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What We Learned from the Spurs Win Over the Rockets

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The Spurs continue to play the hand they’ve been dealt.

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, we should rejoice that the San Antonio Spurs are finally fun to watch again. I say that like I haven’t enjoyed games here and there over the last couple years, which isn’t true, but something feels different now. This wasn’t a dominant, world-beating performance or big upset over a team they shouldn’t beat. This isn’t the false dawn of a random January win streak or LaMarcus Aldridge finally dragging himself out beyond the three point line. No, this feels like something bigger. Something better. It feels like after a few years of treading water that we’re finally starting to swim.

The reality is that Tuesday’s was a nice win over a short-handed Rockets team. It was a good win and a necessary win and, increasingly, a win that might still be irrelevant to San Antonio’s dwindling hopes of making the playoffs. Like many of you, I spent the afternoon after the game yesterday with one eye on the boxscores from around the league. I despaired at the 76ers B-Team valiantly trying to knock off the suddenly invincible Suns for us. I tried not to enjoy the continuing implosion of a pretty endearing Grizzlies team. I swallowed my pride and rooted for Dallas to pull it out against Portland (NEVER AGAIN DALLAS, YOU’RE DEAD TO ME ) (until Thursday when you play Phoenix, I guess). Without a doubt, it was fun to care about this dumb stuff and get worked up about the playoff math and all that jazz. Against all odds, I have been won over by the inherent charms of the Bubble Tournament.

I genuinely want to see the Spurs snag a playoff spot out of this mess and I’m going to be bummed out if they don’t. Mostly though, I’m desperate to keep watching this iteration of the Spurs play for a few more games. I can’t stand the thought of them getting taken away from us after tomorrow. How are we supposed to keep on going in these troubled times without being able to look forward to another day of Lonnie Walker chaotically flying through the air or Jakob Poeltl perfecting the art of the rebound tip-out or that lunatic Derrick White taking 17 charges a game? It’s unfathomable!

It’s not like this is perfect basketball that we’ve been watching out there by any means. It’s still sloppy and disjointed at times. The steady lead they built out still felt like it was one Houston 3-point barrage away from falling to pieces and there was a stretch in there towards the end where both teams looked like their Playstation controllers had been unplugged or something. But nitpicking the flaws feels beside the point when there was just so much to like rising above the mess.

The chemistry the team has right now simply radiates off the screen at you. Maybe it’s a product of being cooped up over at the Yacht Club together, but this doesn’t feel like the same group of guys we were watching grind out the end of the season back in March. I guess that’s in part because it isn’t. The long awaited commitment to the youth movement has been an injection of life that no one could have foreseen. The kids are going out there every game like they’ve been finally let off the leash and it’s pretty exhilarating to see. They look excited and invigorated by the challenge to prove themselves.

It’s almost like the facade of professionalism has come down a little bit out there and I mean that as the highest of compliments. We keep hearing that the vets are “taking a back seat right now,” but I don’t really see them fading into the background so much as going along for the ride. Have we ever seen DeMar DeRozan look this relaxed? He’s been wound so tight ever since he got off the plane from Toronto trying to prove himself to his old team and his new team and everyone else along the way. His fight and his intensity are characteristics that make him great at basketball and also seem to be what trips him up from time to time. Right now he seems the most at ease that he’s ever been in Silver & Black. He’s not having to drag the ship across the finish line anymore, he’s just having to go out there and steer it.

I don’t want this to end and I don’t think it has to. Even if the playoff bid falls a little short, it’s hard to imagine we’re not seeing the team’s future out there on the court. The guys who are taking center stage right now are going to make up the fabric of this team for the foreseeable future and for the first time in a while, it doesn’t feel like we have to guess whether or not that future is going to be bright.

Now we know it is.

Takeaways:

  • It’s crazy to me when I turn on the news right now and everyone isn’t talking about Keldon Johnson constantly. ESPN? CNN? MSNBC? C-SPAN? Not a single one of them is covering what is clearly the biggest ongoing news story at the moment which is, of course, that the Spurs appear to have unearthed another stud and the rest of the NBA should be worried. This kid is a problem. He’s strong, he’s fast, and he’s unafraid of the moment. It doesn’t matter if it’s taking contested threes or driving to the rim or guarding Russell Westbrook, Keldon looks ready to take it on. Hard to imagine we almost spent this entire year without getting a proper look at him, but it’s definitely been worth the wait.
  • This wasn’t necessarily the best showing from the Law Offices of White, Murray and Walker. It wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t anything to write home about either. Nevertheless, here I am writing home about them. It’s just that even when they aren’t quite at their best, they do so many things over the course of a game that keep me buzzing for the rest of the day. I can’t tell if it’s intentional or not, but the way they play together seems to have injected this team with a sense of pace and urgency that simply didn’t exist before. Even if it’s just to go down and start the offense in the half-court, they grab it and go. The ball and the people are constantly moving. It would’ve been unfathomable to me six months ago to have the Spurs try match pace with the high octane Rockets and yet here we are in August and I’m pretty confident that they can hold their own out there.
  • His line on the stat sheet isn’t going to show anything special, but Drew Eubanks is having a very endearing little run in the bubble. I’m almost excited when he comes in now because I know he’s going to bring something interesting to the table. He’s not infallible on defense or anything, but he plays with energy and intensity and seems to relish being the last line of defense down there. He’s flies around on the boards and he’s sneaky fun to watch in give-and-go situations down on the offensive end. Your milage may vary with that little hook shot he trots out but I think I’m still in the honeymoon phase with it.
  • Before the game started, I was really worried about Derrick White being too injured to play. Then they announced that Derrick White was not too injured to play and I was happy. Then the game started, and I was really worried that Derrick White was too injured to play and was playing anyway. Obvious caveat that I love his desire to be out there and his warrior mentality, etc etc, but I’d like to respectfully ask the Spurs organization to please wrap this dude in bubble wrap and keep him on ice until the next year starts. Based on the rate with which he’s taking charges, we’ve already established that he has zero regard for his own health and safety so that responsibility falls on our shoulders. #ProtectDerrick
  • TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH. Our long national nightmare continues with zero word on Tim Duncan’s whereabouts. Well, I guess we know where he is, but NONE of us can see what he looks like and it’s driving me up a wall. It’s like I’ve lost my moral compass or something. DeMar DeRozan was spotted wearing white Crocs with white, calf length socks on his way into the arena today and all I could think about was....can you imagine if Tim Duncan was given the go-ahead to Crocs into the gym? The opportunities we’re missing here without him in the bubble are just so tough to deal with. 2020 continues to just take and take and take.