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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Suns

San Antonio, the team, lost yesterday. San Antonio, the city, did not. 

NBA: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Let the record show that on May the 15th, 2021, the San Antonio Spurs lost to Phoenix Suns in spectacular fashion, and no one really cared.

I say this not as an indictment, but as an admission of my own guilt. Distracted in the extreme, I watched the Suns slap the Silver and Black around like an unwanted stepchild as if I were watching myself watch the game from outside my own body.

To be fair, it would have been hard to lock into this game without the additional spectacle of San Antonio’s first Hall of Fame Induction Speech since David Robinson’s. That notorious non-speaker Tim Duncan would be the one giving it certainly didn’t help.

Jersey retirement ceremonies over the past several years have proven than Duncan is as insightful and effective a speaker as he was a player, in spite of his characteristic reluctance to engage, and musing on some of those humorous moments in the past, I couldn’t help but wonder what tantalizing tidbits this speech would bring. I can only imagine that I was not alone in that.

I stared at my phone more often than I have during most games, eyeing the internet for any indications of intent or press commentary than I might have missed, promising myself that I would revisit the game afterwards in the same way that I promise myself that I’ll get up early and go for a run before I go out for drinks with friends, and suddenly it was halftime and Phoenix was up 68-47.

It wasn’t exactly a shocking revelation. With Rudy Gay, Jakob Poeltl, DeMar DeRozan, and Dejounte Murray out, the Spurs were minus two of their best defenders and two go-to scorers. Consequently, the Suns never scored less than thirty-one points in a quarter, and San Antonio had two in which they scored less than twenty-four points.

There are, as we’ve learned over the past two seasons, an awful lot of ways for the Spurs to lose a game, but by far the simplest iteration is to not be able to score, and not be able to stop the opposition from scoring. There are certainly narrower and more creative ways to achieve that, but for a Spurs team so out of gas and so overmatched (the Suns, still hoping to steal the West’s top seed, played most of their starters), it’s hard to point fingers here.

I’m not certain that learning that San Antonio cannot beat good teams without their best players counts as a revelation at this point. This wasn’t exactly Popovich resting the Big Three against the Heat in 2012. Keita Bates-Diop, Tre Jones, Gorgui Dieng, and Quinndary Weatherspoon were all on the hardwood for twenty-five minutes or more, a season-high for every player but Dieng.

I ended up re-watching the game after all. After watching San Antonio’s greatest player yet again dedicate all of his time to lavishing praise on his parents, friends, teammates, franchise staff, and coaches in what will likely be his last vocal moment in the spotlight, I found myself as ill-prepared to write about this game as I had been to watch it.

I cannot recommend the bleary-eyed, coffee-fueled, 5am consumption of any basketball game, but if ever I were to, this one would not prove to be the exception. Exhausted, locked into position, and understandably uninspired, the few rotation players present did their best impression of themselves, and the latter half of the bench did their best to prove they belonged.

At one point, Gorgui Dieng made a mid-range bank shot. Purposeful or not, it felt like a welcome tribute.

Yesterday’s game felt like the equivalent of that famous slapping scene from ‘My Name is Nobody’, with the Spurs on the losing side. It was the Silver and Black’s sixth loss by twenty-five points or more this season, and their second to the Suns, and yet somehow nothing about it seems to matter.

San Antonio, the team, lost yesterday. San Antonio, the city, did not.

Takeaways:

  • As much as I like him, I’m beginning to wonder what the Spurs plan on doing with Quinndary Weatherspoon. Previously I had seen him perhaps stepping into a Cory Joseph type role with the team, but between the injury that kept him out for most of the season and San Antonio opting to draft Tre Jones, that future is looking a bit murky now. Though Weatherspoon has two inches on Jones, the reality is that neither is really suited to shift over to shooting guard, if there were even a way for them to find minutes there in the first place. Secondly, both Jones and Weatherspoon have similar styles of play, which at the moment is decidedly a disadvantage for Weatherspoon due to the minutes that Jones has seen in his absence, as well as the appearance of a higher ceiling for Jones. (Both have played over 30 career games at this point with an average of about six minutes per, and Jones has already proven to be both a better distributor and long-distance shooter) This leaves Weatherspoon in a sticky spot on a team with at least three (Derrick White occasionally makes four) players more likely to man the point. Should the Spurs opt to let Patty Mills walk this offseason (unlikely, though certainly possibly), Weatherspoon might still be able to carve himself out a role on this team, but if Mills stays it’s becoming hard to see a future in which Weatherspoon will even have an opportunity to contribute.
  • Has there been a Spurs player in recent memory more inconsistent than Lonnie Walker? Certainly I can remember individuals who had a habit of getting red-hot with semi-regularity (perhaps no Spurs player had a gift for randomly detonating like prime Stephen Jackson) or having a bad game after moments of brilliance (Good-Manu/Bad-Manu was really quite the spectacle prior to ‘05), but I can’t recall any Spurs with such a ceiling so completely disappearing so often. Certainly Lonnie’s had his share of injury difficulty this year, but he’s also still managed to tally eight games in which he played twenty minutes (or more) and failed to score more than five points, and twenty in which he failed to break double digits. Yes, there’s more to the game than scoring. I’ll be the first to argue that point. And yes, a collision with Drew Eubanks really appeared to mess with Walker’s comfort level in this one. But early-game bumps and bruises aside, Lonnie is going to have to find a way to more consistently find his rhythm if the Spurs intend to use him in the 6th man role that they’ve appear to have earmarked him for.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

The World’s Greatest by Bonnie Prince Billy