A thing I learned about myself during the early stages of quarantine is that I absolutely love watching old games. It’s like settling in to watch your favorite movie or something. I don’t click on Ocean’s Eleven because I’m worried about whether or not Danny and the boys are going to be able to pull the job off, I do it because watching that specific set of events unfold hits a certain pleasure center in my brain every time and makes me feel a little more at peace with the world. New things? Well, new things are scary, unpredictable and not to be trusted. Anything could happen and a lot of those things might be bad! It’s difficult for me to fathom anyone possibly having room in their life for extra stress-inducing activities right now. You know who never hurt me? Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals. Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals is a safe place where I can curl up and feel like everything’s all right.
I thought about game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals a lot during the 2nd quarter on Friday night. After a promising start, a young and almost unrecognizable Spurs team was in the process of lighting a 16 point lead on fire like a budding pyromaniac and I could feel my hand stray towards the remote, itching to queue up game 6 on the old DVR. How did I want to spend my evening? I could keep watching DeMar DeRozan get his pocket picked on doomed mid-range post ups or I could flip over and watch Timmy snag a Triple Double to close out the Nets again. Easy choice, right?
I think I’m more inclined to retreat towards the safety of comfort food just because of how hard it is to process the game right now. Everything looks and feels different. I’m sure that the NBA has spared no expense in trying to recreate the in-game experience down there in the bubble, but I can also tangibly feel every single ounce of that effort while I’m watching. The projected logos out on the court, the piped in crowd noise, the virtual fans on the screens with their slightly delayed reactions to every piece of action . . . it’s all just slightly off. It’s like every thing being done to make things seem normal only drives home exactly how bizarre this whole thing really is.
Never mind the fact that we’re all just expected to pick up the threads of a season we put down four months ago and jump back into an 8 game sprint to the playoffs. What? That was like 8000 news cycles ago. The last time the Spurs played a real basketball game I didn’t even know how to wash my hands properly. What were the Spurs even doing back in March? Was LaMarcus still shooting threes? Were we playing Lonnie more minutes? Was the momentum good or was it bad? I feel like I remember it being bad, but who knows? The ‘momentum’ at large wasn’t particularly good for any of us in March so it’s possible I’m just projecting.
The “return of sports” is, I think, meant to make us feel like everything is getting back to the old normal and I’m sure that after a while that will be the case. We’ve certainly gotten used to a lot of different things recently and I imagine that it’ll only be a matter of time before this weird little pantomime bubble tournament stops looking like a video game and starts just being how basketball looks now. We’ll adjust and adapt. We’ll stop being grateful to simply be watching our boys again and start getting annoyed when they take low-percentage pull up jumpers too early in the shot clock. At one point last night, Marco Belinelli took a quick hand off from just inside the three point line, turned, and jump-flailed into three Sacramento defenders to draw a foul and I could feel the heat of the Marco takes bubbling up across the internet. It made me smile in spite of myself.
I desperately wanted to write a “nature is healing” post about how great it felt to have the Spurs back in our lives and, to be fair, it was genuinely comforting to be watching basketball again. I do love the sport and I love the team and, in spite of my hand wringing, it ended up being a pretty fun game to watch. It’s just a lot to adjust to. I’m still figuring out how to make my brain realize that these are real basketball games with real stakes and not some weird exhibition game. I wanted it to be automatic, like a flip you can switch or something, but it still felt . . . strange.
Strange doesn’t have to be bad though. Maybe the key is to stop trying to squint at the TV and pretend like we’re watching regular basketball and simply embrace the weird. These Spurs are participating in something that has literally never happened before in the history of the sport. There have been thousands of basketball games, but the best players in the world have never locked themselves in an empty gym at Disney World and battled it out in a high intensity tournament over the course of two months so maybe we should count ourselves lucky that we get to bear witness to all this.
The 2020 Spurs locked up their first win of the new normal on Friday night. They’re right in the thick of the weirdness and it would be crazy to pretend it’s not going to be pretty fascinating to see how this whole thing plays out.
Timmy’s Triple Double isn’t going anywhere.
- It hasn’t always been the most fun to watch this season but, against all odds, the Spurs have actually managed to assemble a pretty enjoyable group of players on this roster. Who knew? Did it take a global pandemic, a series of injuries, and a whole host of weird circumstances falling into place in order to get them all playing big minutes together? Yes. Was it worth it in the grand scheme of things? Unclear! That being said, it was exhilarating to realize that the Spurs were moving forward with operation Play the Fun Young Guys A Lot.
- I appreciate very much that DeMar DeRozan is willfully taking a back seat right now. I know that it’s hard for him to switch gears out of Alpha mode considering he’s been the best player on maybe 90% of the teams he’s played on since he ten years old. The other reason I know it’s difficult for him is that he looked absolutely lost for the first three quarters of the game. It was like he couldn’t figure out what to do with himself out there. He’d get the ball and you could almost see the wheels turning, fighting against his natural instinct to control the flow of the game and just relentlessly try to get buckets. He only took two shots in the first half! There was a million weird things about this game but that has to be in the top 5, right? It’s even weirder that he ended up leading the team in scoring. DeMar came alive in the fourth and you know what? I kind of love that look for him. He was a steadying force as they worked to close out the game and that’s the exact type of thing he was designed for. DeMar as a facilitator early and a closer late. What a concept.
- Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV look like they spent the entire summer doing that football drill where you take the ball and run through some cones while people whack at you with practice dummies. They’re finishing at the rim was exhilarating to watch. Both of them excel at absorbing contact and staying steady on through their shot and it’s exhilarating to watch. Am I concerned that Lonnie is going to hurt himself flying into the basket anytime he gets a head of steam going? Sure. Does that make plays like this any less exhilarating? SURE DOESN’T!
- Is it too late to start a Defensive Player of the Year campaign for Jakob Poeltl? My guy only had two blocks recorded on the stat sheet but, first of all, both of the blocks were super rad and, second of all, as the lone big man out there most of the night he 100% anchored the defense in a million little ways that are probably the main reason the Spurs got out there with a win and, third of all, THE BLOCKS WERE SUPER RAD.
TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: As I’m sure you are all very aware, Tim Duncan has not joined the team inside the bubble for the remainder of this season, thus depriving the world a chance to see him living his best life on the sideline finally freed from the shackles of a rigorous NBA Coaching Dress code. You might have noticed the coaching staff for both teams rocking a much more casual vibe in the bubble and, as we’ve noted before, a casual vibe is where Timmy absolutely thrives. Who knows what he might’ve been able to do in a situation like this. Would he have a giant quarantine beard? Would he have gone sleeveless? Would he have rocked shorts? Would he have worn SANDALS? These are all questions that will never be answered and the world is a darker place for it. If you need me, I’ll be outside in my custom Tim Duncan Punisher T-Shirt staring out at the horizon, lost in thought.