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What we learned from the Spurs Game 5 loss to the Nuggets

A terrible night in Denver puts the Spurs on the brink

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

The Spurs have picked a truly baffling time to stop making shots and I sure wish they’d cut it out.

People have always said that the Spurs don’t beat themselves and in a certain sense that’s true here. Full credit to the Denver Nuggets who have looked like a completely different team since Game 3. They are flying around the court, knocking down great looks, and forcing the Spurs into extremely tough situations. Pick a hustle stat and they’re winning it. The team that’s won these last two games in blowouts is the team that raced out to the top of the Western Conference and stayed there all season. The Nuggets are really good and that’s a big part of the problem.

The other part of the problem is that the Spurs are swooning. We’ve seen it from this group before during the season (a couple of times, actually) and it’s as weird now as it was then. It’s like they got their car is stuck in a mud pit and they keep spinning the wheels faster and faster and the harder they slam on the accelerator the further everything slides down below the earth. They’re pressing. Every single one of them is and it’s forcing them out of all the things this team does best. They aren’t moving the ball around on offense, they aren’t communicating on defense, and the mental errors keep hamstringing them on even the most simple of plays they need to execute. It got so bad that it felt like a miracle when a layup went in last night.

The Nuggets are beating the Spurs and the Spurs are their biggest accomplices. The team that lost on Tuesday night looked like it lacked confidence and that’s not something that’s easily fixed. I remember thinking after they lost to the Knicks during the Rodeo Road Trip, “This team isn’t bad, but it’s sort of broken” and that’s how I feel at the moment. The players on this team are good. The coaches are good. We’ve seen them be great. So why are they being so bad?

We’re probably all a little guilty at times of ignoring the razor thin margin of error they’ve been dancing along all year. The Spurs might be good, yes, but they are also wildly imperfect. In order to win, they have to hit inefficient shots at a highly efficient rate. They need to find three pointers from their bench because their best scorers can’t make them. They have to cobble together an above average defense from a bunch of below average defensive players. Every single thing that’s been written about the Spurs this year outlining their deficiencies has been 100% true and the real magic of this season has been watching them overcome it time and again. It’s easy to get caught up in that magic to the point where watching them slam into the glass ceiling of reality is maybe more of a let down than it needs to be.

There’s still time to turn this boat around and, obviously, nothing is over yet. I know that I personally have counted this team out more times than I care to admit and every time they’ve stormed back from the brink with some kind of absurd winning streak that no one sees coming. It’s a cool thing that they do and I would welcome it now with open arms. That being said, it’s hard not to feel a sense of dread right now. It’s been looming around in the background for a while and now it’s finally here, waiting outside our gates and ready to storm in and end our season for good.

If the Spurs have any magic left, now is the time to use it.


  • I remain overwhelmingly excited about Derrick White’s future exploits as a Spur. He’s the truth and should be treated as such. That being said, I think this particular moment might be getting the best of him. His breakout in Game 3 was maybe the most exhilarating moment of the season, but it also wasn’t necessarily an accurate representation of how he influences this particular team on a nightly basis. The Spurs don’t need Derrick to be their highest scorer, but they do need him, in tandem with DeMar DeRozan, to jump-start and facilitate the offense every time down the floor. They also desperately need him to anchor a notoriously wobbly defense. Now, granted, that’s an awful lot of responsibility to foist on a young guy during his first real taste of the playoffs, so it maybe makes sense that the seams are starting to show a little bit. He’s not playing poorly, but things that have seemed effortless in the past just look harder right now. Getting in foul trouble like he did on Tuesday feels like a prime example of a guy who’s trying hustle himself into the flow of the game and having it backfire on him. He might be a star in our eyes, but he’s certainly not getting calls like a star yet and he has to be more aware of that.
  • Jakob Poeltl has been immense in every single game of this series and Tuesday night was arguably his best performance yet. He is largely acquitting himself on defense against one of the toughest players in the league and it’s absurdly impressive. Nikola Jokic has played pretty well, but Jakob has made him earn every inch of it night after night and it’s been incredible to watch them battle. He also decided that if no one else was going to make shots then he might as well pick up some slack there too. He was dynamic in the pick and roll and often times looked like the only Spurs player capable of finishing inside. Granted, If Jakob Poeltl is their third leading scorer on the night, then the Spurs are going to have a tough time winning anything so maybe we shouldn’t be celebrating this particularly unique offensive outburst from our favorite Austrian player too much. Still, he has been everything we could’ve possibly asked for and, frankly, we don’t have a lot of other positive talking points at the moment.
  • I spend a lot of time on Twitter during these games because, hey, when the basketball is making you feel bad then why not go onto a website that will make you feel even worse, right? Anyway, over on Twitter it seems like an awful lot of Spurs fans are clamoring for Pop to play Lonnie Walker IV more and I just do not get it. I’m sure he’s got an incredibly bright future and I get as hype as anyone watching him go buck wild against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants or whatever, but this is not the answer we’re looking for. Watch him admirably buzz around trying to make things happen during any of his minutes in this series and it’s so glaringly obvious that he’s not ready yet. Shoot, the real Spurs barely look ready at the moment. I get that it’s tempting to assume that the answer to our problems has been waiting in a #1 jersey over on the bench this whole time but we gotta let this thing bake a little longer.
  • MARCO WATCH: I spent a few moments of the 2nd quarter thinking that the moment had finally come when Marco Belinelli would rise up from the ashes, born anew, and lead the Spurs out of the darkness. He came into the game active and buzzing with energy. He swung in towards the rim with an audacious finger roll (which was blocked) that indicated that maybe, just maybe, he was feeling frisky enough to try things. Then he drained a three at he 10 minute mark and it looked like it was on. A few minutes later, he rolled around and took a handoff from Jakob before burying a fadeaway jumper and the momentum was really rolling at this point. The Spurs have needed an influx of scoring all series and now it was Marco’s time to shine. wasn’t. Like everything else San Antonio right now, Marco was stymied. There were no fun shots, there were no instances of him sliding along the floor the floor for no reason, there were no brazen attempts to draw a foul from a whisper of contact. It was a joyless affair. For his part, Marco seems unbothered by this. He radiates the same casual bemusement out into the world as he always has and always will. I try to hold on to that as I sink further and further into the familiar despair brought on by an elimination game. Marco does not traffic in the expected, no, he much prefers the realm of the unknown. The miraculous. I’ve always believed that where there is a Marco, there is a way — and now, in our darkest hour, we can choose to give in to the darkness or....we can choose to believe.