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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Raptors

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The Spurs go out of their way to not get our hopes up

San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images

I had my take all ready to go. Seriously, as soon as the lineups for the game were announced and it appeared that the Raptors were just going to mail this one in I figured it would pretty much write itself. After a truly horrid stretch of basketball, the Spurs were now going to be the proud owners of a three game win streak and I was going to have to come in here and tell everyone to calm down. Be a total bummer. I was going to throw cold water over everyone’s excitement and y’all would’ve been so mad about it. Thankfully, I guess, the Spurs took care of that for me.

Seriously though, how did they lose this game? The Raps were on a back to back and the Spurs were rested. The Raps sat their best players and we pretty much had a full contingent. I’ve been doing my best to try and tack back towards the positive recently and I promise we’ll get there eventually, but I don’t think we can honestly assess this game without dealing with the profound disappointment stemming from the fact that the Spurs are just not in a very competitive place at the moment. We knew this. Or, at least, I think we knew this. I thought we knew this. Who can even keep track anymore? But this somehow feels like we’ve found a new rung on our descent down the despondency ladder.

Despite their best efforts, the Spurs are somehow still in this stupid playoff race. I think that’s that part that’s really sticking in my craw because I keep wanting to pull the ripcord on this season and just gently float back to earth surrounded by the breezy nothingness of lowered expectations, but I can’t even fully do that yet because all isn’t lost. It feels like it is, but it isn’t. We currently sit in the 10th spot in the Western conference, locked in a battle of futility with various other depleted armies who can’t seem to get themselves together long enough to put this thing to bed.

It’s a simple task really. All the Spurs have to do in order to earn the dubious honor of participating in the new Play-In Tournament is just be half-way competent down the stretch. Literally, just like, field a roster of real NBA players on any given night in the league and you should have at least a 50/50 shot at picking up a W. Seems like a golden opportunity for a franchise that prides itself on competitiveness to lock up a “playoff” berth, give their young guys a taste of the competition, and give their restless fans something to cheer about.

Which brings us back to the heart of why this season has been so exasperating. I just need them to pick a lane. Right now we’re getting the worst of all worlds. The Spurs aren’t winning basketball games. They’re not playing fun basketball to watch. They’re not committing fully to developing our youth. They’re not seriously competing for anything AND they’re not seriously out of it yet. It’s like we’re stuck in purgatory and every time I tune in to watch this team I can’t divorce this existential nightmare from actual guys on the court and I spend most games waffling back and forth between ironic detachment and earnest disappointment.

On a macro level, last night’s game hasn’t drastically changed anything about the Spurs’ lot in life. They’re still straddling the line between “in it” and “out of it” and probably will be for the foreseeable future. They’ll likely lose the next two against the Blazers and Suns. Maybe they’ll split the next few against the Pacers, Heat, Pistons, and Pelicans. Who can really say these days? All I know is that it’s all but assured that come this time next week we’re still going to be sitting here pulling out our hair trying to figure out what these guys are even trying to accomplish anymore.

The game last night was particularly frustrating because it should have been a gimme. Even in a season full of missed opportunities and baffling losses, this one was served up on a platter and the Spurs had every incentive to go out and grab it. There were no excuses and logical reasons for why they weren’t able to pick up a win, unless you circle back to the hypothesis that this team just isn’t very good in the first place. It seems more and more likely that it really is as simple as that but, then again, how can a team that’s bad still be in the playoff race?

Everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?

Takeaways:

  • Can you believe the Raptors have been playing their home games in Tampa this whole time? Isn’t that wild? I’m trying to imagine how strange it would be to engage with a Spurs team that was based out of Calgary or something and it kind of weirds me out. Because I don’t live in San Antonio currently, on some level it’s not that materially different from how I interact with them now but something about it would just be off, right? If the team doesn’t actually need to be based out of the city it’s based out of, then why does anything need to be based out of anywhere? Is this the type of thing that’s going to seem totally normal and blasé a few decades from now when, like, the Tokyo Sharks and the London Greys are well known NBA franchises who operate out of different countries but have bases in American cities for travel purposes? This is the type of stuff I’m thinking about whilst the Spurs are out there on the court giving me a migraine.
  • Despite the loss, it was encouraging to see the Spurs taking and making so many threes. It was one of those nights where everything seemed to be dropping and, if you squinted, you could almost see a version of the Spurs that was just lethal on that end. Long, athletic, and able to take advantage of anything their opponents gave them. It’s a beautiful dream and maybe we’ll get there some day. Obviously it’s unfortunate that a performance like this was wasted but...actually, I don’t have a but there. It’s unfortunate that a performance like this was wasted.
  • How was it wasted? Well, as has always been the case, the amount of points you score is semi-irrelevant when you can’t even do a halfway decent impression of a competent defensive team. Especially when it mattered. There was a stretch there in the third quarter where it seemed like the Spurs had woken up and might be able to outrun the Raps in the final leg. They went on a 7-0 run, tightened up their little mistakes, and tied the game. They seemed like they were in control and then...they just couldn’t get a stop. Easy basket after easy basket just poured in and any momentum that had poked it’s head up out of the ground quickly receded. I’m done trying to diagnose what’s wrong with them on that front because it frustrates me to no end and, frankly, it just isn’t my job to fix it.
  • Dejounte Murray and a really cool play where he jumped in front of a lazy pass in transition, stole it, took three steps towards the rim, and then whiffed on a layup so bad that I was sort of worried about him. It’s not something I particularly want to relive over and over again, but I’m going to include it in here anyway because I feel like any trenchant analysis of the Spurs performance in this game can actually just be boiled down to this play.

What We Learned Post Game Press Conference

- You introduced the concept of the NBA having a few international franchises in the mix relatively soon, how do you imagine that would work?

- I...don’t know? I think that obviously the league can’t expand too much and retain it’s competitive balance but, is it really all that crazy to imagine them relocating some of their small market teams to more lucrative international sites in order to create a truly global league? Like, why have a New Orleans team when you could have one in Paris? Why have a Minnesota team when you could have one in Hong Kong? Why have a **gulp** San Antonio Team when you could have one in Buenos Aires?

- That’s a tough thought to float out on a Spurs blog.

- Well, tough thoughts for tough times.

- So the league would operate in all corners of the globe?

- Sure, I mean, look, in spite of the enormous amounts of cash these franchises rake in already, one of the core rules of capitalism is that if there’s more money to be made then that’s probably the better option. I don’t know when it will be feasible from a travel/logistics perspective, but there’s a lot of things I don’t know and that certainly hasn’t stopped the world from turning yet.

- We’ve made an awful big leap here from the Tampa Raptors to an international global sporting league.

- I can’t wait to sit here and say “I told you so” in 2052.