As we laid back on our recliners during a summer thunderstorm, we tuned into an old favorite, FOX Sports Southwest, where our favorite commentators Bill Land and Sean Elliot dusted off the extended break for the moment we have been waiting for since March. Our favorite team was back, and they were playing with their hearts on the line. I’m really happy with the Spurs’ young guys and seasoned vets. Everybody stayed in their lane, playing how they know how to play sprinkled with some patience, and it was all led by DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan has been a key facilitator throughout the scrimmages, and he remained that way throughout the first half. He was involved on offense as the playmaker, while Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and even Marco Bellinelli were shining. And let’s not forget about Rudy Gay and his 19 point, 8 rebound game, as well as Jakob Poeltl’s intimidating defensive presence. The team seemed super comfortable, as DeRozan was patiently waiting for his opportunity to score. When that time came, he jumped on it. While he did avoid some open shots throughout the first half (only scoring 2 points in the first half), he made that up in the second half (and the final 2:38 of the game, where he got a stealthy 10 points).
The first quarter took me by surprise, as the Spurs came out firing in a seemingly comfortable fashion. Even though DeMar, their best offensive player and leader, wasn’t getting buckets, they were hitting their shots nonetheless. White played like a young star, tying his career high with 26 points, and it wasn’t just his comfort shooting the three and making moves on offense; it was also his big time defensive effort. He drew five charges in Ginobili-esque fashion, sacrificing his body despite a shot to the groin and a chipped tooth.
I originally wanted to have the picture of White with his chipped tooth as this article’s headlining photo because I thought it was a solid representation of this game, the Spurs, and even this article. It was a scrappy moment by a scrappy player playing for a scrappy team. White may not have the most talent in this competitive league, but he has heart. A chipped tooth isn’t the most beautiful thing, but it was a beautiful moment.
The rest of the squad played with confidence. I’ll admit, it was a bit of a blessing the Spurs played the Kings their first game, but that is who they are trying to beat to the playoffs. Both the Spurs and the Kings are the bottom half of the remaining teams, but the Kings were on a pretty win streak before their loss against the Spurs (granted that was from months prior, but we’ll take what we can get). While the Silver and Black gave up some breakaways and let Fox run circles around them, they kept their foot on the gas pedal. Sure, there were moments of stagnation on offense and too-easy shots made by the Kings, but the young Spurs were always competing. They never put their head down and even threw some smiles out there, like the time Quinndary Weatherspoon missed a wide open layup, followed by Derrick White cleaning up the boards and eventually getting the ball in the hoop.
The group of guys on the court looked like one, each player an extension of the next, as they played like one beautiful machine. Their energetic, selfless ball movement brought back the sweet nostalgic memories of the 2014 Spurs. It also gave fans a sign of hope, which is really all we could ask for from these young, inexperienced players.
At this point I’m very content. In fact, I’m excited. I had absolutely no clue on how the Spurs would start out after this three-and-a-half month hiatus, but they played very familiar: with heart. This makes me content with what happens with this bubble experience and boosts excitement for the future. The Spurs are here for development, as their general-in-arms Coach Gregg Popovich keeps saying, and they have been doing a great job at it. Since the scrimmages, they have maintained development, so let’s hope that continues.
I don’t want to over-analyze every moment of the game, nor make dramatic assumptions on the Spurs’ future both for the rest of the season and over the next couple of seasons, because this was only one game. It was shaking off the rust and becoming comfortable with this very strange bubble. Everything feels so different than before, with all this virtual work around the court (the virtual crowd was awesome and even the advertisements on the court were virtual!) and the stance for change and equality. I’m happy with how well the NBA has adapted to these chaotic, socially demanding times (MLB take notes!), and they are using their platform for righteous activism (led by Spurs-truly Gregg Popovich and DeMar DeRozan).
I also loved the support by the Spurs community. The Pounding the Rock Game Thread was popping throughout the game as well as Spurs Twitter. Everybody seemed happy with the Spurs playing, yet a little anxious that they were going to traumatically lose their lead throughout the game. (I was too!)
This also goes to show that even in times of panic and confusion, sports is important. The community hasn’t been able to meet in groups because of social distancing, but we have found ways to maintain that sense of community. The BLM movement has helped with basketball heroes taking a strong stance for members of this community, and basketball being back has enhanced that sense of community even more. The NBA was so organized with all of their precautions and ensuring zero risks. The NBA has so much unity right now, and as a basketball fan this is a huge blessing. I commend their efforts in keeping the players, the staff and the journalists safe and healthy. It speaks volumes on their effort in adapting to the times so that we can still be entertained with live television. If you’re like me, I’m tired of the never-ending streaming of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Apple TV. This was refreshing. It wasn’t scripted, it wasn’t plot-driven and it certainly wasn’t perfect, but that’s exactly what I needed.
All in all, this attempt at continuing play has been a success. The Spurs exceeded my expectations their first game, and I hope that they continue that development into this big game against Memphis. Limiting Ja Morant from controlling the tempo is necessary, and the Spurs need that offensive flow they had most of this last game. The young stars bear a burden, but the beauty behind it is that their expectations are rather low. Coach Pop said it himself, he doesn’t expect them to make playoffs, but he demands that development. With this in mind, they can forget about the wins and losses and just focus on the game.
I know I said this Memphis game is an important win, but if they just play their game, they have a great chance at actually getting that dub. As a fan, I‘m going full superstition, I’m not washing my jacket that I threw on the first game, I’m taking my pre-game routine as serious as Patty Mills’ note-taking, and I’m going to be yelling at the TV like I’m one of the lucky few virtual fans. Go Spurs Go, see you soon Memphis.