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Young Spurs show promise in a game that couldn’t have been less about basketball

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The Spurs youngsters stepped up while the veterans understandably struggled with their emotions.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

It can be difficult enough to come up with a highlights post after a standard Spurs loss, but it’s even harder regarding a game on a day that was nothing but one big low-light for the entire sports world. With the shocking loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash a mere 90 minutes before tip-off, there was nothing normal about the Spurs’ January rematch with the Toronto Raptors.

The players and coaches were in shock, especially the veterans who had played with and against Kobe more. It was especially hard on DeMar DeRozan, who had a similar player-mentor relationship with him as Dejounte Murray and LeBron James, and even credits Kobe with him being in NBA today.

At first it appeared DeRozan may not be able gather himself enough to come out for opening tip-off, but to his credit he did, even if it had a clear impact on his performance early. (In fairness, it did on everyone’s, especially the older veterans.) Even so, one of the more touching images of the night was Gregg Popovich consoling him ahead of the game.

Before the game could be played, Pop and Raptors head coach Nick Nurse came up with a way to honor Kobe by agreeing both teams would commit 24-second shot clock violations to open the game in honor of #24 — a gesture that would be emulated by several other teams as the evening wore on.

The emotions were clear throughout the building, from those on the court, to the broadcast teams and in the stands, where even the fans sat in shock and had trouble mustering up much reason to cheer. Perhaps the most surreal scene was seeing the usually stoic Tim Duncan, who would barely even jump for joy when championships were won, crying on the bench.

But alas, there was still a game to be played. No game of basketball has ever felt so secondary and meaningless, despite the Spurs being in a situation where every outcome matters. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the young players had a little more juice than the shocked veterans yesterday, and it showed both on the court and in the box score.

After Pascal Siakam almost single-handedly put the Spurs down 37-21 by the end of the 1st quarter with 25 points, they responded via the play of Murray, Derrick White, Jakob Poeltl, and Lonnie Walker IV. The four hopeful “players of the future” combined for 47 points, 18 rebounds and 8 blocks on an afternoon when almost no one else had it going.

Despite the Spurs coming all the way back and even taking an 8-point lead in the fourth quarter, they once again failed to maintain it and lost the game, but on this occasion it hardly felt like it mattered. If there’s anything basketball related to be taken from this game, it’s that it was good to see the Spurs’ young guns step up and take charge when the team needed them to: a good sign for the future.

But yesterday’s game was much more about in-the-moment, and all it told me was to hug my family a little bit tighter last night. I have experienced sudden loss before, with the death of my identical twin in her sleep over 11 years ago. Basketball is merely a game, but life is precious. You never know what moment may be your or a love one’s last, and nothing should be cherished more.