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What We Learned from the Spurs Win over the Nuggets

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The Spurs pick up a solid win while showing there’s still plenty of room to improve

Denver Nuggets v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

It would be odd to be anything other than grateful or excited after a game like Friday’s. It was practically all good news. Big contributions from the vets, wildly encouraging showings from the kids, and a strong, cohesive effort on defense to close out a quality opponent in the 4th quarter. They even had the decency to lock in a great performance the night before they’re scheduled to get Derrick White back. Everything’s coming up Spurs. All of this makes me wonder why I feel cranky about it this morning.

The answer is probably because “crank” is my default setting, but perhaps the Spurs aren’t completely blameless here. I think I just watch the team play like they did last night and wonder why this can’t be the norm. Intellectually, I understand the idea that teams, especially young ones, are always going to have ebbs and flows, but my dumb lizard brain can’t quite reconcile this with the fact that they sure seem to know how to play defense sometimes and then other times it seems like they slept through a quick powerpoint presentation on the subject right before they took the floor.

Maybe this win didn’t feel satisfying because those lapses in concentration seemed to rear their head over and over during the game. Once again, it seemed like the Spurs didn’t show up until about mid-way through the first quarter - a problem that’s quickly moved past the quirky anomaly territory and into the worrisome habit commonwealth - before finding their footing and pushing the lead out to a comfortable margin. Then they gave it back. Then they pushed it out again. Then they gave it back. Out and back, back and forth over and over again before the Nuggets, trying to close out the tail end of of 5 game road trip, finally seemed to run out of gas. Make no mistake, the Spurs had several excellent stretches in this game that should absolutely be celebrated. However, they also kept leaving Nikola Freaking Jokic wide open for three and were exceedingly lucky that for some reason he forgot how to make them in the 1st half.

This was a good win that could have very easily turned in to a frustrating loss. All the flaws and warts and weirdness of this team were on full display and whatever cosmic coin flip the universe does to decide basketball outcomes seemed to land in favor of the good guys tonight. All the right shots fell. All the gambles paid off. Everything clicked when it needed to. I would love to simply believe who that this is who the Spurs are. The scrappy 4 seed in the West who somehow found the magical mix of veteran talent and youthful energy to take on the heavy hitters in this league and make some noise in a year that most people expected them to continue to toil in the shadows. That’s a fun little narrative and, who knows, maybe that’s still where all of this is headed.

I just don’t trust it yet. Let’s see them do it Saturday on a back to back. Let’s see them maintain this effort on a road trip. Let’s see if they can learn how to not spot their opponent an eight point lead out of the gate. I feel very optimistic about the future of this team, it’s just that I don’t feel any more optimistic after last night than I did before tip-off.

Are we allowed to feel frustrated after a win? I think we should be. You don’t get frustrated after wins unless you’re starting to raise your expectations. These guys have shown that they’re good.

Now I’d like to see them prove they’re better.

Takeaways:

  • We are lucky to have DeMar DeRozan on this team. I feel like I need to periodically remind myself of that because it’s so easy to slip into the narrative that he was just a consolation prize or an afterthought and that he and the Spurs are merely playing out the string together until something better comes along. I think we’re going to see the effects of his work, effort, and leadership on this franchise for years to come. This is a guy who wasn’t raised on the Spurs and wasn’t around for the big three era, but who has almost seamlessly adopted the culture of the franchise and taken on it’s lead role. He isn’t a perfect player, but he’s maybe the perfect player to show this new generation of Spurs what it takes to make it in this league. How to grind. How to survive. How put in the work to be great. When we talk about being excited about the direction of this franchise, we can’t forget how big a role he plays in shepherding that vision into reality.
  • So, it sure seems like opponents are going to toss a zone grenade at the Spurs from time to time and just see what happens. I feel like the Spurs should be pretty well suited to take on a zone, but it’s interesting to see how it kind of flummoxes them for a couple of possessions every time the other team decides to run it. It’s like they don’t fully trust that a zone is what’s happening so they just keep running the normal offense as usual just to test it. Once they simply commit to having guys like DeMar, Keldon, and Dejounte take the initiative and attack the rim successfully then everything else seems to open up and it’s fine, but it’ll be curious to see if teams keep running that out there in the future.
  • There was a stretch in the 4th quarter, probably the best stretch of the game as far as I’m concerned, where the Spurs had a lineup of DeMar, Keldon, Dejounte, Lonnie and Jakob on the floor, and for just a moment it seemed like the heavens opened up and a choir of angels began singing and the whole world felt like it was at peace with itself. Everyone was clicking and moving in concert with each other. They were swarming, talking, and rotating on defense and ruthlessly executing on offense. I sat there and said to myself, “This. This is what the Spurs will be. Why isn’t this how it is all the time? It’s beautiful.” Then the Nuggets intentionally fouled Jakob and he then proceeded to airball his first free throw and I was like, “Oh...right.” Anyway, someone lock Jakob in a lab and fix his free throws so that we can get back to living the dream.
  • Obligatory “Keldon Johnson is very strong” post. Have you heard the news? Keldon took his big body up into the air against Jokic’s big body and Keldon won. Keldon Johnson is very strong.
  • Hey, one more thing about DeMar DeRozan. These shoes? These shoes are the business. their very existence questions the validity of other shoes entirely.
Denver Nuggets v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- Did you go to bed knowing that you were going to be a gigantic bummer about a fun win or did you wake up like this?

- Well. It’s tough to say. I like to think that I don’t choose the attitude, the attitude chooses me

- No agency involved? You just wake up and let the attitude choose you?

- Yea, I mean, why over complicate it? When you just ooze vibes over here like I do then you it goes against nature to swim against the current.

- So you’re saying that the most natural thing to do today, right after a fun, ten point win over a quality opponent, was come here and write a bunch of stuff about how you didn’t like it and wish it were better? You think that’s what the people want to read about?

- Wait, people read this?