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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Hawks

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Double the overtime, double the pain

Atlanta Hawks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

I can’t imagine how annoying the Spurs were to play last night. If I’m watching this game as a Hawks fan, I’m just constantly thinking to myself, “How have we not put this thing to bed yet?” The Hawks felt in control of this one almost from the get go. The Spurs’ legs looked dead. The Spurs didn’t have the firepower to keep up. The ending seemed inevitable in the 1st quarter and yet...there they were. Hanging around. Just hanging around. I bet it was infuriating.

Small comfort to us this morning as we wake up bleary-eyed and groggy to another notch in the loss column and the creeping feeling that our grip on a playoff spot is getting ever more tenuous. Still, for a team that I’ve criticized at various points this season for seeming to lack the necessary fire and grit to compete, it was a welcome sight to see them gut it out all the way to the end (and beyond) on a night when they clearly didn’t have their best stuff. Most nights, all we’re really asking of these guys is that they compete. We want to know that they’re fighting and that they care and that we’re not just going through the motions.

Double overtime was probably not what the doctor ordered on a SEGABABA. I found myself almost wishing Trae Young had hit his little miracle runner there at the end of regulation. The “moral victory” achievement had already been unlocked, no need to waste any more precious resources trying to conjure up a few more miracle Rudy Gay threes out of thin air. No need to ask DeMar to keep lugging our boulder up the hill. No need to continue to display how nice it would be if the Big Man Depth we signed for this exact occasion didn’t hurt his shoulder after two minutes on the floor the other night. It was all just unnecessary.

The nice thing about being stuck in a bit of a swoon here is that we don’t have to go scrambling to set off alarm bells because, as it happens, they’re already going off and have been for quite a while now. It’s not that this loss is less worrying than the others, it’s just that, well, after a while you become accustomed to the sense of dread that pops its head in the door after a loss these days. It’s like Kramer bursting into Seinfeld’s apartment or something — startling at first, but once the surprise wears off it just becomes a part of the landscape.

The Spurs are struggling right now. No two ways about it. There’s nothing inherently different about this team than the one we were writing glowing “The Spurs are exciting now!” headlines about back in January, but they seem to be caught in between things here. They’re no longer precocious or up and coming. They’re also not quite ready to be in the upper echelon of capital C contenders. They aren’t completely young and they aren’t completely old. They aren’t tanking, but they aren’t ready to go for it. They’re stuck in the space between and, as a result, it doesn’t feel like they have an identity, unless it’s liminal.

You can feel them searching for it out there during games. It’s like they are stumbling around in the dark, trying to feel out the room, get their bearings, and look for anything they can hold on to. It’s a little bumbling and awkward at times, and it certainly doesn’t result in pretty basketball too often, but it’s a vital part of whatever process that’s necessary to become a winning franchise. The personnel is good. The direction is good. If you have faith in those two things, then you have to have faith that it’s all going to click into place at some point.

We’re living through the growing pains of a basketball team and I guess the best thing we can do is just be supportive. I feel like I’m giving a pep talk to the parents of a suddenly goth teenager or something, but it’s true. It’s just a phase! They’ll grow out of it! I’m still holding out hope that it’s going to happen this season and that we’re going to get to see these guys get to make a little noise in the playoffs. Maybe make a contender sweat it out a bit in the first round. Who knows? But if it doesn’t, well, it’s not the end of the world.

If you weren’t panicking already then you might as well ride the rest of this one out on the Nothing To Worry About Express. Maybe sometimes, getting to say “I told you so” is the greatest victory of all.

Takeaways

  • The Spurs took 40 three point attempts last night. 40! I realize that’s a little inflated by the extra basketball that was played, but still! 40! Remember when we had to beg these guys to take any shots from beyond the arc? It was like pulling teeth and now, well, we’re practically playing Morey Ball out there. Obviously, the next step would be to actually make more than 13 of those 40 attempts but, look, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take and last night the Spurs only missed 67.5% of the shots they did take and as far as I’m concerned that’s progress.
  • PS, when I talk about the Spurs having an identity crisis, stats like that are the thing I’m talking about. Are we taking a bunch of threes now? Are we equipped to do that? Some nights we do and some nights we don’t. We can’t quite commit to any of these bits because we can’t quite decide which one we’re best suited for. It’s like we’re doing one of those makeover montages in a movie where we keep coming out of the dressing room in zanier and zanier outfits.
  • This is my obligatory “DeMar DeRozan is great and we’re lucky to have him” post. My heart sort of breaks watching him play on this team because he is just a fully formed package at this point in his career and I just wish he were using his skills in the name of on objective more noble than “try to steal one from the Hawks.” He’s so good. He’s doing everything that we ask of him and if this team were just a little bit more of a finished product then maybe, just maybe, he might be able to take us somewhere special. I hope he doesn’t leave next season, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did.
  • The new corner I’m going be building a house and living on is “Derrick White is going to become a destroyer of worlds next season.” This was supposed to be the year and it’s just gotten derailed in a few unfortunate different ways but, even after all that, he’s still out there pulling together these wildly effective performances even when he hasn’t fully shaken off all the rust. He’s got all the tools to be special and right now he’s just learning how to use them. Buy all the Derrick White stock you can get your hands on.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- Sometimes when you talk about the Spurs feeling tired, I get the distinct impression that you’re actually the one who is tired.

- Well, I mean, who isn’t tired these days? The world is a tiring place.

- True, I just wonder whether your letting your own emotional and physical state affect your writing.

- Buddy, if you don’t think my emotional and physical state has EVERYTHING to do with how optimistic or pessimistic I’m feeling about the Spurs on any given day then you have clearly not been paying attention.

- So you’re saying that I can probably tell how things are going in your personal life just by reading through the lines of this column?

- I didn’t even think that was a secret. Shoot, you could probably tell whether or not I was hungry just by reading through the lines of this column.

- We’re you hungry today?

- Bad example. I’m always hungry.