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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Nuggets

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San Antonio fell short again and it might be time to adjust our expectations for the season.

Denver Nuggets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images

Well, I don’t know about y’all but I sure do feel like my feet are back on the ground after that one. The first two games of the restart were beautiful, shining examples of the potential this team has. They showed what they could looked like in the best of circumstances and opened the door to a positive way forward for the future. The next two games certainly haven’t negated any of the positives from the restart, but they’ve also exposed the frustrating limitations of a team that is still figuring itself out. On a macro level, It’s not really bad or surprising news, but for those of us who had maybe been a bit too hasty to drink the “Cinderella playoff run” kool-aid it has been a necessary reminder to slow our roll a little.

I’m not sure that these Spurs are capable of being good for 48 minutes at a time. Even back in the real world they struggled with the concept. Far too often they would wake up midway through the 2nd quarter to a double digit deficit and spend the rest of the game scratching and crawling their way back into things. They have also never held a lead that felt safe. Not a single one. It honestly might be a franchise record for Most Consecutive Ten Point Leads Charlie Was 100% Sure They Were Going to Blow. It’s a super weird problem because, again, it is not that they are bad at basketball, it’s just that they have a hard time remaining good at basketball for extended periods of times. Hopefully someday scientists will explain the mystery.

At least with the current ‘bubble’ iteration of the Spurs, a lot of this inconsistency can be chalked up to the youth. When you’re actively leaning on guys for the first time and asking them to do things they’ve never done before, you’re going to get some flashes of brilliance and you’re going to get guys who are out over their skis a few too many times. That’s how you learn and we are, without a doubt, knee deep in the learning process at the moment. We’ve been begging for PATFO to commit to the youth movement for a while though, and now that it’s here for real it would be silly to spend too much time complaining about the growing pains.

Still…we can complain about it a little bit right? Knowing the context of the mistakes doesn’t make them less frustrating in real time. The missed defensive rotations, the lazy box outs, the wild drives into the paint without a plan in sight...you just can’t watch these mistakes slowly bleed out a winnable game without feeling like someone is playing a big cosmic joke on you. This game was right there for the taking and this version of the Spurs didn’t quite know how to grab it. It’s like they couldn’t even hear me helpfully yelling at my screen, “GRAB IT YOU DUMMIES!!”

I’m trying not to lose too much sleep figuring out what kind of math needs to happen now to get the Spurs into the real postseason. I’m sure the calculations are complex and the odds are long. It’s beside the point anyway. This reentry was never really about trying to win a championship. It was about trying to get some great experience, learn some new ways to play together, and be in a better position to compete next year. All of the realistic goals are being accomplished, so we can’t fault them for falling short of any fantasies we’ve tried to pin to the bulletin board.

They did accidentally make us dream for a hot minute there though. I know they didn’t mean to, but it still hurt my feelings a little bit.

That’s completely on them as far as I’m concerned.

Takeaways:

  • It was always going to be a tall task (heh) to take on a Nuggets team with our newly minted small ball infrastructure. Denver is one of the foremost proponents of having a bunch of huge dudes on the roster and playing them all the time. Tall is bigger than small and this frustrating fact constantly reared its head over the course of this game. The stat sheet says that the Nuggets only recorded 5 blocks, but it felt like the Spurs just kept running out of room in the paint all day and it would grind the offense to a halt at the most inopportune times.
  • I did, however, enjoy the relative fearlessness of the Spurs in this one. The offense doesn’t yet feel like it has any true cohesion, but it does have a lot of activity. The guys are in constant motion, probing and pushing and seeing what they can make happen. It’s like we’re watching them experiment in real time. Some of these experiments are successful and some of them are almost comical failures but, regardless, it seemed like everyone was undaunted by any negative outcomes. They kept getting up off that matt and going again. If you’re on the hunt for positives, that’s a pretty big one right there.
  • Boy, for all our talk of the youth movement right now, this game would’ve likely been an unmitigated disaster if it weren’t for resident ‘old man’ Rudy Gay. I was very much not expecting him to pour in 24 points at any point in this stretch of games, and we probably shouldn’t expect to rely on that, but it was still nice to see him go to work in this one. He doesn’t really get enough credit for the smoothness of his game. When he’s feeling it, he practically glides and flows around the court. He does that thing that only the best athletes really manage to do and make super difficult things look like they take almost no effort at all.
  • What does a team like the Spurs do when a guy like Nikola Jokic is out there hitting threes while also being a giant? A motley collection of our guys kept valiantly trying to be physical and put a body on him, but a guy like Jokic is just a really neat little cheat code to have out there in a basketball game. My advice to the Spurs would be to simply go out and acquire a Nikola Jokic type player. Problem solved.
  • I don’t want to jinx anything so I’ll just say this…Keldon Johnson...I’m into it.
  • TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: He’s only been on the bench as a coach for one season, but I find myself deeply missing Tim Duncan during these games. He’s a source of comfort, style, and grace over there and his current absence is much more jarring than I ever believed it would be. I consider it worse than not having the fans. I think Tim’s greatest quality has always been the degree to which he is unflappable. The guy has quite possibly never been flapped. Whether the Spurs are up 10 or down 20, he just sits over there radiating a calm energy that allows me to maintain perspective. Without him I’m out here leaping to wild conclusions after a single win over the Kings or, conversely, ready to light the whole operation on fire after simply loosing a game they were supposed to lose to a team that is better than them. Tim’s my Emotional Support Coach and so far during these games I’ve been a mess. I’m sure LaMarcus Aldridge’s rehab is important, but It feels safe to say this is bigger than that.