes into the low post as well. For example, in the 2nd quarter he pump-faked poor Alex Len up into the air and then proceeded to blindly toss a pass underneath Len’s outstretched legs perfectly into LaMarcus Aldridge’s hands for an easy bucket. This one was right out of the Manu Ginobili playbook of passes filed away in Popovich’s office entitled I Can’t Believe You Pulled That Off, How Did You Pull That Off, Please Don’t Try To Pull It Off Again, But I’m So Glad You Pulled It Off. If you are really looking for a link to the Spurs past, I can assure you that the spirit is alive and well in the heart of Marco Belinelli.