As I watched Lonnie Walker IV soar through the air to throw down his second hellacious dunk in as many minutes, I have to admit, I started to get my hopes up. This is not something I’m proud of. See, I’m a pragmatist. A realist. A cynical, seasoned observer of all things. I’m the person who hears a phrase like “it’s the hope that kills you” and nods sagely. I don’t think the Spurs are going to be very good this year. I don’t think the Spurs are going to make the playoffs. The problem with that line of thinking is...like...what about that dunk though?
DON'T HURT THE RIM, @lonniewalker_4 ✈️#GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/5qmy12gnI8— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 24, 2020
Last night was actually a pretty fun time to be on Twitter, assuming you focused only on the basketball stuff (if you’re still doing anything else on social media right now, that’s on you). My feed was full of people watching their teams for the first time this season and building out monumental takes on just about as little evidence as possible. There were Orlando Magic fans claiming the Florida State Title after a single win over the Heat. Hawks fans were out there declaring Trae Young to be appointment television while watching him drop 37 points on the Bulls. I saw countless Knicks fans declare this to already be their favorite team since the 90s while at the same time writing off their rookie Obi Toppin as a bust after one game. It was great!
I laughed along knowing that I was safe from looking as foolish as all these take artists. The Spurs went down 10 early? Of course they did. They’re playing bad defense? We knew they would. LaMarcus is taking threes and missing them? All according to plan. I felt safe in my firm belief that, even if the Spurs lost this first game that it wouldn’t be the end of the world any more than them winning it would herald the dawn of a new gilded age. This was one game and nothing more. A building block. A stepping stone.
The Spurs crawled back into it after that first part though, didn’t they? They went on a little 12-0 run and just swooped back on in. Keldon Johnson out there looking like an all-star. Dejounte Murray out there ripping the ball away from dudes. Patty Mills sinking threes. This is all fun and allowed, but it changes nothing. This is a rebuilding year. Two of the starters are trade bait. The kids are too young. It’s just the Grizzlies for goodness’ sake.
The thing about Lonnie’s dunk is that, obviously, it wasn’t just that dunk. The dunk was cool but, contrary to popular belief, the Spurs have actually had some pretty cool throw downs in recent memory. Derrick White in Denver two years ago. DeMar in Toronto last year. Drew Eubanks in the bubble. This team has guys who can do stuff like this pretty regularly so, let’s be clear, it’s not like I was just blown over by the sheer shock of seeing a player in Silver & Black simply put on a show.
For some reason, this particular dunk felt like a moment. The Spurs had been in a hole, sure, but they had dug out of it in a very satisfying fashion. LaMarcus was heating up, DeMar was reliably getting buckets, and Rudy was gliding around out their like an aged basketball wizard. The vets were all hitting their marks but, and here’s where my cynical facade starts dripping away, they were doing it in lockstep with these young guys stepping up. Almost everywhere I looked, one of then was doing something a little bit better than I expected them to. They looked quicker. They looked hungrier. They looked ready.
The Spurs are going to play tougher competition than the Grizzlies very soon and they are almost assuredly not going to play like this every night. The performance didn’t feel like a fluke though. It felt like this team simply playing like it was supposed to play. Throw Derrick White back in the mix, maybe hit a few more threes here and there and all of a sudden we just might have a stew going.
Lonnie’s dunk last night was an announcement. The big three era is over. The Kawhi era is over. That part where we hang around as an also ran 8-seed in order to keep the playoff streak alive is over. This is the new Spurs. We have a stable of young dudes who want no part of the “Spurs are boring” legacy. They’re gonna steal you lunch money and dunk on your hopes and dreams, and they’re going to look fly as hell in their Fiesta jerseys while they do it. Oh, are we mad that the Spurs don’t have any nationally broadcasts games? You’re damn right we are, and you should be too because it means that you don’t get to watch us.
The Spurs are going to make the playoffs. They might just win the whole thing and, you know what? If you think otherwise then I’d like to see you say it to Lonnie Walker’s face.
OH MY GOODNESS LONNIE pic.twitter.com/hXMEB8BRe5— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 24, 2020
- Hyperbole aside, it really was just an extremely pleasant surprise to have the Spurs so thoroughly wash out the taste of those preseason games. Those were awful! Like, you know its preseason and you shouldn’t read into but, still, they shouldn’t put us through that. It’s not right.
- I feel bad singling out one of the Young Guns because they all were outstanding, but I want to highlight Dejounte Murray because I think this is the type of performance we’re all looking for from him. He played within himself and it seemed like he was making much more confident decisions out there. He muscled up on D and used those crazy long arms to cause problems for everyone in blue. Also, and this is the most important thing, he FINISHED. AT. THE. RIM. I feel like I spent all last year saying some variation of “if DJ can just finish...” and last night he took it to the rack on five separate occasions and scored every time. Maybe this is anomaly or maybe, just maybe, we might have a real point guard on our hands this year. Stay tuned!
- Okay, one more. What a fun surprise to have Keldon Johnson back in the mix! More than anyone else, he kind of came out of nowhere during the bubble, and if you didn’t spend a few moments every day during the offseason aimlessly daydreaming about what kind of talent the Spurs might have on their hands with him then...well, maybe you had better things to do, but still. He looked great tonight. Strong, confident, amazing touch. This might be the most athletic Spurs team in...ever? I’ll have to crunch some numbers on that and report back.
- Seriously, last one. Devin Vassell looked pretty good! He really seemed like he belonged out there! If all he does is play great D and knock down a three every now and then I’m going to be supremely satisfied moving forward.
WWL POST GAME PRESS CONFERENCE:
-Hi, are you concerned at all about Ja Morant dropping 44 points in this one? You didn’t mention it all in your write up.
- Yea, I’m actually choosing to ignore the big flashing warning lights coming off of that, thank you. I think they we’re probably letting Ja do that because he is very cool and deserved a treat.
- Are you worried at all about the Spurs defense? It’s been a problem in recent years and the likelihood of them scoring 130 points every night isn’t high.
- As I said, here on the WWL beat, we’re choosing to ignore this and celebrate the positive. When you’re making a strong statement coming out in favor of hope and optimism, getting bogged down in the messy details like “our two highest paid players are basically swiss cheese on that end” doesn’t really go with the rest of the vibe. Next question?
- Do you miss Marco Belinelli? Without him on the court tonight, it didn’t seem like there was quite as much lighthearted shenanigans as usual
- Of course I miss Marco. Are you kidding? I miss him every day. I invented this whole weird, fake press conference construction just so I could have an excuse to shoehorn him into the conversation. In fact, I’d get used to that. If you think Pounding the Rock readers aren’t going to get regular updates about Marco’s exploits over in Bologna then you’ve got another thing coming.