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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Pacers

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What even is ‘learning’ anyway?

NBA: Indiana Pacers at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

There’s something particularly frustrating about an overtime loss. Losing by a significant margin leaves so many potential explanations up for grabs and can even feel fated. But the close loss, and particularly the overtime loss immediately gives you at least two conclusive statements.

One, that your opponent suffered from moments of real vulnerability. And two, that in spite of the aforementioned vulnerabilities, your team was unable to capitalize on them.

Neither of those thoughts are particularly comforting; they make it difficult to contextualize the loss in a way that favors a more positive interpretation. You can’t just chalk it up to a poor shooting night, or tired legs. The harsh truth is that the opposition held no more advantages than your team did, and your team still fell short.

It can feel like an incontrovertible verdict on the character or willpower of the players and coaching staff; an enduring tribute to something ethereal that the team simply lacks. You can point at possessions and rotations that lacked execution, or a visible lack of enthusiasm displayed by certain players while the game still hung in the balance. In an overtime loss, all offenses are prosecutable, and everything is an indictment.

It’s the ‘I just think it’s funny that…’ text of the regular season; ripe for every negative observation, deserved or otherwise. To defend it is to risk being tried as a witch and weighed against a duck. It’s much easier to join with the crowd than to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.

But at the end of the day, it’s still just a loss. Not to be trite, but the NBA season is full of them and unless your team happens to be the ’96 Bulls or the 2016 Warriors, you’re likely to experience more than a handful of them each year.

Is it ideal? Or course not. Should we bury our heads in the sand about going 3-7 in the last 10 games? Perish the thought! But for now, the San Antonio Spurs are still 8th in the Western Conference, with a very real chance at the play-in. The rest of the story has yet to be told.

Sure, we can anticipate and predict the ending, a right as unalienable as rage-tweeting or wearing an adult diaper in order to avoid stopping in the middle of a road trip. But should we?

The NBA season is a long one, subject to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, even for the best of teams. And for a team hovering around .500, for every woeful performance, there’s an equal and opposite performance to be found.

I’m not here to tell you this wasn’t an ugly loss. And I’m certainly not here to tell you that that San Antonio Spurs are title-favorites, much less dark horse contenders. I’m just hoping that you’ll consider, as you would in life, that there’s still joy be found. Call me an incurable optimist, call me unrealistic, call me an ostrich if you like.

But the drought (at least where I am) is breaking, bluebonnets are in bloom, and the San Antonio Spurs are still showing flashes of a team that’s still to come.

Do with that information what you will.

Takeaways:

  • After struggling a bit over the last two weeks, Keldon ‘the sledgehammer’ Johnson burst out of his slump in a big way. It’s easy to look at the box score and see a twenty-point double-double and move on (particularly after 19 years of Tim Duncan), but Jonson was everywhere in this one, giving the kind of effort that exempts his performance from the list of prosecutable offenses. Most notable were Keldon’s two long distance makes, which helped create a little spacing on a night in which the Spurs desperately needed more outside shooting in the absence of Lonnie Walker and Gorgui Dieng. Keldon is far from a finished product at this point, but there’s no doubt that he already moves the needle in a big way for this Spurs team.
  • San Antonio’s lack of big man depth really hurt them in this one. With Dieng and Eubanks out, Pop was forced to play Jakob Poeltl for forty minutes in this one, and he looked absolutely gassed by the end of the fourth quarter. A little experimentation with Luka Samanic was nice to see, but neither he nor Rudy Gay are really suited to the task of rim defense and if not for Keldon Johnson’s ten boards, the Spurs would have been pretty solidly outrebounded. Solidifying the frontcourt in the offseason is a must for this team, after enduring several seasons of a particularly bare cupboard. It was tough break for the front office that a solid acquisition like Dieng was immediately injured, but that’s life in the NBA and you have to be prepared for it.
  • Speaking of Poeltl, boy is his contract looking like a steal these days. With Aldridge out of the picture, Jakob has been averaging a very solid double-double in his absence, scoring in the post with more confidence while continuing to protect the rim at an extremely high level. After years of having difficulty staying on the court, he’s been the real linchpin holding San Antonio’s big man rotation together and keeping it from becoming an outright disaster, and at under nine million a year, that’s an almost unheard of level of value at a position of universal need. Say what you will about the front office, but that was a big win.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

Let’s Dance to Joy Division by The Wombats