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What we learned from the Spurs Game 7 loss to the Nuggets

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The Spurs showcase a wide array of both their talents and deficiencies in a frustrating end to their season.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

There will be a time to be reflective where we can look back on everything that went right this season and all the we have to look forward to in the future. We’ll be able to smile and laugh and rejoice in our Spurs and not focus on Game 7. Basketball is too big and life is too short to let one game define anything.

Today though? Today I’m angry.

I’m angry that they spotted the Nuggets a giant lead in the first half. All of the precision shooting and beautiful offensive work that was on display in Game 6 went right out the window and was replaced by everyone’s worst nightmare. With the way this team was designed, I suppose that this was always the threat. They relied on their uncanny ability to hit hyper inefficient shots at a weirdly efficient rate. All year, people have wondered about just how sustainable this was in the long run. What happens if that lethal shooting ability leaves you in a big game? I’ll tell you what happens. You look up at the screen with two minutes left in the first quarter, your favorite team only has 4 points, and you start having a mild panic attack.

I’m frustrated.

I’m frustrated about what happened in the last 20 seconds of the game. I haven’t listened to any quotes from the participants about it and I haven’t read anything that smart people have written about it and, honestly, I don’t know that I ever will. I don’t think there’s any explanation that will ever make me not want to slowly discard my earthly possessions and aimlessly wander the earth for the rest of my days. They froze. They just froze, and it’s annoying and terrible and achingly human of them. Maybe a few of us have played basketball before, but none of us have ever been in that position, and we really don’t know what it’s like. It’s hard to imagine what could possibly cause five different professional basketball players to completely forget how to play basketball for a brief moment until you start thinking about your own sterling record of imperfect decisions, and then it makes a little more sense. They froze in the worst possible moment, and I’m sure no one feels worse about it than they do.

I’m disappointed.

I’m disappointed that the comeback didn’t matter. As annoying as it was to see them go down big early, it was equally thrilling to watch them battle back. Rudy Gay throwing the team on his shoulders, Bryn Forbes draining big shot after big shot, and even DeMar DeRozan battling through his tough shooting night to bleed every single point he could out of his athleticism. It was genuinely a wonderful display of grit and toughness. The Spurs didn’t roll over in this game, and they didn’t let the Nuggets just have it. The steal in the fourth quarter that lead to Forbes sprinting down the court to throw down a dunk was like a bright ray of sunshine bursting through the storm clouds. I think it was the first time we all finally started to believe again, and it was tragically short lived. This was an amazing comeback that could have been one for the ages, and now, well, I’m not sure I’ll ever think about it again.

I’m grateful.

I’m grateful that losses like this still hurt. Following this franchise has been a wonderful blessing. We’ve been able to experience the highest highs with this team, and we’ve also been a party to some pretty crushing defeats. There’s been early sweeps, there’s been other Game 7 losses, and there’s been Ray Allens. You’d think that after a while, you’d sort of become numb to it all. Hey, we’ve won a couple championships before, who cares? Oh, you think this loss was bad? Well let me tell you about the off-balance leaner Tim Duncan hit before Derek Fisher’s .4 miracle. All in all, this first round exit should feel like pretty small potatoes.

It doesn’t though. It hurts. I suppose it’s possible to spend 82 games with a group and not care about them, but that certainly wasn’t the case with these guys. I loved watching DeMar integrate into the Silver & Black. I loved watching LaMarcus Aldridge continue to settle in as the face of this franchise. I loved seeing the young guys come into their own and get us excited about the future. The personalities on this team were fun and entertaining and, if nothing else, incredibly endearing. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this crew of veritable strangers when they tipped off against Minnesota back in October, but I don’t think I expected to care about them this much.

This loss is going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt for a while. I think I’m happy about that, though. It’s supposed to hurt. You’re supposed to care.

What would be the point if it didn’t?

Takeaways:

  • I think it’s safe to say that the pressure of Game 7 sort of got to both teams in this one. Everyone looked tight, on edge and afraid to make a mistake of any kind. Of course the Spurs shot poorly in the 1st half; the first few didn’t drop, and then the crowd got into it, and then the next few didn’t drop, and then you start thinking crazy things like, “what happens if we just never make a shot?” and everything just totally snowballs from there. I get it. It’s still disappointing . . . but I get it. The same thing happened to Denver in the second half while the Spurs were clawing their way back in. There’s just something about the stakes of a Game 7 that ratchets the intensity up just enough to make everyone feel a little weird.
  • Speaking of things that will be lost in the sands of time, DeMar’s almost dunk over Nikola Jokic in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter was almost one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. For those who don’t remember because they were in a full on stress black out at this point of the game (totally reasonable), DeMar got the ball out on the wing, spun Jamal Murray all the way out of the picture and then rose up and came inches away from dunking Jokic into oblivion. It was insanely cool looking and, had he pulled it off, it would’ve put the Spurs down two with a little over a minute to play and maybe changed the entire nature of how those final possessions played out. What a shame. That dunk was this close to being one of the greatest dunks in Spurs history and a signature moment of DeMar’s career.
  • Rudy Gay was majestic all night. There’s no universe where the Spurs get back into this game without him just taking the reins and saying, “I got this” towards the end of that horrific first quarter. There’s a decent chance that this was the last we’ll see of Rudy in a Spurs jersey and, if that’s the case, then I’m glad he got to go out on a game like this. He was super fun to watch this year, and at times was one of the most important guys on the roster. The ferocity with which he came back from tearing his Achilles was genuinely astonishing and I’m grateful we got the chance to be a part of that journey.
  • MARCO WATCH: Ever the consummate teammate, Marco Belinelli stood in solidarity with the rest of his friends who were having terrible shooting nights by putting up one of his own. He attempted three shots and all of them, to varying degrees, we’re way off the mark. Not even close. It was almost impressive. (Almost.) For so much of this season, Marco brought nothing but joy and wonder to this team, and I wanted so badly for him to have a few moments in the playoff run that reflected my genuine love and affection for who he is as a player. He had a couple great shots and he had a smattering of cool plays, but it never felt as rapturous as I wanted it to be. The truth is that Marco thrives on the edges of this game. He spins the fantastic out of smaller, quieter moments. He’s a weirdo, a beautiful disaster of a player that makes almost no sense out of context and even less sense in it. Watching him in the playoffs, where the stakes of a single game are soul crushingly high, can be infuriating at times. “WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR YOU TO FOLLOW YOUR MUSE RIGHT NOW, WE’RE DOWN 12.” I get that. I understand that. Still, I mourn the loss of innocence here. The slow fade into the brass tacks of the season where the bill finally comes due. The essence of enjoying Marco is about engaging with the journey at the expense of worrying about the outcome. This is a philosophy that that can serve you well in life and still ring a little hollow while watching the clock hit zero on a season. Nevertheless, I still love Marco. I love his bananas shooting form, and I love his impish little passes. I love the way he would draw fouls out of nothing, and I loved that he spent most offensive possessions aimlessly running figure 8 patterns and annoying the hell out of whichever pour soul was assigned to guard him. I love how he often spent more time with his body on the floor than actually upright, and I love that he was able to pass off certain unathletic feats as “hustle plays.” He was, is, and will forever be one of a kind, and as long as Marco’s out there doing things, I will always be there to watch him.