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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Nuggets

A better effort from the young Spurs still comes up short

NBA: Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, so I was here last week offering mea culpas for having severely underestimated these Spurs on opening night. They had just won their 5th game and we’re riding high. I felt ready to declare that the rest of the league needed to be on notice! The Spurs had officially qualified as “good” until proven otherwise. It was time to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop and start appreciating the fun and exciting team we had on our hands.

Since then, they’ve lost three games in a row. One of those losses was a 43-point shellacking that doubled as the largest margin of defeat in the Gregg Popovich era. What do we take from that? What did we learn from that? Well, I think it’s time for another mea culpa. The Spurs are bad. We should give up the ghost on this season and start praying for Ping Pong balls.

No, look. I can’t keep doing this. We can’t keep doing this. It’s been a weird season so far and we’re only a week through November. We keep trying to figure out who this team is and what they’re capable of and the truth is that we are just going to have to sit with it and be patient. We know nothing! The Jazz are in first place in the West, the Warriors are in 12th, and the Lakers are in the basement. This NBA season is a baby deer learning to walk right now and we keep trying to pretend we’ve got everything figured out. We don’t now and we won’t for a while! (Except for the Lakers, I’m pretty sure they really do stink.)

Trying to zoom out just a little on this Spurs team, and it becomes easier to get some perspective. The record is less important as character of the group comes a bit more to the forefront. The real thing we’ve been excited about in the early going hasn’t been the wins, although the crumb of serotonin they provided was certainly a welcome surprise. No, the real joy has been that this squad everyone wrote off as basement dweller designed in a lab to ensure a better draft position was secretly a charisma machine that was going out every night and competing their butts off. This season was supposed to be one giant slog and instead we’ve got Keldon Johnson drawing a foul and then howling up at the AT&T Center crowd like it’s game three of the second round.

They’re fun. That’s the thing I keep coming back to. They’re fun! They move the ball like it’s going out of style, they work their butts off on defense, and they have a few guys who seem to be embracing a unique opportunity to be the main dudes on an NBA team. Guys like KJ, Devin Vassell and Tre Jones are not exactly the Big Three reincarnate, but they have been tasked with being the Alpha Dogs of this little operation, and they haven’t shied away from it. If anything, it seems like they’re playing better than they ever have.

The inexperience of a squad like this is the thing dragging everybody back to earth. We’ve got sloppy mistakes like you read about. We’ve got more turnovers than you can shake a stick at. We’ve got a two time MVP of the league deciding in the 4th quarter that they’re done toying around with this glorified YMCA team and slamming the door on a nice little late run. That’s okay! Inexperience was always a part of the deal and the only way to fight inexperience is know...experience it.

This game was a loss, but, in a way, it was kind of the perfect loss. We got to see our boys out there fighting above their weight class. They made some incredible plays, and they looked like they belonged. This game wasn’t progress made behind closed doors of the practice facility, and it wasn’t some abstract life lesson that needed to be learned. No, this was real, tangible movement towards a goal that we got to see with our own eyes.

I still don’t know what this team is capable of doing this year. Maybe they do bottom out. Maybe they sneak into the Play-In Tournament. It’s early enough that everything still feels like it’s on the table. If I had to guess, I’d say we’re probably looking at a lot of nights like this. Night’s where the talent gap ends up mattering, and the Spurs fall a touch short of a win. That feels right. It feels like where they are, and it feels like a good way to get where they’re going.

When you aren’t focused on the record, it stops being a good loss and starts just being a good game. The Spurs played a good game last night, and when you play enough good games, well, you just might end up being a good team.


  • It’s a true delight to watch Devin Vassell play basketball right now. He looks so natural and fluid out on the court that it makes everything the Spurs do look a touch better than it actually is. It’s a backdoor cut to the rim or a confident pull up for three off the dribble or a sneaky little poke steal the results in an easy lope off to the other end for a dunk. He’s one of those guys the sort of looks like he’s moving slower than he actually is which is maybe my favorite genre of player in the game.
  • Is Tre Jones the point guard of the future for the Spurs? I don’t know! It’s hard to say what the future is going to look like for this team. However, Tre Jones is the point guard of the now, and he’s pretty dang good at it. His scoring output was obviously a welcome surprise last night, but his vision when it comes to moving the ball around on offense continues to stand out. He seamlessly works the pick-and-roll with Jakob Poeltl. He winds through the paint and drops a no look pass back out to KJ for three. He whips it through a sea of defenders to find Jeremy Sochan on a baseline cut. I’m still surprised every time I realize Tre was behind whatever genius thing I just saw and I need to cut it out. He’s the real deal.
  • I’ve been reserving judgement on this for a while but I think it’s been long enough. I hate the 50th anniversary court. I hate it so much. It hurts my eyes, my brain, and my heart. I thought it was going to be tough to watch the Spurs this season because of the basketball, but it turns out I was super wrong about that. The basketball is fine. It’s tough to watch the Spurs this season because the court looks dumb. Why is there so much gold? Why does it feel like it makes everything in the stadium is so much darker than normal? Why did they need to write out “celebrating 50 seasons” along the sideline in addition to having a big 50 right in the middle of the court? It never totally feels like a home game anymore because it never actually looks like we’re playing at home. Is it so much to ask that the court just looks normal for home games? At least the Fiesta court had a pop of fun color. I’m so mad about this. Every game? We’re going to have it look like this every game? Really?

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- Seems like you’re pretty worked up about the court design.

- EVERY GAME? IT’S GOING TO LOOK LIKE THIS FOR EVERY GAME? Why would they do it for every game if it’s just going to look dumb every time? They know that means it will look dumb for every game, right?

- I think they know how that works, yea. Is it really so bad?

- It’s like we’re playing in an ocean of poppy seed bagels and dijon mustard. It’s like we’ve decided that it’s an important playing advantage for opposing teams to have to hang out in a poorly lit living room from the 70s every time they take the court against us. It’s like they were going to make a fun court but some intern accidentally spilled coffee on the Opposite button right before it went into production and they decided to just go with it anyway.

- I think it’s a fun nod to the long and storied history of the franchise.

- Hey. My guy. When was the last time you saw a nod? How long did it last? Did the nod last like two seconds? It did, right? Because a NOD is a slight and brief gesture you give to someone to quickly signal something. A NOD does not last ALL SEASON FOR EVERY HOME GAME. This is no nod. This is a hug from someone with body odor who fell asleep mid hug.