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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Thunder

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Shorthanded Spurs come up short in first game back.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

When we last left our heroes they were just sorta, kinda, maybe starting to put the pieces together. They’d won 8 of 11, they were working their way through the soft underbelly of the Eastern Conference, and they had settled into a style of play that suited them. No one around these parts was dreaming of a title run or anything, but I don’t think it’s wild conjecture to say that a return to the playoffs felt very real. 11 days later and, well...it feels like that earth has shifted under our feet again.

Let’s start with Wednesday night, a glorified scrimmage between one team actively in pursuit of losses and another team that’s fresh off a week of staring at the ceiling of a Charlotte hotel room and missing half its roster. This game was weird, but not in a fun way. I kept trying to talk myself into things like, “boy, Luka Šamanić sure looks like the real deal in that uniform” only to be quickly reminded that, despite tearing up the G- League recently, he’s still got a ways to go. I was excited to see if our vaunted bench unit could maybe stretch out it’s magic for a full game, but the novelty of that wore off pretty quickly once they got off to same slow start that have plagued the Spurs all season. All in all, it was just a sloppy, disjointed contest made all the more annoying by the fact that they played just well enough to make me care about that heartbreaking sequence of events at the end.

I want to be clear that if I seem annoyed or frustrated here it is 100% not directed at the team. They are all sweet, beautiful angels trying their best to make things work during a time when giving up on the very concept of things working seems like something I do every 30 minutes. To come out after that loss and quibble about whatever basketball mistakes were made feels like complaining about the drinks on a boat that sank. The Spurs played hard. They made the best of a bad situation and I am unreservedly proud of them for that.

This game shouldn’t have been played. This season shouldn’t have been played? I don’t know. These players are risking their health and safety so they can travel around to empty arenas, play with makeshift rosters and do...what exactly? I’ve loved getting to watch basketball this year, I really have. It’s brought me a lot of a joy and been a real source of comfort during some difficult times, but games like last night make me wonder it it’s worth it. The Spurs weren’t missing half their roster because of a few sprained ankles. They were missing half their roster because of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. We’ve been living in this bizarro version of reality for so long that I think it’s easy to forget how far from normal we’ve gotten.

It was nice to have the Spurs back last night, in spite of everything. By all accounts they want to be out there and, you know, as much as I’d like to pretend I have all the answers, I don’t. I’m glad we have them and I’m glad they have each other. I just wish they didn’t have to deal with this. You watch a guy like Patty Mills, the consummate Spur, try and carry the team on his shoulders down the stretch last night and it makes your heart break just a little. This isn’t what Patty Mills was designed for, but still he’s out there running around and sinking threes and organizing the defense and rallying the troops and basically trying to be anything the Spurs could possibly need from moment to moment. He’s not playing perfect but, man, he’s this close to pulling it off.

Then he doesn’t.

I wish they could’ve kept their little streak of good play going. Maybe they could’ve worked LaMarcus back into the roster with bit more momentum and that could’ve kick-started him back to life. Maybe Luka and Tre Jones could’ve continued developing in the G-League instead of having to be thrown in the fire like this. Maybe they wouldn’t now be forced to play a dozen back-to-backs in the 2nd half of the season. The point is, whatever plans the Spurs had are in the garbage now. Everything has has to be thrown out the window and recalibrated.

It’s not over and it can certainly get better. They’re going to get their guys back and they’re going to regroup because they’re the best and I’m just a guy who complains on the Internet. But, look, if you want wanted to take half a day and be sad about everything then I think you’re well within your rights. To me, it feels like the season we had is gone and the new one started last night. Let’s see where they go from here.

Takeaways:

  • A very cool and important thing is that Dejounte Murray seems like he’s picked up right where he left off before the break. Is it possible that he just might become a guy who does things like average 25 points a game? Is he really just going to come out and threaten to get a triple double every night? Did the Spurs accidentally draft a version of Russell Westbrook with better defensive instincts and situational awareness? I’m just asking questions out here.
  • Can you imagine how tough it would be to be LaMarcus Aldridge right now? I have no idea if he checks twitter or reads the internet or anything and I don’t know exactly how aware he is of the narrative that’s popped up around him, but I have to imagine he’s at least somewhat aware of the fact that anytime anyone talks about the Spurs in the national media they drop some type of caveat along the lines of “The Spurs are pretty good! Except for when Aldridge is on the floor, he kills them.” Shoot, I’ve even said things like that. I’m saying them right now! I know he gets paid pretty well in order to compensate for this and I’m sure in the grand scheme of things that LaMarcus is actually doing pretty okay, but this still can’t be easy. It sure seems like the Spurs are going to toy with the idea of bringing him off the bench and it’s going to be fascinating to see how he responds to that.
  • I’m willing to forgive pretty much any mistakes in this game and chalk it up to the universe being a ruthless, indifferent place to live and also to the fact that they were all probably pretty rusty. However, the defense on that last three by Lu Dort was just a major yikes and even if we forgive it, that doesn’t mean we have to ignore it. Why did Jakob sell out so hard to deny Horford the ball? Why did Patty commit so hard to help? It just feels like, even with a skeleton crew at the end of their rope....defending an out of bounds play semi-competently should be one of those things that happens naturally.

What We Learned Post Game Press Conference

- You also had a decent amount of time off while the Spurs were suspended from play, how’d it feel getting back out there?

- Not gunna lie, felt a little slow getting out of the gate this morning. Hard to get the juices flowing after a layoff like that.

- Do you think it would’ve been easier to do after a win as opposed to a loss?

- It’s always harder to write about a loss, but I don’t know if a win would’ve solved all my problems here. I probably needed to stretch more, maybe have a smoothie. They say if you don’t properly hydrate before writing you can really hurt yourself.

- Hurt yourself? Typing at a computer?

- Oh yea, you hear horror stories about it everywhere. Pulled hammy setting up an Open Thread. Sprained ankle getting a Final Score done after the game. Rumor has it that J.R. Wilco put out a podcast on a broken leg like Willis Reed back in 2014 but, you know, you’ll have to ask him about that.