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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Pistons

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Learning experiences are overrated.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Not everything is a learning experience.

In the course of what would normally be an 82-game season, there are just as many opportunities to stare at the television blankly as there are to make sweeping observations about the state of one’s team. That’s the beauty of recurring forms of entertainment; sometimes we learn nothing.

Personally, I’m thankful for that. If I had to distill every NBA contest into some kind of overarching series of thematically relevant observations, I’m fairly certain I’d lose my passion for the sport. There’s an inherent beauty in witnessing something and being able to just say: “Well, that was something.”

And last night’s game was certainly something. Seeing the Spurs beat a team they were supposed to beat? That’s good. Doing it without both of San Antonio’s leading scorers? Also, good. Realizing that the Pistons are one of the four worst teams (by record) in the league, and were also missing some of their best players? Well, that makes it more ‘something’ than anything else.

Was it a 15-point win against a bad team? Yes. Did the Spurs lead it wire to wire? Basically. Was it still in question until the last 4-5 minutes of the game? Also, yes. Well, that seems more like ‘something’ than something special.

I can go on of course. I can talk about how it was Derrick White who broke Detroit’s back in the end with a 26-point performance (and in spite of going 2-8 from deep). But then I’d be remiss in mentioning that San Antonio allowed Josh Jackson (he of a 14 point-per-game average) to go off for 29 points as well.

I could write about Rudy Gay’s recovery from a dismal performance against the Miami Heat, but then I’d have to talk about his defensive play as of late, and boy, has that been ‘something’. I could write about Jakob Poeltl’s recent free-throw hot streak (76.5% in the last 10 games), but then, for a player who shot .689 from the stipe in his last college season, it seems kind of overdue.

For some of you, this kind of stance might strike you as somewhat pessimistic. I assure you that it is not. On a scale of glass-half-full, to glass-half-empty, I’m at the place where the snake head of glass half-empty circles back around to consume the tail of glass-half-full. It’s that place where doom-scrolling fights to the death with idealism, and the only thing left is the acceptance of a middle-ground.

This is not a good Spurs team. It’s also not a bad Spurs team. In fact, at 29-29, I feel it’s safe to say that this team is irrefutably mediocre. It has become, quite literally, an exercise in glass-half-full vs. glass-half-empty, the ultimate convergence of personal opinion and statistical support for any just about argument one might be inclined to subject their favorite sports team to.

It’s a litmus test on the vision of a hyper-factionalized fan-base; the perfect distillation of negativity and triumph. A less scrupulous writer might even point out the parallels between this team’s record and the state of the national senate. But that’s not what I’m here for, because this was a game that was much more ‘something’ than ‘everything’.

It’s interesting to me, the places that we will allow mediocrity in our lives. That we can accept it in our day-to-day and not in our sports teams. I suppose that speaks to the escapism we desire from our national pastimes, the fantasy only slightly more elevated than that of our other forms of entertainment.

I suspect that, in the end, it comes down to expectations. That we can accept being mediocre at a whole host of video games (in the professional sense) but be enraged by the decline in quality of a long-running HBO fantasy series must signal something of that nature. I believe it was Douglas Adams who wrote that a life that is burdened with expectations is a heavy life.

What a relief it is then to occasionally walk away from something and take nothing from it. Call it doom-inspired-positivity. Call it sports nihilism. Call it whatever you like.

But last night I experienced both the highs and lows of athletic competition. It was marvelous. It was awful. It was really something.


  • If there’s any player who deserves some love as of late, it’s Drew Eubanks. I will fully cop to thinking that Eubanks would never amount to more than a series of sideline cheerleading memes, but I’ve been proven wrong this season, as Eubanks has made significant strides with more consistent playing time. Serving as the backup center for most of the season, Eubanks has transformed into a master of the dirty-work, anticipating rebounds in a manner that makes up for athleticism, setting a bevy of quality picks, and going for broke in the post at every opportunity. There are athletic drawbacks that will always hold Eubanks back from being starting big-man material. Outside of his trusty hooks and dunks, he has no real offensive game, and his lack of size and length will likely keep him from every becoming an above-average rim protector. Improvement in either area might place him as fringe starter, but even without that he seems likely to have carved himself out a permanent role as backup 5, hardly something to sneer at for a player who went undrafted. The second unit in particular appears to have benefited from his ascendance, with the difference in offensive flow being noticable when Eubanks was on the court. Even Jakob Poeltl seems to have taken a page from Drew’s book on post aggression, hammering home more of the dunks that we’ve longed to see from him over the past several seasons. At some point we’ll have to have a conversation about the regular effectiveness of PATFO’s ability to select and mold role players from the ranks of the undrafted, but for now, let’s just enjoy another Austin Spurs success story. I think Eubanks has earned himself at least one uncontested moment in the sun.
  • There’s been an interesting, if subtle development in Keldon Johnson’s approach to attacking the rim. With the paint now being packed with regularity when Johnson gets the ball, Keldon has started to look for the high-low pass to other big men in the area. San Antonio’s big men making the interior pass has always been a big part of the Spurs offense, and it has the power to completely change the way teams double-team not only Johnson but any of the Spurs long-range allergic centers. And if Keldon can turn this into a legitimate point of ball distribution, it has the potential to really open up the floor for everyone else as well. It would be a big step in Johnson’s development, and combined with a more consistent long-range shot, would make San Antonio’s favorite young forward an absolute matchup nightmare.
  • Tre Jones really was determined to make the most of his court time last night. Almost as if he’d decided this was the time to audition for Patty Mills’ role, he was everywhere on both ends in this one, hampering ball-handlers with a frenzy just shy of Mills’, conducting the offense with surprising maturity, and even dropping a three-ball for good measure, as if to say “I can do that too.”. It was a standout performance from the 2nd round pick, even if a 5point/5assist statline doesn’t exactly jump off of the page. Taken into consideration along with the similarly revelatory Devin Vassell, this is looking like it might go down as a banner year for the front office draft-wise. My guess is that twitter discussions around PATFO’s continued relevance are going to be proven a bit premature.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

Que Sera, Sera (Whatever will be, Will be) by Sly and the Family Stone