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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Nuggets

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The Spurs pitch a nearly perfect performance in Game 2, lose the plot near the end.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After one quarter on Tuesday night, I finally started to relax.

All the tension, all the pressure, and all the anxiety quietly began to flow out of me. Any questions I had about whether or not the Spurs could hang with this talented Denver squad had been answered. Regardless of the eventual outcome, these were two evenly matched teams well suited to do battle in the playoffs. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan were back on their grind. Derrick White continued to be the best player the world had never heard of. Worst case scenario, the team would head back to San Antonio with home court advantage and that was more than okay. It was everything we could possibly have hoped for.

At halftime on Tuesday night, I started to get greedy. Any doubts that the Game 1 win was some sort of a fluke had dissipated. The Spurs managed to weather an angry flurry of activity from their opponents and then stretched the lead back out to ten. Was that it? Were they just going to go ahead and put this thing out of it’s misery and let us all relax this weekend? Bad thoughts wriggled their way into my brain. Silly, untoward, and dangerous synapses were firing to life. Things like, “I wonder how we match up with the Blazers” and “You know, the Warriors don’t have Cousins anymore,” were floating around. Ludicrous and long dormant seeds of hope had begun to sprout. “What would it be like to play Kawhi in the Finals,” was a dumb thing that briefly snuck in there. I know. Believe me..........I know.

After the third quarter on Tuesday night, I felt like we actually had something to lose. This was the really scary thought because, again, heading into the game I think we were all practically willing to call it a wash. The stakes were exceedingly low. We’d come to Denver hoping to steal a game, and we had. Everything else was gravy. Now, well, now things were different. Once you’ve built out two separate 19 point leads, the anatomy of a potential loss has fundamentally changed. Losing now would mean you’d blown something. That’d you fallen apart. That you’d collapsed. To lose now would not only lose you a game, it would also lose you the momentum. Maybe momentum isn’t real and maybe it has no bearing on anything. Maybe. But when you’re watching a big lead slowly leak out of your balloon, it sure feels real.

After the game had ended on Tuesday night, I was more annoyed than anything. Of course it wasn’t going to be that easy. For all the talk about the Nuggets being some sort of paper tiger contender, this was still a team that won 54 games and secured the 2 seed in the Western Conference. They have a first team All-NBA center, they have one of the most talented and deep rosters in the league, and not a single one of them could hit the broad side of a barn in Game 1. They’re very good, and they were very due. I’m only mad that I was foolish enough to stop expecting it. I let my guard down and, to a certain extent, I think the guys who were actually out there playing the game may have loosened their grip a bit too. Just a little. Just enough to where they couldn’t quite get it back on track once Jamal Murray had become engulfed in a bright, divine light and started doing everything short of handing out puppies to sick children in the crowd. The Spurs had this thing under control, but the universe had other ideas.

Now I feel like I’m right back where I started. I have no idea if the Spurs are better than the Nuggets, but I know that they definitely can be. The problem is that that they can also be worse, and its just about impossible to know exactly which version of the Spurs are going to show up at any given game. Shoot, if this game showed us anything it’s that it’s sort of hard to know which version of this team is going to show up in any given quarter. That’s been the case all season if we’re really being honest with ourselves. Are they the team that couldn’t buy a win in November or the team that couldn’t lose in December? Are they the guys who looked lost on the Rodeo Road Trip or the guys who seemed invincible at times down the stretch?

This team is full of hardened veterans. This team is full of pretty green young guys. They’ve shown that if the they are going to win this series it’s going to be because they hit their shots, execute in transition, and keep Nuggets offense out of rhythm so that they can’t catch fire. They’ve shown the blueprint for what a loss will look like too. The Nuggets simply have more firepower at the end of the day, and if the Spurs let things get out of control, even for a quarter, then the prospect of victory becomes very small. The margin for error is thin. It’s thin now and it will continue to be thin for their entire run through these playoffs, however long that may be.

The exports of these Spurs are numerous in amount. One thing they do is win. Another famous thing they do is lose. In conclusion, The Spurs are a land of contrast. Thank you.

Takeaways:

  • It’s infuriating to think about for too long, so I’ll try to make this quick, but the limited contribution from the bench was absolutely devastating in retrospect. Fair or not, all year the Spurs have relied on a steady stream of energy and points off the bench to carry a significant portion of the load. It’s part of the deal with being a well balanced team, and most of the time it works to our benefit. It creates less pressure and more unity. It throws opposing teams off kilter when the 2nd unit strolls in and is punching just as hard as the first guys. That didn’t happen tonight, and it’s a real shame because even a little lift here and there might’ve been enough to keep that wild 4th quarter charge from the Nuggets at bay. What a missed opportunity.
  • Obviously you never know how things will play out, but every single Spurs fan has to be happy with what they saw from DeMar and LaMarcus in this game. They looked energetic and comfortable out there. They seemed to get pretty much every thing they wanted, when they wanted it. We’ve all been through enough with those two at this point to see how much a difference it makes when they’re riding a wave of confidence, and it should only be bolstered by getting to play at home coming up. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m excited to see what they have in store for us. It could be special.
  • It will likely be lost in the sauce of Murray’s 4th quarter heroics, but Derrick put together another enormously impressive game. He even carried the team for a few different stretches and looked like the best player on the floor. At times, it’s a little startling to realize exactly how integral he is to any version of the Spurs success, but he doesn’t appear to be phased by it even a little. He’s calm out there, stoic even, like he’s played a thousand playoff games before, and this is all perfectly normal. It’s not. Guys like Derrick White don’t put up performances like Derrick White is putting up right now. What a future he has in front of him.
  • MARCO WATCH: There was a moment, early in the first quarter, where I thought the magic might be with us. Close watchers of the Marco movement will instinctively know what I’m talking about. A normal corner three from Marco Belinelli is fine. Sometimes he’ll go off the dribble and knock down a little mid-range shot and, yeah, 2 points is better than no points. Totally. Good for us. But these plays are never really an indication that Marco is whipping up something good. It’s just standard fare, a professional man carrying out his professional duties in a quiet, efficient manner. This game though, in this game we had a giant comet blazing across the sky foretelling of a glorious future in which absurd threes would rain down from on high and wild off balance layups would bless and astound us in equal measure. In this game we saw Marco come around to the top of the arc, catch, fire, and collapse his body into what can only be described as shapes. Gary Harris, unable to wrench himself away from his destiny, made contact with our glorious, withering mass of a man as his shot floated emphatically into the hoop like a dream. “Here we go,” I told myself. “Marco is about to turn this thing inside out, stand it on it’s head, and put it in a museum.” Every fiber of my being was ready for the oncoming display. Alas, it never came. Marco drifted around, looking for his spots and finding none. I sort of wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. Perhaps I missed something, or maybe in the heat of the playoffs I had accidentally gotten lost in my own earthly desires for something beyond what was being offered unto me. I felt I was owed more and Marco, for all of his many redeeming qualities, is not someone who gives things on command like some sort of vending machine. You don’t put in your dollar bill, press C7, and quickly get delivered a cold, refreshing can of divinity. That’s not how this all works. Marco is a sculptor. He molds genuine moments of beauty out of the raw clay that life provides and that, my friends, is where his magic truly lies. When inspiration strikes, he is there to be a conduit for us mere mortals and when inspiration has decided to pay only a brief visit before spending time with a specific member of the other team then, well, Marco is bound by his principles to continue on his own path towards enlightenment, confident that his muse will return when she is ready. May we all have the strength and will to do the same.