I don’t know that I expected the Spurs to win Game 4, but I didn’t expect that.
Just like the Game 2 loss, in which the Spurs blew two separate 19 point leads, the manner in which this loss came about worries me significantly more than the outcome itself. A loss on its own would be fine, the Nuggets are a good team full of good players and them all having a good game is just going to happen sometimes even when the Spurs are fully on their game. This wasn’t that though. Not even close. This was a brief flurry of activity followed by a complete, utter meltdown.
It doesn’t feel like this type of thing should be possible in the playoffs. The regular season is a grind and it’s easy to imagine how some of those games can just get away from you. Maybe you’re tired or bored or whatever. I get that. This is when your focus has to be at its best every night and, in the Gregg Popovich era at least, that’s never been a problem for the Spurs. They’ve been out-played before, they’ve been out-coached before, but out-focused? That has to be a new one, right?
To the Nuggets credit, their intensity starting about mid-way through the second quarter was a sight to behold. They were tough and fearless and they had no intention of giving the Spurs any breathing room at all down the stretch. Not once during the second half did I think that the Spurs had a run in them. It was out of the question. Possession after possession watching Nikola Jokic continue to indefatigably barrel his way into the lane getting everything he needed wore away at my psyche and I can imagine it did the same for the boys in Silver & Black too.
I’m disappointed. This isn’t the end of the world or anything and it’s certainly not the end of the series, but I’m disappointed all the same. Like many of you I’m sure, I spent the last couple days soaking up the glowing national media attention that tends to follow a Spurs playoff win. All that talk about how the mystical arts of the Spurs were at it again, carving up some unsuspecting team who just wanted to come out and make a name for themselves in the playoffs. I love that. It makes me glow with an entirely unearned sense of pride and glee. I wish I could bottle that feeling and put it my coffee or something.
The praise feels hollow at the moment. We’re now forced to once again reckon with the idea that there isn’t some mysterious basketball force behind the Spurs ability to show up and win a playoff game. The guys on the team simply have to earn it. They have to regroup from this debacle, dig deep, and make sure that a performance like this doesn’t recur. They might lose again. They might drop the series. Both of those things are entirely possible and both of those things are also okay. I really don’t care if they lose, I don’t, but I will be heartbroken if they continue to lose like this.
Mike Malone spent a lot of time after Game 3 talking about how he was looking forward to seeing how his guys responded from the punch in the mouth they received. Well, the Spurs have now been punched in the mouth too and it’s their turn to respond.
I hope they’re up for it.
- So, it turns out the flip side of leaning on a super young dude as one of the pillars of your team’s success is that, sometimes, he’s going to play like a super young dude. That’s something that seems obvious in retrospect, but it’s still surprising given how much Derrick White has risen to the occasion over the course of this season. At the onset of each new challenge thrown his way, he’s always appeared to be unflappable and in Game 4, well, it sure seems like he got flapped. He didn’t seem scared of the moment or anything, but he spent most of the night forcing the issue and it just looked like he was pressing. Game 3 Derrick White was gliding around the court bathed in incandescent light, incapable of making a wrong decision and I can imagine it’s altogether pretty troubling to step out on the court in the next game and not feel like you quite have the same goods. Things weren’t falling for him and the extra attention that he’s earned, both from the Nugget’s defenders and everyone else, weren’t helping anything. Derrick will be back, but tonight wasn’t his night and we were all given a glimpse into what the Spurs chances look like without him. (they’re bad)
- I love Jakob Poeltl dearly and I think he’s been doing a lot of really unheralded work in this series. His defense and hustle and propensity for getting the little things done is as integral to the Spurs success as just about anything else. I felt for him in this game though, because there was really only so much he could against the onslaught Jokic brought to the table. Jakob is big and physical and tries really hard, but at the end of the day Nikola Jokic has the same size and physicality paired with a crazy amount of talent coming out of his ears. Poor Jakob can only be expected to hold that flood back for so long and I’m not exactly sure what sort of counter punches the Spurs can draw up for it. Their is a school of thought that one way to win against the Nuggets is to just dare Nikola Jokic to beat you and, well, he did.
- How did our stars play in this game? They were good, I don’t know. They’re stats were at least. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge both shot the ball pretty well, grabbed boards, dished out assists and didn’t make too many mistakes. LaMarcus even hit a three! I still feel like something was missing. As things were falling apart I kept wanting one of them to step up, grab the reigns, and stop the bleeding. That’s kind of one of their main jobs, right? The entire Spurs roster couldn’t really buy a shot to save their lives in the second half and that should never, ever happen when you employ two dudes who were put on this earth to get buckets. DeMar getting tossed from the game late was obviously emblematic of the breadth of his frustration with how this night went and so, I guess the good news is that he knows as well as anyone that a performance like this from him isn’t going to be enough to get the job done. Hopefully, he can find a way to channel that anger and frustration into a monster he can unleash on Tuesday. We’ll see.
- MARCO WATCH: Marco Belinelli hit a three with 1:07 seconds left in the game. Lonnie Walker IV dribbled around the top of the arc, turned, and fed it to Beli who was wide open. He caught it. He shot it. It went in and the Nuggets lead was reduced to 12. It was heartbreaking to watch if I’m being perfectly honest. There was no joy, no creativity, and no energy behind it whatsoever. It was a rote exercise, something that happened just because. If the shot had gone and rimmed out, well, the only thing to change would be the opening sentences of this paragraph. It’s tough times out there for us Marco Watchers. I think we all want something special to happen. We want Marco to provide that special jolt that only he can provide and it’s been largely absent from this series. Time and again though, he’s shown us that this is simply not how his particular brand of magic works. It’s not something you summon on command because you want it, no, it’s more ethereal than that. It’s a fickle, puckish creature that comes and goes at it pleases, lighting up the darkness when you least expect it. It answers to the whims of no one. The playoffs are a turbocharged atmosphere with an intensity that gets ramped up to 11 and stays there. It’s an environment where miracles almost become the norm because, hey, even being here is practically a miracle, right? In the playoffs you expect amazing. You demand it, almost. Maybe that’s not a domain where Marco’s skill set was ever going to fully thrive, or maybe I’m just not looking hard enough. Regardless, Marco’s best stuff always seems to happen when I’m least expecting it and I think it’s safe to say that, well, right now we’re least expecting it pretty hard.