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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Sixers

Another great game from Jakob Poeltl was not enough to see the Spurs through.

Philadelphia 76ers v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

There was a heavyweight battle on Sunday night. Two of the best guys in the league at their position locked horns, traded blows, and showed the world how the sport was meant to be played. We watched along in awe and wonder as these two titans took turns performing one miracle after another. Perhaps it’s too soon to call it the greatest game ever played, but sometimes in life you if need to just take a deep breath and be grateful that you were around to witness a miracle like Joel Embiid vs. Jakob Poeltl.

Now, I’ve been guilty in the past of spinning the dial up on the hyperbole machine on various Spurs players in the past simply because their games tickled some weird part of my brain that just caused me to lose touch with reality whenever I watched them on a basketball court. Jakob Poeltl used to be one of these guys. I liked that he looked like a tree who just learned how to walk. I thought it was hilarious that opposing players almost wouldn’t notice him until they ran into him below the basket. I genuinely found the fact that he treated the free throw line the way cats treat cucumbers to be charming. These were all perfect basketball traits to me and if he happened to contribute to a Spurs win then, hey, all the better.

This is no longer the case. We’re kicking jokes out of the room for a second and having a real, genuine moment here. Jakob Poeltl is one of my favorite basketball players on the planet right now. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not being funny. I’m not doing a bit. Jakob rules. I’ve been dancing around this conclusion for long enough and, after watching him go toe to toe with Embiid last night, I think I’m finally ready to come out of the shadows and into the light.

To be clear, I don’t think he’s the best basketball player in the world. He obviously has limitations out there, but look at how far he’s come! If Dejounte Murray is the face of this Spurs team then Jakob Poeltl is its spine. He’s gone from basically being a useful utility player to an indispensable part of the operation. He anchors the defense, he’s an animal on the boards, and he’s damn near automatic in the post.

I don’t even really know how to describe exactly what it is he does on the offensive end. It exists on the spectrum somewhere between workmanlike stoicism and artful precision. It’s the deft touch on a layup here. It’s a thundering dunk there. It’s the grace with which he drifts through the lane, showing up at the perfect spot to receive a pass from his pick and roll partner. Jakob Poeltl is never late, he always arrives exactly when he means too. (Insert your favorite wizard meme here.)

He’s massive on defense. He commands the paint. I can see you laughing out there but, seriously, spend a night just watching him on that end of the floor. Other teams avoid him. They shift their game plans around where he’s going to be and when they do challenge him, more often than not, they run up against a wall. I understand the Embiid dropped a cool 38 points last night “on him”, but that belies the ways in which he had to work to get it. Joel Embiid might be playing the best basketball of anyone on the planet currently and he had to use every trick in his bag. He had to push it to the limit. He was spacing out and settling for jumpers. He would get frustrated down on the block. Shoot, he had to bang and scrap and fight all night and had to do it all because of our guy. I came away from this matchup even more impressed with Jakob than I was before.

I’m sure this sounds like I’m trying to paper over another disappointing loss by waving my hands and saying, “ignore that, look over here!” and to some extent that may be the case. However, please do not take me for a conjurer of cheap tricks. I’m not trying to distract you, I’m trying to help you. You are more than welcome to sit and stare at that final score until it brings you some measure of peace, but I promise you there’s a better way,

We’re relearning how to watch the Spurs right now. We’re reevaluating what constitutes a successful night on the court. We’re celebrating the things that are fun and the things that are cool. We’re excited about the things that we’re building and the progress that’s being made. The distance between where Jakob Poeltl was when he got here and where he is now makes me hopeful for the future. Seriously, spend a game or a half or even a quarter just watching him go about his business on the court and I promise it will make you feel better about the Spurs. At the very least it will make you smile.

Or you could focus on the final score. It’s up to you.

Takeaways:

  • Joel Embiid is a freaking monster though.
  • It was weird to watch Dejounte Murray have sort of an off night. It’s been a minute! You could see in the beginning of the game, when he just didn’t have it, that it freaked everybody out a little and threw the whole team off their rhythm. We are in the phase of things where I still find that a little bit charming. He’s the leader and they all take their cues from him. That’s great and I think it’s a big step for him. Now, obviously, that’s an area the needs to evolve because it’s super unsustainable to have the entire plan fall apart anytime DJ’s jumper isn’t working, but for now it’s almost sweet. Friends don’t let friends have bad games alone!
  • I’ve yet to find a single thing about Devin Vassell’s game that I don’t like. I’m sure it’s in there lurking, but there will be time to pick nits later. Right now I’m doing that thing where every time he does something on the court I say things like, “oooh, he sort of looks like Kevin Durant on that play.” Is this unreasonable? Of course! But you’re not the boss of me and if I want to pretend for a little bit that the Spurs are sitting on the 2nd coming of Kevin Durant then I think I’m well within my rights.
  • I feel like I spent a lot of time talking about Jakob up top so it’d be borderline malpractice if I didn’t put even a single little video clip in here of him painting one of his minor masterpieces under the rim. “But Charlie, he just kind of lays it in here, what’s the big deal??” I said it was a “minor” masterpiece. You’ll know when it’s one of the major ones.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- You’ve been circling around the idea of just completely writing the whole recap about Jakob Poeltl for a while now, so I’m glad you finally pulled the trigger.

- Yea, it just felt like the right time, you know? He’s put in the work and I think he was due to be recognized by our committee for his outstanding achievements in the field.

- I’m not getting roped into this again.

- Roped into what?

- This thing where you casually tease some secret committee or organization that you belong to and then act all surprised when I say I’ve never heard of it before. One week you were in the illuminati and another there was a secret consortium of Marco Belinelli fans and then...

- Now, hold on, that’s not true. There wasn’t a secret consortium of Marco Belinelli fans. No, Marco was simply a part of a secret consortium of unknown operatives who existed within a global network with designs on furthering their mysterious agenda. I never said I was a part of that, I was just pointing out its existence and in doing so putting my entire livelihood in peril. Not that you care.

- Sorry, I just...I mean you don’t expect me to believe that, do you?

- Certainly not. No. In fact, I expect you to forget this entire conversation ever happened. Lives depend on it.