With the Spurs going up against the best team in NBA on the road without their starting point guard, it very much felt like this one might be one of those games you accidentally “forget” was happening until after it’s over. “Oh, the game tips off at 7:30. My bad.” We’ve all had those, right? You’re trying to be a good fan and stay invested in the team but, every once in a while, one of those matchups appears on the schedule that looks about as fun as a dentist appointment.
However, lo and behold, Spurs fans got an interesting little jolt just before the game in Milwaukee started on Saturday night. Lonnie Walker IV, beloved Internet hero and sometimes basketball player, was going to get his first ever start. Goodness, I mean, just when I thought I was out, am I right? It’s easy to think the Gregg Popovich has maybe lost a step or two, but responding to all the outside “pressure” from fans to play Lonnie more by throwing him into the starting lineup against Giannis Antetokounmpo is about as Vintage Pop as it gets.
If you’re anything like me, you were probably holding out hope that doing something drastic like throwing Lonnie in the with the starters was some some magic switch we were going to flip at just the right time and he would come in, light the league on fire, and completely turn this season on it’s head. It’s a fun notion to hold on to when you’re watching your team lose more games than they win. Somehow it makes it easier to swallow the losses when you can just tell people, “we only lost because our coach refuses to play the good players.”
How did our boy actually do though? He did...fine. That stat line is not going to be something we print out, frame and put on a wall or anything, but I think it’s more than fair to say that he did...fine. It really was a tough spot for him to parachute into. Lonnie serves a very specific purpose coming off the bench in that he doesn’t really need to have a directive other than, “go make stuff happen.” He comes in hot with a lot of energy and changes up the flow of the game which is usually exactly what’s needed when Pop motions over to him. Coming into the starting lineup is a whole different deal. He’s suddenly having to juggle fitting in with our best guys and going up against their best guys and it’s a situation where you have to be a little more mindful about how you approach things. His shot looked a little stiff and he definitely wasn’t flying around with quite the same ‘puppy off a leash’ zeal we’re used to. Lonnie didn’t look timid, per se, but he did look like he was trying to play within himself a bit more than usual.
All of this is encouraging though. It was a mature, thoughtful performance from a player we’ve come to associate with youthful exuberance. We want Lonnie to play a bigger role on the team moving forward and Popovich simply isn’t going to do that unless he can see him start to take control of all the things that make him so dynamic and exciting and weaponize them accordingly. Plenty of guys come into this league with raw talent and ability, but taking that skillset and growing it into something more is always the part where people start to hit the wall. Lonnie looks more than ready to jump over it.
This maybe wasn’t as fun as the night he came in and set fire to the Rockets double-digit lead, but it was important in a different way. On Thursday night, Lonnie looked like a guy who was exactly where he needed to be. He looked like he belonged out there. Maybe that’s something we thought we knew, but having a little hard evidence never hurt nobody.
- Obviously having Lonnie (and Derrick White) in the starting lineup was fun, but boy, did that leave the bench unit a little exposed. It sort of felt like we went to a party wearing only the front side of a tuxedo and then had to spend the whole night shuffling around with our back to a wall just hoping nobody noticed. The Bucks very much noticed and did everything they could to go after the trio of Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, and Marco Belinelli every chance they got.
- I’m honestly surprised that anyone was able to focus on anything else for the rest of the game after LaMarcus Aldridge hit that step back three in the first quarter. It kind of broke my brain for a little bit. I started doing mental calculations in my head about how many games we could win if he started averaging like 12 points from beyond the arc. I started considering the possibility of playing LaMarcus at the point. I started planning my outfit for the championship parade in June. Look, I did a LOT of things before finally settling back into the game and realizing the Spurs were now losing by 8 at halftime. Things obviously didn’t go quite as well in the second half for LMA, but I refuse to let that take anything away from this delightfully absurd play. Like, it’s just SO out of his comfort zone. He looked like a kid on a playground doing a James Harden impression or something. I really hope this leads to LaMarcus just doing weirder and weirder bits as the season goes on. If he does a 360 dunk in game then all of you owe me a milkshake.
- It probably doesn’t seem like it, but I felt like the Spurs actually played really well on defense last night, all things considered. They came in with a very clear game plan of not letting Giannis get anything easy in the paint and for the most part they succeeded in doing that. They forced him to take uncomfortable shots and shoot threes, and for about two quarters it was going about as well as could be expected. The obvious talent disparity between the teams ended up sort of overpowering any and all grand schemes, but I really like the way the Spurs have been trending on that end of the floor in recent weeks. I will fully allow for the idea that my thoughts about our improved defense is just residual delusion I’m still suffering from the LaMarcus step back.
- Tim Duncan Fit Watch: I will probably never warm to the idea of wearing a henley t-shirt under the blazer. I’m trying to, Tim. Really, I am. You think I don’t want to live in a world where we’re just shamelessly throwing together casual wear and dress wear and calling it fancy? You think that doesn’t sound appealing to me? OF COURSE IT DOES! The problem is that then when I see it in action, it sort of looks like you forgot your dress shirt entirely and are now just wearing a sport coat over the old-timey long johns you’ve had on underneath because it’s cold outside. I don’t make the rules out here, I just enforce them. Good job, good effort on the color combination here, but we gotta 86 the henleys from the rotation.