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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Magic

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Sometimes you can get by in spite of all the mistakes.

NBA: Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

I like competitive cooking shows. This is hardly an interesting revelation, and I’m sure it seems out of place for a sports blog, but bear with me, because I do have a point. Cooking shows are an exception to the rule for me when it comes to reality television for me. On the whole, I find reality television to be an effective theater of spectacle and narrative that ultimately lacks deeper wells of meaning, but I’ve always found competitive cooking to be one of the outliers.

For one, they usually require a certain degree of technical skill, and this is much more interesting to me than the artificial orchestration of interpersonal dramatics. Secondly, they require a high-level of execution. Knowledge is not enough to get you through. You may have the talent, and you may have the skills, but victory is reliant on the successful application of the fundamentals and of decision making that is driven by a wealth of experience.

While flipping over to San Antonio’s game last night on the heels of one such episode, I was struck by the similarities between competitive cooking and professional sports. And it occurs to me that I enjoy them both for the same reasons.

Cooking show contestants arrive with a variance of experience in styles of cooking and varieties of cuisine from which they attempt to claim victory. Sports teams also pursue their goals according to the strengths of their personnel and the style in which they can cohesively compete. Equally reminiscent is the reality that a cooking contestant can advance (and even win) in the absence of perfect execution.

Contestants can for instance make up for deficiencies in their side dishes on the strength of their primary offering. They can even occasionally survive a badly prepared main dish on the strength of the peripherals. So too can sports teams triumph in the presence of turnovers and inconsistent execution. And sometimes, in the strangest of twists, both of the final competitors can concoct offerings that are equally repugnant. And as in sports, there are no ties to be had here (Ties that do exist in professional sports are abominations, full stop.) as the judges are left to ruminate on the relative awfulness of each dish and choose the lesser of the two evils as the victor. Resemblances to our political system notwithstanding, last night’s contest was one in which neither team did much to deserve victory.

It was a game in which the two teams combined for 35 (!) turnovers, allowed each other to shoot 40% from long-distance, and fouled uncontrollably: all in all, a downright mess. It was a game in which Jakob Poeltl left for the night with a minor knee injury, in which Lonnie Walker IV played some of his worst minutes of the year, and Marco Belinelli almost led in the team in negative +/- in only five minutes of play.

It was also a game in which Trey Lyles scored a very efficient twenty points, in which Rudy Gay played like the Rudy Gay of last season, and Drew Eubanks made his first NBA three-pointer in the process of tallying his first career double digit scoring performance.

This is also something I like about the aforementioned cooking shows. Even in the presence of greater flaws, there are often other successes to be complimented. Creative and succulent garnishes and seasonings and sauces and flourishes abound. Yeah, the Spurs may have all but cooked the goose last night, but Lyles made this crazy drive, Derrick White made that crazy pass, and Drew Eubanks surprised and delighted in match-ups against the superiorly athletic Mo Bamba, Nikola Vucevic, and Aaron Gordon.

By this point we should all be aware of the unwieldiness of this team. Like a vegan baker being forced to cook barbecue, San Antonio’s players look out of sorts regularly enough to confound any chance at regular success. And yeah, win or not, last night reeked of overcooked steak, but don’t ignore the side-dishes on account of the main course. There is succulence to be found even when outright victory evades the grasp of a club struggling with consistency in execution.

Takeaways:

  • Lyles really had himself one heck of a night. I’ve thought for some time now that he might be capable of a near double-double stat line if he could find a way to see more playing time, but he narrowly missed a 20-point double-double (going for 20 and 9) on a night in which he also tallied four steals and a block. There were a lot of players who contributed critically to this win, but Lyles performance might have been the most vital on a night in which the Spurs surprisingly ended up being deprived of both of their best big men.
  • If there’s a contender for the most critical contributions of the night, White should be at the top of the list. He did it all in this one, drawing timely charges, making sharp passes, and affecting Orlando’s offensive possessions simply with his presence on the perimeter. His stat-line is much quieter than his performance was, as his final rebound saved the game for a Spurs team that had coughed up the ball for an Orlando fast-break with less than 10 seconds left.
  • Dejounte Murray returned to the form that he’d been displaying up until San Antonio’s last loss, with 15 points on 70% shooting, in addition to three steals and seven assists. He still has a habit of forcing some of his drives and passes, but this has lessened as the season has gone on, and his jumper continues to get smoother with each contest. I don’t know what his ceiling will be, but if this is near his floor then he really is going to be something. And even if that’s not the case, he’ll can still serve as a quality contributor in either unit.
  • Patty Mills has been in an extended slump as of late. He went 2-8 from three on the night, and has shot 37% from the field and 31% from deep in the last ten games. He still has a gift for timley contributions, as he scored in the clutch on a turnover forced by Murray, but the inconsistency has been notable this season (although that may have to do with teams actively game-planning for him for the first time in his career).
  • I really feel for Aaron Gordon. No matter who’s coaching Orlando, it always seems that they just don’t quite know what to do with him. Last night the lion’s share of touches went to Orlando’s guards (and Vucevic) in spite of the very clear advantage the Magic should have had in the front-court. I’d love to see him traded to San Antonio, but at this point I just want for the poor guy to finally be able to leave the black hole that his current organization has been for most of the last 20 years.
  • Bryn Forbes was as erratic as ever in this one, often following up a good shot or play with a foul or boneheaded positioning, but he came up clutch in this one, as he scored the final five points of the game for San Antonio, and (after turning the ball over) made the clutch tip that led to White’s rebound to seal the game. It’s always an adventure with Forbes, but it was nice that things worked out for him this time, considering the beating he takes on Spurs Twitter. I still don’t think he should be starting, but he’s a more vital contributor this season than some folks are willing to come to terms with.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

Let Go by Frou Frou