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What We Learned from the Spurs final game of the season

The play-in game with the Grizzlies was a fitting end to a frustrating campaign.

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Play-In Tournament Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

All I could think about as the buzzer sounded was, “Yea, that seems about right.” The San Antonio Spurs squeezed about everything they could out of this particular orange and at the end of the day it just wasn’t quite enough to keep going. That’s fine. That’s okay. We were always sort of banking on a miracle to come around and, frankly, I’m glad we didn’t waste one here. You only get so many as a franchise.

Can you believe how bad the first quarter was? Of course you can. If you’re reading this, then you watched enough of this team to know how they operate. Even still, that was a singularly exhilarating experience to watch the Memphis lead just grow and grow and, oh my, just keep growing. I thought they were going to put up 50. I thought we were going to put up 6! It felt like anything was in play. The Spurs were on national TV for the first time in ages with the great Sauron eye of the basketball world pointed squarely in their direction and the Spurs were just laughably blowing it.

Everything was moving very quickly. Nothing was working. It seemed like they might just go quietly curl up in a ball and wait for it to all be over and then, wouldn’t you know it...the wind must’ve shifted. Patty hit a three to start the 2nd quarter off and it all calmed down just a little. Then they got to work chipping away at it. It wasn’t anything flashy and it didn’t really feel like they were doing anything all that different from the disastrous run in the first, they just looked a little more in control of everything. It’s like they just needed to see the ball go in the basket a few times to steady their nerves. On the other hand, the Grizzlies seemed totally bewildered by the fact that every single shot wasn’t falling for them anymore and, hey, look at that. All of a sudden we had ourselves a ballgame.

From there on in, well, I think the best we can say is that the Spurs stayed in it. They fought till the end. That might sound a little demeaning, but I promise I don’t mean it that way. It’s just the truth. This Spurs team doesn’t have a ton of firepower on their best night and this was decidedly not their best night. Instead, they hung around. They landed a punch here and there. They frustrated the Grizzlies when they could and they tried to be in a position to capitalize down the stretch. It was about all they could do. When Demar hit that jumper to take the lead with about seven minutes left you could almost see the finish line.

It was a little too early though, wasn’t it? Just a bit. If they had timed their comeback to peak a few minutes later, then you can almost imagine the Grizz not being able to recover from the stumble. Instead, they took it right back and the Spurs were left poking and prodding for another opening that would never come. And just like that, the season was over. All that hard work and all the hours of practice and film study and physical therapy and travel and everything else was just...over. Sports can be great but, man, sports can be cruel too.

There will be plenty of time to eulogize this team and this season in the coming days, but for now I just want to give everyone a hug. This was a hard year on every level for everyone on the team. It’s easy to look at their record down the stretch and want to just walk into the ocean or something, but their record belies the enormity of the challenges they faced. It never felt like they were playing with a full deck and and every time they almost got something going another setback would come along and knock them a few pegs down the ladder. They were never going to compete for a title this year, but who knows what they might’ve been capable of if they caught a couple different breaks.

Last night’s game represented an opportunity for the Spurs to maybe find a little redemption in what has basically been a lost year. If they could just find a way to sneak past the Grizzlies then maybe, just maybe, they might find a way to get hot against the Warriors and, well, if they were finally going to have a little momentum then, why couldn’t they go ahead and give the Jazz a little scare in the first round?

That all sounds great, but if I’m being honest, I’m almost glad it didn’t shake out like that. This team has been running on fumes for so long that I genuinely think the best thing that could happen to them was to have this whole thing put to rest. Everyone can go home, rest up, recover, and start planning for the next campaign with a clean slate.

I wasn’t excited about the end of this season. I am excited about the start of the next one.


  • When Dejounte picked Ja Morant’s pocket for a breakaway dunk on the opening play of the game, my entire body started vibrating. I started having crazy thoughts like, “We might win this game by double digits” and “Dejounte Murray is the 2nd coming of Gary Payton” and “Uh, I think the Spurs are going to maybe make the conference finals.” It was a pretty heady moment. I felt like I was tasting colors. Imagine my surprise when, after finally coming to a few moments later, I realized that Spurs were down by a dozen. Not sure my body ever fully recovered from that particular bout of whiplash.
  • I’m extremely not ready to emotionally deal with the concept that this might’ve been the last game for a number of Spurs players that I’ve really grown fond of. Who knows what will come to pass with free agency and team building this off-season, but between DeMar, Patty, and Rudy, we’ve got a whole lot of the character and soul of this team sitting out there with a pretty uncertain futures heading into the off-season. It’s good to have continuous reminders of how atrocious I would be at managing an NBA team in real life because the degree to which I would just give out ridiculous contracts to people I simply want to continue being friends with is off the charts.
  • Ironically, in today’s NBA if you hold your opponent to a clean 100 points, you’ll more often than not have a pretty decent chance of pulling out a win. Outside of that complete and utter debacle in the first quarter, the Spurs actually ran a pretty tight ship on the defensive end last night. They clearly had no answer for fringe MVP candidate (I’m assuming) Jonas Valanciunas, but what’re you going to do? Mostly we’re going to try not to think about how winnable this game was if we didn’t shoot 35% from the field.
  • I love that retro Grizzlies logo but, if I’m being honest, it was a lot to deal with for a full 48 minutes of watching a basketball game. It’s big. Like...I felt like it was taking up most of the court and half the time I couldn’t even focus on the action that was happening because I was too busy staring at the giant bear out there trying to squeeze the life out of a basketball. We need more radical aesthetics in this league, of course, and I would never tell a team to shy away from doing cool things. I just think maybe we all need to practice being rad in moderation.
  • Sadly, I think our campaign to get Jakob Poeltl elected Defensive Player of the Year and also maybe President is going to fall a little short this year. However, I’m proud of everything we accomplished and I think we ran a good race. Jakob is only getting better as a defensive force and I’m excited to see what he has in store for us next year. In the meantime, let’s just watch him put Ja Morant to bed without any supper on a loop for the next couple months.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- Well, we made it to the end of the season. How are you feeling? Nostalgic? Relieved? Hungry?

- Little bit of everything I suppose. It’s all sort of difficult to reckon with when it’s still fresh like this.

- Do you have anything you regret from this campaign?

- I think I should’ve stirred the pot a little more. My takes we’re pretty down the middle this season, you know? Like, I think I really just gave the people what they wanted instead of what they needed. Who knows? Maybe if I had spent the season demanding that Keldon Johnson be the primary ball handler on offense or imploring Jakob Poeltl to shoot more threes, that could’ve been the extra special little spark that pushed everyone on to greatness.

- You think a few more hot takes would’ve helped things?

- They certainly couldn’t have hurt. Imagine if I had really leaned into a take like, “Actually, the Fiesta Jerseys are bad. They’re just a rip-off of the Blazers uniforms and the colors are TACKY.” The heat from that take could fuel a rocket ship to the moon! Now I’m kind of mad I didn’t give it a shot.

- Well, I don’t think the Fiesta Jerseys are going anywhere so maybe you can give it a go next year.

- Maybe. Maybe. Look, someone has to step up to push this team and this fanbase to greatness and I think it just might have to be me.