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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Jazz

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Against all odds, there’s still basketball happening

Utah Jazz v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

I’ve thought a lot about DeMar DeRozan over the last couple days. Ever since seeing him sitting there on the bench on Sunday afternoon trying to somehow get his mind ready to play a basketball game, I’ve wondered about what’s going through his head. He lost a hero, a mentor, and a friend, and he found out about it an hour before he had to go put a ball in a hoop. How does one do that? How do you will your body to go through the motions when your mind is desperately trying to be anywhere else?

I wanted him to do something miraculous on Sunday. I wanted him to go out and score 81 points or hit a game winning shot or...I don’t know, something. I wanted him to be able to go out there and do a thing he could hang his hat on and feel good about because it might, for at least a brief moment, make some of the pain he was feeling go away. As the seconds ticked away on a loss that was ultimately meaningless, I watched him hug a few guys on court, and I was just gutted. The dull pain that had been sitting there ever since the news broke had started to throb again and it just felt like any respite that the 48 minutes on the court might have provided went out the window before I even had the chance to acknowledge it in the first place.

The same thing happened in Chicago on Monday night. I sat there in front of my TV and needed DeMar to do something special. I wanted him to channel all his frustration and sadness into his incredible gifts and just let them shine through. For a while there, it even looked like it might happen. He was simply incredible for most of the game, racking up bucket after bucket and pretty much single-handedly putting the Spurs on his back and dragging them to the finish line. Then he missed a free throw. Missed free throws happen all the time but this one, sigh, this one happened right there at the end of the game where everyone could see it. DeMar and the Spurs slumped off the court, and once again I felt like the dull throb had come back into focus.

At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether or not I wanted DeMar to score a million points because I wanted him to feel better or because I wanted me to feel better. That’s a tough one, isn’t it? This has been a hard couple days for everyone for a myriad of different reasons. The tragedy that happened on Sunday took the life of someone who was a pillar not only of the NBA community, but of the wider culture at large. It also took a man, his daughter, and seven other lives that we’re just trying to get to a basketball game. It’s an event that’s rocked me to my core for reasons that I can barely even begin to articulate and am probably only starting to grapple with. It’s left me searching for answers, and for some reason I keep thinking that I’m going to find them by watching 10 guys run around on a court for a few hours.

Then, around noon on Wednesday, DeMar tweeted out an emoji.

Later that night, DeMar was once again playing out of his mind and just lighting up the Jazz from all over the court. It was all working for him, just like it has been for most of this month. He was showing off the full range of what he’s capable of, all the footwork, the light touch, the aggressiveness getting to the rim...it was all happening for him. He even hit some clutch free throws to ice the game. It was everything you could ask for in a star player. He finished with 38 points and the finally, mercifully, the Spurs were able to walk off the court with a victory. DeMar looked happy, he flashed a coy smile or two and gave out a few hugs. The energy in the arena felt joyous and for the first time in a few days, I started to feel the same way.

I turned the TV off and then, as I was starting to go to bed, I felt that dull throb start to come back. Grief is funny like that. It’s almost like it doesn’t care about the score of game or the Spurs position in the standings. DeMar pulling off some heroics against Toronto on Sunday would’ve probably felt amazing in the moment. We all would’ve cheered and everyone would’ve been able to write the perfectly tidy little story about how he honored the memory of his hero and channeled his spirit on court or something like that. It would’ve been great and awesome and it wouldn’t really have changed anything. He probably would’ve been sitting there on Wednesday, getting ready for the game, and still felt that sadness start to creep in. That’s just how it works.

The pain is still there and it’s going to heal at whatever pace it wants to. DeMar probably knows better than anyone that the number of points he scores or wins he racks up isn’t going to change who he is as a person and that’s okay. Basketball can be a wonderful outlet for our emotions and it can serve as a beautiful little oasis for us to all hang out in for a little bit. It can do a lot of things, but it can only do so much. I think I feel a little better right now than I did yesterday though and, hopefully, I’ll feel a little better tomorrow.

All I really know is, the final score had nothing to do with it.

Takeaways:

  • All of us who may or may not have been shouting from the rooftops about how badly we wished the Spurs would just trade LaMarcus Aldridge already are getting a fun little look right now at what that might look like. It’s, uh, not my favorite? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Spurs win and everything, but this felt like an unwelcome throwback to earlier in the season where there Spurs were just going to try to bludgeon the other team into submission with mid-range jumpers and hope for the best. It’s nice to know we can do it if we have to, but it’s pretty obvious to everyone that it’s not a sustainable way to go about this. The idea that the Spurs might backslide into bad habits during this stretch right when they were about to turn a corner is making me extremely sweaty.
  • I know the Trey Lyles experience has been mostly frustrating for everyone this year, but every once in a while he does something that kind of makes me do a double take. Look at him take this ball from the three point line and, with zero hesitation, fly into the paint, rise up, and throw down an absurdly monstrous dunk. Who is that guy and why is he not always doing things like that? He has his moments, doesn’t he? He’ll grab a few tough boards, he’ll hit a few open threes, and I start thinking that maybe his potential is finally going to start shining through and then...I don’t know, he just disappears again. I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about Trey Lyles but when I do it’s infuriating.
  • TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: What was Timmy wearing for this one? Seriously, I’m asking you guys because I could not, for the life of me, get a read on this color setup. At first glance, I assumed he had decided to go with yet another black, white, and grey combo and so I quickly moved on to other things. But as the game wore on I kept drifting back over to him. Did he have a subtle brown hue happening in there? Maybe a little bronze or gold even? Pop is wearing a suit that’s a deep, dark color and Tim’s is for sure lighter than that so it feels impossible that this color is just a simple black...or is it? Am I just seeing what I want to see? Are my eyes playing tricks? Am I just getting completely thrown off by DeMarre Carroll’s decision to wear a velvet green apple jacket on the bench and it’s just broken my ability to comprehend color? I’m going to have to get in the lab and conduct some more research on this one.
  • BONUS TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: Before we go, how about we talk about what we do know real quick because the world has too much uncertainty in it to spend our days focused on on the unknown. One thing that has become an undeniable fact in recent weeks is that Tim Duncan looks out of this world in blue. He’s a vision. I’m almost sad he never played for the Knicks (THIS IS A JOKE ,THAT WOULD BE TRAGIC). He’s donned this light blue blazer a few times and he has increasingly been parlaying it with various darker shades of blue which is a move that, in the wrong hands, could find him looking more like a blueberry than a fashion icon. Thankfully though, he more than pulls it off. Tim knows as well as anyone that you don’t need to be flashy to be special, you just need to nail the fundamentals.
NBA: Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports