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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Hawks

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The ball refuses to bounce San Antonio’s way in a game they’d like to have back.

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Atlanta Hawks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

It’s hard to tell if this loss was more or less deflating than the rest of the disheartening losses the Spurs have had this season. On the one hand, after a recent run that suggests this Spurs team was finally ready to turn the corner, it would seem that a late game collapse against a bad Atlanta Hawks team would be a much needed splash of cold water in the face and a quick return back to reality. On the other hand, well, nothing about Friday’s loss was very surprising.

The Spurs didn’t do what they needed to do to win this game. That’s simple and more than a little reductive, but it doesn’t make it less true. They’ve proven over that past few weeks that they certainly know the formula for how to win with this roster and now, every time they step on the floor, it’s just going to come down to execution. This is no longer a team fumbling around out there night after night searching for an identity or trying to work out its best rotations. This is a fringe playoff team with very thin margins for error that doesn’t have the luxury to just sit back and let one or two players carry them when things start to fall apart. When everything works, great. Awesome. They’re going to have nights where they look like a team ready to put a scare into anyone. But when our guys aren’t hitting open shots and simple defensive rotations are getting missed then this team is going to repeatedly find itself locked in a dogfight with teams they need to be beating comfortably.

This isn’t rocket science. No one is inviting me to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference next year to give a guest lecture on why “Making More Shots Than You Miss is the New Trend That Will Revolutionize Basketball.” Coach Popovich isn’t calling me into his office and begging me to explain my grand unified theory of Playing Good Instead of Bad so that he can finally get this Spurs team moving in the right direction. It’s simple. The Spurs went 8-29 from beyond the arc last night. If they went 9-29 then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

In spite of the loss, I still feel more encouraged about the direction the team seems to be headed in than I did a month ago. I’m thrilled to see DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge playing like stars again, while at the same time acknowledging that 25 to 30 points a piece from them every night isn’t enough. It’s a big part of the puzzle, sure, but it doesn’t make the whole thing come together. When this Spurs team is exciting is when those guys get cooking and you can visibly see it trickle down the line to everyone else. That happened sporadically last night and it was almost enough to let the Spurs walk away with a win they probably didn’t deserve. This team is absolutely good enough to win these types of games. At least it should be.

I thought I was past this. I thought I was ready to move on with the season and let the losses just roll off my back. I wanted to focus on the bigger picture and stop sweating the small things on a game by game basis. The problem is that these Spurs are showing just enough potential. We’re getting just enough of a glimpse at how good they can be that it makes you want more. It makes you frustrated when you have a game like this where the sparks are flying everywhere and for whatever reason it just can’t seem to ignite.

In theory, we should expect games like this to happen. In practice, they’re still a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

Takeaways

  • This has certainly been the season of freaking out about how good Lonnie Walker IV can be, which has made it a little easy to forget that it was supposed to be the season of freaking out about how good Dejounte Murray is. Remember that? Remember when we spent the whole summer relishing the opportunity to get a whole season with a fully armed and operational DJ? Obviously he hasn’t come out and set the world ablaze necessarily, but has been working on a steadier slow burn that can be pretty satisfying at times. I think a part of me wanted him to just burst of the gates looking something like a fully formed 2015 Russell Westbrook, but instead we’re getting to watch a guy slowly but surely learning how to play the Point Guard position at a high level, and I honestly think we’re going to be better for it even if we’ve had to momentarily temper our expectations. At least we still get to seem him do stuff like this from time to time.
  • The Spurs got in foul trouble as this game wore on and there’s almost no way to interpret the outcome of this game without factoring that in. They were brimming with confidence as they pushed the lead out to as many as 15 in the 3rd quarter but you could see them start to get tentative when the whistles got more frequent. Some of the fouls were good calls and some of them were pretty cheap. All of them were annoying. Such is life in the NBA. Lonnie Walker IV, in particular, fouled Trae Young which immediately caused Popovich Bot to initiate Training Sequence Alpha and pull him from the game right when it seemed like he might be about to burst the thing wide open. I know this is one of those coaching moves the proooobbbbaabbbllly pays off down the line when Lonnie is going to be a better, smarter player because of the lessons he was learning in a relatively meaningless regular season game, but that’s also not going to stop me from going outside and shouting into a paper bag about it for a little bit.
  • Vince Carter still going out there and pulling off basketball shenanigans in the year 2020 while wearing those old Nike Shox shoes is one of those stories that I genuinely can’t get enough of. I remember when these shoes came out, uh, **cough**, twenty years ago, and I was of the belief that no shoe could possibly be cooler than the one that had literal springs in the heel to help you dunk. Now, twenty years down the line, it’s very gratifying to see that opinion remain true to this day. Do we care that the springs are actually just hard plastic? We do not. Do we care that these shoes have still not managed to help us leap over 7’2 French dudes in the Olympics? We. Do. Not. These shoes are still the king, and we will not be taking any further questions at this time.
  • TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: The best dressed 7 foot tall assistant coach in the league has been testing my patience recently with an over reliance on certain a black sport court. He’s worn it with a white shirt. He’s worn it with a pink shirt. He’s paired it with a wide spectrum of pants that range from a drab grey to a muted brown. It’s a calm professional look that I understand the appeal of even as I sit here from my perch dishing out muted barbs about it. I understand that Tim is not worried about setting the world on fire with his fashion choices and that it’s not incumbent upon me to make him do so. All I want to do (and all that I will continue to do) is point out how breathtaking and lovely it is when we get to see Timmy dishing out coaching advice on the sideline in something like the refreshing little blueberry number like he blessed us with Friday night. Look at how clean this fit is. This Carolina blue jacket is tailored to within an inch of its life and it’s paired beautifully with a deep, rich Prussian blue shirt that practically sets Tim aglow. It remains an overwhelmingly emotional sight for these eyes to behold a man who so often has been called boring or plain or dull to go out and shine so brightly. This is the Tim Duncan we know and love — and the rest of the world is finally getting a chance to meet him. That’s a beautiful thing.
Atlanta Hawks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images