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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Mavericks

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The Spurs seem to run out of answers down the stretch.

Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

It’s probably about that time when we all need to strap in for a bumpy stretch. We had our fun little start to the season, but I sort of get the feeling that that the harsh walls of reality are closing in on us now. Am I too soon to arrive at the panic party? Too late? Hard to say, but I’m here now and I’m feeling sweaty.

Panic is probably an inappropriate word to use. Panic implies something arriving all of a sudden at your doorstep, taking you by surprise, and causing your good times to crash and burn. That’s not really what’s happened with our dear, sweet Spurs, is it? This has been more of a slow motion catastrophe. A symphony of tiny warning bells slowly building to a satisfying, if frightening, crescendo. The Spurs are not very good this year. They’re fine. They’re okay. They might even win a few ball games. But they are deeply flawed in problematic ways that aren’t going to be fixed overnight and it’s probably going to be tough to watch here for a bit.

None of this is new. I’m not blind to the fact that this is who they’ve been for a while, but I wanted to buy into the dream of them that punching above their weight for a little bit longer. It really seemed like they might be able to pull that off. Snag a few big wins here and there, take care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat, and maybe scrap their way to the top of the messy heap that’s hanging out below the real contenders in the conference. I had visions of a sneaky 5 seed for the Spurs. I had dreams of a cheeky playoff upset. “What harm could getting my hopes up a little do,” he asked himself foolishly. “It’s only a little bit of hope.”

This is the part where you tell me to calm down and that I’m overreacting to two games and that the season still has a long way to go. I mean, a bounce here and a bounce there and the game last night maybe slides over into the win column and this whole story becomes about how this team has the “heart of a fighter” or something equally hyperbolic. It’s a game of inches and drawing grand conclusions based on outcomes that are essentially a coin flip is silly at best and unhealthy at worst.

Look, I’m happy to overlook a blowout to the Warriors because blowouts feel like anomalies. Blowouts are those days where you mute your alarm too many times, spill coffee on your shirt, and find a parking ticket on your windshield. I can rationalize blowouts because the idea of showing up to work and just plain not having it is maybe the most relatable thing an NBA player can do. That Warriors game was a write off.

This game against the Mavs though? Well, this felt like the real Spurs. They went down big in this one because it seems like they only know how to play good defense by accident these days. They lose track of people. It’s too easy for opposing teams to get into the lane or get open shots. Everything is just too easy all the time. Rarely do I feel like the Spurs are putting the clamps on someone so much as their opponents lose the plot on offense just long enough for the Spurs to take advantage. They “held” Dallas to 3-10 shooting in the last six minutes of the game and all of a sudden it seemed like they might have a chance to steal it. Did it really feel like they did anything different during that stretch thought? If anything, the Spurs seemed as surprised as anyone that they might have a shot at this thing.

What was the plan down the stretch? Ride the vets and hope they can be perfect just long enough to pull it out? I will defend DeMar DeRozan to the ends of the earth, but if the only way we can think of to use him is just run him into the heart of the defense over and over again and pray something good happens then, frankly, I hope we do go ahead and ship him out somewhere that needs him because I can only watch this act so many more times. There has to be a better way. The offense has had moments this season where it comes to life and becomes a beautiful, whirring machine of efficiency, but these moments have almost never come during the closing stretches of close contests. Our last meaningful shot of the game was Rudy Gay hitting a 28’ three off of an inbound play that the Spurs have been running since I was in high school. There just has to be more to it than that.

This whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t like being mad at the Spurs. I want to show up to games with a carefree attitude, have a few laughs, and not take this thing too seriously. It’s just a game, right? Last night was just frustrating though. It felt like an exhibition that just put all of the flaws and imperfections of this team on display. It was a harsh look in the mirror and I didn’t care for it. I spent an awful lot of time earlier this season telling anyone who would listen about how “fun” the Spurs are this year. Well, I think the fun times might be over.

It’s time for them to get to work.


Takeaways:

  • It’s certainly possible that part of why the Spurs seemed so off last night was losing Dejounte Murray so early in the game. I mean, your starting point guard is a pretty important cog in the machine, right? He’s also a pretty key figure in any version of the defense looking half-way competent so, you know, maybe I need to step back from that ledge a little bit. We’ve got to find a way to outlaw injuries, they are just ruining this league.
  • I’m weirdly enjoying watching Rudy Gay this season more than almost anything else happening with the Spurs. He does so many little things over the course of the game that show off how long he’s been in the league and it’s fascinating to watch. He knows how to get to his spots and how to instinctively take advantage of certain defenders so well that when he all of a sudden pulls up with a little 14 footer it almost seems like he just pulled off a close up magic trick or something. Then, you know, every once in a while he also does something like this which is also exceedingly cool.
  • This feels like it happened one hundred years ago, but do y’all remember that stretch in the 1st quarter where LaMarcus knocked down 4 threes in a span of like 3 minutes and completely brought the Spurs back in the game for a bit? That was insane. For a brief moment in time I had a vision of a beautiful paradise where that was just who LaMarcus was. A 7-foot Steph Curry in a Fiesta Jersey, here to rescue the Spurs from the tedium of the NBA’s middle class. It was a glorious dream and I wish you guys could’ve been there with me to see it.
  • I want to dislike Luka Dončić because, you know, he is very good and plays for one of our rivals, but I’m finding it very difficult. His body makes very little sense to me and when it does these effortless little moves out there it seems almost like the NBA Matrix is glitching or something. He shouldn’t be able to glide around like that! It shouldn’t look so effortless! I’m hypnotized by the whole thing. Curse you, Luka. I had to put up with having a grudging respect for Dirk for like two decades and I thought I was finally going to be able to just rest and hate the Mavs in peace.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- You came pretty close up there to fully airing out Coach Pop. Really danced around it at the end. What made you pull back?

- Yea, well, see, I desperately would like to be friends with him some day and so I was holding out hope that when he reads this, maybe he’ll think I’m just angry with Will Hardy or something like that.

- That doesn’t seem very ethical from a journalistic standpoint, does it?

- The way I see it, I have two options. I can either 1. be a credible journalist or 2. maybe wrangle an invite to go hang out in Pop’s wine cellar some day. I would light every single shred of journalistic integrity I have on fire if it meant getting to go over the finer points of of particularly dry riesling with Old Gregg.

- Let’s circle back to something real quick, you think Popovich reads your blogs after the game?

- I’m almost sure of it. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to personally apologize for referring to him as Old Gregg back there. It was a slip of the tongue and I can assure you it won’t happen again. Will Hardy put me up to it, he’s a bad influence.