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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to Mavs

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Mistakes, Rebounds, and the other Luka sink the Spurs down the stretch

San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs have a nasty little habit this year of doing almost everything right. They get 90% of the way there. They check off like three-fourths of their to-do list. They take their laundry out of the machine and then they forget to fold it. It’s frustrating because if they simply had the decency to be bad then we could all relax a little bit. It’d practically be a day-trip to the sauna watching a bad team with no expectations fumble around out there trying to figure things out, but instead we’re stuck watching our gifted children carelessly spill orange drink all over what could’ve been a masterpiece.

The important thing to remember is that it’s fine. It’s totally fine. We might have some fanciful notions about the kind of relative noise the Spurs are going to make this year, but we all know that this isn’t going to be the one, right? We’re looking for progress here. We’re looking for signs that this thing is headed in the right direction. Seeing our young guys learn a couple hard lessons out on the court is arguably more powerful than whatever shuffling of deck chairs we do up in the playoff standings. Would I like for them to learn a few more “this is what winning feels like” lessons? Sure. But the “here’s what not to do with a lead down the stretch” isn’t the worst one to hammer home a couple more times.

What I liked about the game last night is that the Spurs did seem energized. Well, they seemed energized right up until they ran out of gas in the 4th quarter, but we’re talking about vibes here more than we’re talking about any type quantifiable resource. Returning from the All-Star break felt like a tangible fresh start. Our COVID guys had come back from the wilderness, everyone seemed rested and healthy, and you could sense that our players were itching to go. They were practically vibrating out there in the first half. Guys were swarming all over defensive lanes and attacking the basket and running around with reckless abandon. Maybe a little too reckless, but hey, it was still pretty fun to watch.

The game was fast and loose and wild, and even though the Spurs were ahead, it never totally seemed like they were in control of what they were doing. It was like they were kids on a sugar high with a gnarly little comedown right around the corner waiting for us, and sure enough, all we could do was stand there in the fourth quarter with dumb looks on our faces watching the balloon we let go of drift up into the stratosphere.

Energy, though. Vibes. Mood. Ambience. Whatever you want to call it, the Spurs had a different one coming out after the week or so they had off. Optimism isn’t quite the right word, but there was a certain buoyancy to what was happening out there. It felt like they had torn a sheet off in their notebook and were looking at a fresh piece of paper for the first time in a while. The team looked unburdened by what came before and were ready to make something for new.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m reading too much into a fast start and a blown lead. There’s certainly a way to look at the tea leaves of this game and determine that the Spurs are a fatally flawed team that’s destined to keep blowing decent performances over and over like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up a hill. You could also watch that game and tell yourself, “the Spurs are probably making a trade soon, so I’m not going to get too attached to the team as currently constructed.” Betting on the Spurs drastically overhauling the makeup of their roster at the trade deadline feels a little wild to me, but I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.

What am I going to do? Obviously it would be easier to be optimistic if we were sitting here after a win, but I still think we could all stand to hang out on the bright side for a little bit longer. It’s been a pretty dark couple months, don’t you think? This time last year, the Spurs were trying to rebound from a truly miserable Rodeo Road Trip and salvage the season when it got indefinitely suspended. Things were about as bleak as they get. Now? Well, now the Spurs play again on Friday and fans are going to be in the building.

I’ve been wrong before, but it sure feels like things are headed in the right direction right now. Seems wrong not to enjoy it.

Takeaways:

  • I get as annoyed with Bill Simmons schtick as much as any other self-respecting thirtysomething who was maybe a little too into him back in the day, but he does have this theory about how, all things being equal, the team with the best player on the court tends to win the game. I know that’s not necessarily his theory and I know I’m pretty recklessly paraphrasing in order to prove my own point, but just go with me here for a second. Luka Doncic was pretty clearly the best player on the court last night, and for the first three quarters, he super didn’t play like it. In the 4th quarter though? Well, in the 4th quarter he played like he was the best player on the court and that’s right around when our carriage turned back into a pumpkin. We can do all sorts of fancy analysis but, you know, sometimes it’s actually pretty simple.
  • The Spurs got out rebounded by like a billion in this one, and I have to imagine there were a lot of people pointing out that maybe they could’ve used a big body off the bench to grab some boards and maybe pour in a few buckets down the stretch. Maybe someone like that will pop on the buy-out market, who can say?
  • I’m not entirely sure what the Spurs record is going to be like at the end of this season, but I feel like it’s pretty safe to say that no matter what the Spurs do, DeMar DeRozan is going out there to set things on fire every single night. Not that he hasn’t already had an amazing season in it’s own right, but I’m loving the fact that he gets to go out there and play with a chip on shoulder now. If that doesn’t get you pumped up to tune in every night then you’re probably watching the wrong sport.
  • Are the Spurs a good defensive team now? Ok, maybe that’s a little premature. It’s just that, well, they’ve been a bad one for so long that watching them play prolonged stretches of, not just good, but excellent defense is actually pretty jarring. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker are a collective menace. Keldon Johnson is a brick wall. Jakob Poeltl is the best defensive center of all time? I mean, am I crazy or is this a thing that’s actually happening? I GENUINELY don’t know, I’ve been stuck inside for a whole year and the rational part of my brain has pretty much turned to scrambled eggs at this point.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- Not sure where to start here, but I guess, as a journalist, it’s my responsibility to follow up with you about the assertion the Jakob Poeltl is the best defensive center of all time. Would you care to elaborate?

- I’d like to note that I included a very important “?” at the end of that sentence which makes it less of an assertion and more of question for the group.

- So you don’t think Jakob Poeltl is the best defensive center of all time, you’re just asking us if we think that he is?

- It’s not that I don’t think that Jakob Poeltl is the best defensive center of all time. That would be ridiculous, I mean, he’s 25 years old! His career is just getting started!

- So you’re saying that you think Jakob Poeltl could be the best defensive center of all time.

- I’m just asking questions.