For roughly eighty days the Spurs were the equivalent of a Bonnie Tyler song.
For the first time in decades the Silver and Black found themselves without a definitive closing offensive force. Not since before the arrival of David Robinson had a Spurs team carried the question of who to hand the ball to in the final minutes of a tight game.
Even as the torch was passed over the course of twenty-five years, from Robinson to Duncan, from Duncan to Ginobili and Parker, from the Big Three to an anointed Leonard, that hallmark of certainty was always present. Even with Leonard’s less-than-dignified exit, there were still known quantities to be depended on in the clutch in Aldridge and DeRozan.
But with Aldridge’s release in March and the trade of DeRozan to Chicago in August, some not unreasonable questions had been raised about this team, and with close losses in each of the last four games (including one to this Bucks team last weekend), a conclusion had been drawn: this Spurs team lacked a player who could significantly shift the landscape in an endgame scenario.
I myself can’t say that it was absurd conclusion to have drawn. Having watched those games, and a number of previous performances given by San Antonio’s current candidates, I wasn’t exactly filled with optimism.
Keldon Johnson certainly had the courage and the confidence you’d expect of that sort of player. But his shooting inconsistencies made it hard to rely on the thought of him closing anything out more than 10 feet from the rim.
Lonnie Walker certainly had the talent, the athleticism, and the scoring prowess. But Walker’s game tended to suffer once he fell out of rhythm, and surely capable teams would work to disturb that rhythm throughout the final frame.
Devin Vassell teemed with untold potential but had yet to find a way to consistently score from the interior; teams could simply crowd him at the arc.
Josh Primo was on the team bus to Austin, and in any case had been on an actual NBA court could for only a few more minutes than I have.
That left Dejounte Murray. And there were a whole host of opinions about Murray. And for every opinion there seemed to be another, equally opposing opinion.
Murray couldn’t shoot. Well, he could shoot, just not well. Or rather, he could shoot well, just not consistently. Or not from distance. Or not up close. Or he too often avoided contact.
Maybe he should just stick to passing and rebounding. Rebounding’s not really worth that much. Well, his kind of rebounds aren’t worth very much anyway. He really shouldn’t pass either. He’s not a good passer. Or he’s not a very efficient passer. Or his passing efficiency is totally dependent on the offense.
Whatever the case, he’s basically just a poor man’s Russell Westbrook. Westbrook used to be kind of good? No, he wasn’t. Besides, a coach-able, team-oriented Westbrook wouldn’t be any more valuable.
You can probably see how this would make it hard to sort out exactly what kind of player Dejounte Murray actually is. In fact, it made it so hard that Dejounte Murray’s late-game assassination of the NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks felt like and out-of-body experience.
There he was, the street-wise Hercules fighting the rising odds, dropping mid-range dagger after dagger as two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo did everything in his power to wrest the victory out of the hands of a Spurs team that had out-defended the Bucks in a game that (outside of all the three-pointers) felt bit like the defensive clashes of the early 2000’s.
It was ugly basketball at its finest in this era of the NBA, topped off with a pristine game-sealing cherry of a three-pointer from a player that no one had ever projected to be a long-range closer.
Any maybe, just maybe, the hero that San Antonio has been awaiting, for what seems (by San Antonio standards) far too long, has finally arrived, strong and fast and fresh from the fight.
Regardless, it was Dejounte Murray’s moment. Let’s let him enjoy it for now. Tomorrow’s another day.
- The stat sheet might not always show it, but Jakob Poeltl always seems to rise to the occasion in whatever way the Spurs need him to. And last night that duty seemed to consist of one main goal, keep Giannis from scoring easy buckets. It wasn’t always pretty, but it’s a tall order to contain the reigning Finals MVP any given night (especially since he appears to have solidified his mid-range shot), but Jakob troubled his shot at every opportunity, and it’s likely that was the quietest outstanding defensive performance of the evening.
Jakob worked this double pick and roll to perfection ✌️ pic.twitter.com/nj3hDSeFiq— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 31, 2021
- It’s getting harder and harder to qualify praise when it comes to Keita Bates-Diop. No one’s going to confuse Bates-Diop for a starting caliber player, but his defense continues to hold some of San Antonio’s weakest lineups together, and helped avert total disaster on several occasions as the Bucks attempted to take advantage of the minutes that Poeltl, Murray, and White were off of the court. Put in simple terms, KBD is the kind of glue guy that every bench unit needs. He might not be the sleekest of movers and shakers, but there’s no question that the rotation would struggle without his presence.
KBD closes out the first with a NASTY euro! pic.twitter.com/GCtQF5qL2G— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 31, 2021
Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:
Holding Out For A Hero by Bonnie Tyler