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What we learned from the Spurs’ win over the Pistons

The Spurs continue to look and feel good.

Detroit Pistons v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

And so this was Christmas…

As always, my wife and I spent Christmas Eve at home. We cooked (which means: she cooks while I test the Chablis – both, as always, leading to first-class respectively “premier cru” results), then we ate, then we gave each other presents. I got a copy of the book “Watching Basketball Like a Genius” by Nick Greene, the first of three basketball-related gifts I got this year.

Usually, we visit my wife’s parents on Christmas Day and mine on Boxing Day. It was the other way around this year. So, around lunchtime on Saturday we arrived at my parents’ home. Which is where and when I got my second basketball-related gift – a black Tim Duncan jersey from the 1998-99 season with the letters and numbers in fiesta colors. What I didn’t get, though, was time to spend with my first basketball-related gift, Nick Greene’s book. Here’s why …

That time after lunch on Christmas when everyone dozes off, or does their own thing, or the dishes? It wasn’t happening. Frankly, it wasn’t a surprise. As per usual, the younger of my two nieces required my full attention. Hide & Seek was stopped prematurely by rain, but my niece had plenty of ideas what else to do for the remainder of the day. She fell asleep some time between 9 and 10 in the evening, while we were watching an animated Grinch movie. I went to bed not even an hour later, thinking one thing: Let’s see if I can read enough in the next 24 hours so I can watch the game against the Pistons “like a genius”.

I went to my room. The room I had slept in the first 20 years of my life. I was in that room once or twice this year, but I hadn’t slept in it in ages. Once in bed, I grabbed the book. But I was quite simply too tired (thanks, niece!) to read past the prologue. No problem, I thought. Plenty of time to read at my wife’s parents’ home tomorrow – during that time when everyone dozes off, or does their own thing, or the dishes. Smiling, I wanted to switch off the bedside lamp. But just as I grabbed the cable, I saw something in the cupboard next to the bed. Something you could only see in the position I was in. Something I hadn’t seen in, what, 20 years? Something I had no idea still existed. What I saw was the third basketball-related “gift” I got.

These are the cards I collected as a kid during my first year as an NBA fan, 1993. The first printed information I ever got about the San Antonio Spurs. The first time I ever got in touch with “stats”. No internet in those days. I was in fifth grade, 10 years old, and I only had a couple of weeks’ worth of English lessons under my belt.

To cut a long story short, when we were at my wife’s parents’ home yesterday, I didn’t continue to read Nick Greene’s book. I spent hours looking at the cards I collected in 1993.

So, dear Pounders, I’m afraid I’ll have to postpone my first “What We Learned … through the eyes of a genius” for some time.

My takeaways:

  • Among PtR contributors, I guess I’ve been one of the more reluctant to jump on the Dejounte hype train. And I sort of expected the game against the Pistons to put me in my place. Let me emphasize that I love being wrong when a Spur turns out to be better than I expected him to be. Because sometimes I only see the true value of a player when he’s not there. With Dejounte entering the Health & Safety Protocols, I hoped the Pistons game might be the one to prove me wrong. The fact that it didn’t, had an awful lot to do with the Pistons barely able to put an NBA-caliber team on the court, missing Cade Cunningham, Jerami Grant, and Kelly Olynyk. To be perfectly clear, Dejounte is an all-star to me as far as rebounding and steals / deflections are concerned. He’s not an all-star to me when it comes to scoring efficiency. And I’m unsure in terms of assists / playmaking. One thing I maybe didn’t learn from last night’s game, but at least it was strongly suggested, is that the Spurs are running an egalitarian offense that will give their primary ballhandler an awful lot of assists. Four minutes into the second quarter, I was surprised when Dan Weiss said after a made basket that this was Derrick’s eighth assist in the game – the kind of surprise I get when I look at the post-game box score stats to learn that Dejounte had 10 plus assists. Derrick finished with a career-high 10 assists in only 15 minutes of play, and Tre Jones had himself 11 assists in only 21 minutes of play. I don’t want to take anything away from Dejounte, or Derrick, or Tre. Rather, I would like to give credit to Pop for running a system that gives primary ballhandlers their due. I still think Derrick is the best playmaker on the roster. Like I considered Manu to be the better playmaker compared to Tony. Then again, I’m not arguing for Derrick to be the primary ballhandler. Because I trust Dejounte to not lose the ball more than anyone else. I’m interested to find out how Dejounte’s absence will affect our play against the Jazz.
  • Keldon Johnson! The fact that I pretty much wrote him off as a future all-star earlier in the season should serve as warning: Don’t get overexcited as far has his extended hot-shooting streak is concerned. Still, forget that notion for the time being! Keldon’s shot looks pure. The high arch is gone. And so is the hesitation. I don’t know what Chip Engelland does with the guys. But it’s working.
  • Doug McDermott continues to amaze me. In spurts, that is. I don’t follow college basketball, but I have it on good authority that Doug was a college basketball sensation. And there have been plenty of instances of him in Silver & Black that make me think he could have been so much more than a spot-up shooter. Aged 30, he looks tremendously athletic driving towards the rim.
  • San Antonio’s depth is showing, and Jock Landale as well as Keita Bates-Diop are looking like guys that lead me to believe that PATFO still has an edge over any other franchise not named Toronto Raptors when it comes to picking up underappreciated talent. As for Jock, he continues to look like more than a back-up center in the minutes Pop gives to him. He’s amazing on the offensive boards, and he can clearly stretch the floor. He hasn’t won me over on the defensive end…yet.
  • There is something this season that makes me extremely happy as far as on-site Spurs fans are concerned, though I haven’t seen a packed AT&T. It’s a certain substitution: Josh Primo. A personified “WTF?” moment in the hours that followed the 2021 NBA Draft, he has turned into a personified collective feel-good moment whenever he’s subbed in. And it doesn’t stop there. He has made 7 of his 12 three-point attempts this season. And he’s not pleased with himself after a make – which he could easily be, taking into account the rapturous reactions he gets whenever he’s subbed in. After a made three Sunday night, the camera zoomed in on him. And you could see him point the finger. Not at himself for having scored. But at someone else to please pay attention. That’s the Spurs Spirit. I’m dead certain: That guy’s gonna pound them rocks!