Today is the final installment of our journey back through “Marco Watch,” coming off a strong finish to the regular season and into a tough-but-not-impossible match-up with the upstart Denver Nuggets. If you missed anything up to this point, you can catch up here.
We’re picking up right where we left off, with the first round series against the Nuggets all tied up and the Spurs needing a boost from someone else now that Denver was honing in on Derrick White. Would someone like Marco Belinelli be the answer?
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. Except...it wasn’t. Like with everything else San Antonio tries 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.
Nuggets Game 6
Let’s give the boy a hand,
Let’s hear it for my baby,
you know you’ve got to understand.
Near the end of the 2nd quarter, with the game tied at 54, Patty Mills grabbed a rebound and raced down the court. As the Nuggets scrambled back to try and prevent an easy transition bucket, Marco sidled up the court with that look in his eye. You know the one. It’s a mischievous gleam that has been largely missing in this series but made a glorious return on this particular play. Patty crossed into the middle of the court and dropped the ball back to Marco out on the wing. Poor Gary Harris, unaware that he was already deep in Marco’s web, instinctively jumped out to try and contest the shot. Marco was already full into his dance though. He caught the pass with a full head of steam, launching himself forward and pirouetting around and through Harris’s outstretched hand having sent the ball flying off on it’s own special journey. He finished the play on his butt, with his back facing the basket and his face beaming up at his flabbergasted defender who was still coming to grips with having given the master the three free shots he so desperately craved. This was more like it from Marco. Obviously we want Marco draining threes, it’s literally why we hired him, and he did that in this game. But plays like this are the edge that he brings to the table. This is the secret weapon.
And maybe he sings off key,
But that’s alright with me,
because what he does, he does so well,
makes me wanna yell.
Let’s hear it for the boy.
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.
And now our watch is ended.
Marco Belinelli is not the best basketball player that the game has ever seen. He’s not the best player in the league; he’s not even the best player on his own team. For the most part, he was simply a role player who hit a handful of bizarre shots. The box score is not very impressive and certainly doesn’t indicate that any of his exploits needed further investigation.
The thing is, the more I focused on watching Marco play basketball this season, the less I ended up actually thinking about basketball. My thoughts drifted more towards everything from life’s little oddities to the wonders of the universe. I wanted to know why Marco was doing the things he did, but I also started to realize that I didn’t really care after watching him contort his body through the air like deranged gymnast to bank in a 12 footer. It just made me smile. It made me want to experience things I’d never ever done before. It made me want find out what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. We all watch sports for different reasons but, at the end of the day, if all you care about is final score then you’re missing the point.
I liked to pretend sometimes that Marco was some sort curious alien dropped into our world who was just figuring things out as he went, but I don’t think that’s quite it. In fact, it’s the opposite. Those otherworldly athletes out there, your LeBrons or Durants or Hardens, those are the real aliens. Those are the people we watch do things on the court that are simply at odds with what we understand the human body to be capable of. The true nature of how Marco plays the game is, if nothing else, bracingly human. It’s all frailty and misbegotten plans tied together with nothing more than a little bit of hubris and healthy lust for life. It’s got a scraggly beard and a frumpy frame and it’s going to war against Titans. How could he possibly hope to compare?
He does, though. Every game and every possession, he throws his body out into the absurd maw of a chaotic world tries to make something happen. Sometimes he hits a preposterous three that sets your soul on fire and sometimes it goes so poorly you can’t help but laugh. It’s an achingly beautiful process to watch unfold, and it’s not something that I think I’d ever fully appreciated before.
Life’s not perfect, and neither is Marco.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.