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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Heat

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A familiar, disappointing end to a once-promising game.

NBA: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs have struggled all year with establishing who they are and what they want to be. They can’t quite seem to pick a lane and run with it. Are they efficient shooters? Are they a lock down defensive squad? Are they young upstarts or crafty old guys? Who can say? Now, with the doomsday clock of this season inching ever closer to midnight, they’ve basically run out of time to come up with an answer. They are everything and nothing all at once. They’ve turned into a disturbing basketball Frankenstein monster stranded somewhere between life and death that’s being harrassed by villagers with pitchforks.

It’s fine. It’s...look, we knew this about the Spurs, right? Wednesday night should not have surprised you and if it did then you’ve been blessed with some glorious combination of naivete and selective amnesia which means you’ll probably forget this game ever happened anyway. The Spurs are capable of playing really good basketball, as we saw for about two and a half games back there. Of course they can go out and wax the Suns on the road with a G-League squad and, sure, they can follow that up by competently handling the Pacers. They can even play the Heat to a draw for a half. The truth is, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had managed to keep pushing things all the way last night and pick up a win. Why not? I know they can do it.

The issue is that, with this team, the other shoe is always ready to drop. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. The shooting is going to go ice cold at some point. They’re going to lose focus on defense at some point. They’re going to stop moving the ball around or they’re going to start turning it over or they’re simply going to run out of gas. I don’t know why this team can’t seem to maintain any kind of momentum, all I know is that I’ve seen them stall out too many times this year to be surprised anymore when it happens.

I think it all comes back to the lack of identity. This team has nothing they can fall back on when things aren’t going according to plan. I don’t get to watch a ton of Miami Heat games, but if there’s one thing I know about them it’s that when things start to go south, they will put on their tough guy faces and grind you to a halt with a 2-3 zone defense. That’s their whole deal! They aren’t the most talented team in the world, but they don’t have to be. They literally rode a basic defensive scheme and a rude dude attitude to within a few games of a championship last year. What is the Spurs version of that? It’s basically, “when times get tough ... well, I sure hope DeMar is feeling it tonight.”

When all the conditions are just right, the Spurs look exactly the way a modern NBA team is supposed to look. They have a couple of athletic, young dudes out there pulsing with energy who can pour in buckets and swarm opponents on defense. They have one of the most prolific scoring threats in the league. They have a workhorse big man who is coming into his own on both ends of the floor. They have a bench unit that should be able to take advantage of the other team every second they’re on the floor. These are the facts and they are undisputed.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Spurs are also a delicate, fragile, porcelain doll of a basketball team. They have demonstrated, over and over, that they have a comically small margin for error. If DeMar has an off night? Done. If the young guys can’t get it together? Done. Bench unit is cold? Done. Jakob’s in foul trouble? Done. Jakob’s being sent to the free throw line? Done. No one is really able to pick up the slack when things aren’t going exactly the way they are supposed to — and everyone knows it. The other teams know it and they spend the entire game looking for ways to exploit it. Our guys know it and they spend the entire game waiting to see when it’s all going to fall apart.

So, are we surprised that all it took was a little zone defense from the Heat to shatter a potential win into a million little pieces? No we are not. We’re disappointed, sure, but this is the way things are right now. Our train is hurtling down the tracks towards its inevitable destination and we’re all just along for the ride. I don’t think the Spurs have any time left to figure out a new identity. They are who they are at this point and we’re just going to have to see where that gets us.

I don’t think they’re good enough to do anything fun in the playoffs, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

Takeaways:

  • I know that the zone defense killed the Spurs in this one but, honestly, I can’t figure out exactly why it did. It’s like seeing the defense presented in a new fashion caused everyone’s brains to turn to mush. They couldn’t move the ball. They couldn’t get into the paint. They couldn’t do anything. I just don’t understand how they didn’t have a plan for this. It’d be one thing if the zone slowed them down a bit but like, it almost literally shut them down completely. If it sounds like I’m grasping for straws here it’s because I am.
  • It’s only fair to mention that I had a really good time watching the first half of this game. In fact, it was probably one of the more fun halves of Spurs basketball I’ve watched in a while. It was fiery and competitive and it seemed like our guys were all geared up and ready for a fight. Obviously, that didn’t come to pass, but I’ll cherish the feeling nonetheless.
  • I don’t know exactly what to do with Drew Eubanks. He’s definitely effective in certain respects and, yet, I still don’t exactly feel confident that we’re going to accomplish a lot when he’s out there. It’s just that his good plays (and he does genuinely have some really good plays) are so loud and compelling that I feel like I have no choice but to get hype about him. Like, when Eubanks dunks he makes sure that he’s emphatically shaking the basket to its core. When he blocks a shot he’s looking to really send it packing. I never quite know what I’m going to get with Drew Eubanks and I suppose in a season like this I’ll take the thrills where I can get them.
  • I remain enraptured with the possibilities of what our backcourt might grow into someday. Murray and White flash so much potential night after night that it makes me want to just fast forward to the part where they’ve harnessed their powers and can just impose their will on anyone and everyone. I know it’s not there yet and I know they need to get more consistent across the board, but a guy can still dream right? I feel like there's a world right around the corner waiting for us where half of our points come from fast breaks generated by these two goblins harassing the other team’s ball handlers into just giving up every other possession.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- I want to give you a little space to expound on the “Spurs are a Frankenstein monster” idea.

- Yea, sure, well, the Creature is a grotesque creation that belongs to nothing. He’s not quite alive and he’s not quite dead. He’s one thing, but he is many. He is all our hopes and dreams and ambitions mashed together in an unholy quagmire cursed to reflect humanity’s own hubris right back into our faces. This Spurs team....is a lot like that.

- The Spurs are an unholy quagmire reflecting our hubris back into our faces?

- More or less.

- Who are the villagers with pitchforks in this scenario?

- I think that’s probably us? The fans? We are the unwashed masses shouting our demands up to the heavens, “Stay competitive!” “Tank for draft picks!” “Shoot more threes!” “Make a Fiesta jersey!” We all want a million different things and we all have a million different ideas for how to accomplish these things and, wouldn’t you know it, this team became a mishmash of ideas that we don’t recognize and don’t like. It scares and frightens us and we’d like to run it out of town.

- So PATFO is Viktor Frankenstein? Destined to perish trying to exterminate its own creation?

- Ok, maybe now this metaphor is running out of steam.