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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Heat

No es bueno.

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

I don’t think anyone can feel bad about this loss. It’s one of those where you look at the totality of the Spurs current situation and just sort of shrug your shoulders. Yeah. This was probably going to be a loss. It wasn’t embarrassing or anything. Nobody blew it or had the worst game of their lives. It just happened. They went down to Mexico City, played 48 minutes of basketball, and didn’t quite have enough to finish the job.

In soccer there’s a fancy stat that the analytics nerds like to throw around called “expected goals” which is basically a way to determine the probability of any given shot going in. They take in the history of thousands of similar shots all in an effort to show whether or not the particular shot is a good one or a bad one. Wide open shot in front of the goal? High XG. Terrible angle on the side of the pitch, shooting through traffic? Low XG. It’s a simple enough concept that allows people’s imaginations to really run away things. The Ringer’s Brian Phillips recently said that, “soccer is the only sport that took “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts” and made it an actual stat.”

I thought about XG a lot in the aftermath of this game. Not necessarily in terms of any shots the Spurs were taking, but in terms of wins I expect from them. What is a game they should win? What’s one I want them to win? What’s one I need them to win? This one would’ve been asking a lot of the kids. I know they beat Miami recently, but even in the moment that felt like we were getting away with something. That’s a veteran team over there that, in theory, should be battling for it’s playoff lives. They should be hungrier. They should be more experienced. They should know how to fend off wild advances from a pack of youths who are just trying to get their feet wet and that’s exactly what happened.

This is the type of performance we can live with though. It shows the promise and potential sitting just beneath the surface of this team and it also shows a relatively clear roadmap to getting better. You put in a full 48 min shift and you play a little smarter here and there on offense and you start to get a little better on the margins. Once you shore up holes like that, you can start building some more. You might pick up a couple wins you wouldn’t expect to. You add in a few new tricks. You cut out a few more mistakes. The blueprint is there. If a basketball rube like yours truly can see it then, surely, the guys in that locker room can too.

Expectations are important. Right now, I don’t think anyone expects the Spurs to win a game like this. Frankly, I don’t think anyone expects them to win anything at all outside of the occasional featherweight battle with Houston. The task is simply too tall and the deck is too stacked against them. We’re all learning to live with that reality, but I do think it’s getting easier as we go along. All we want from these guys is to see the effort being put in. We expect to see the work being done to get to that next level and the only time we should really be disappointed is when we don’t.

Soon enough, a loss like this will start to hurt. We’ll start to rue the missed opportunities and bang our heads against the collective wall wondering, “what if?” That’s when you’ll know it’s getting good. That’s win you’ll know we’re on the up and up.

I can’t wait to lose like that.


  • I know it wasn’t quite full strength Jakob Poeltl, but it still felt great seeing the big guy out there throwing his weight around again. I know in my heart how important he is to this teams overall defensive performance, but having him back in the mix really highlights how much better everything seems to flow when you have him as an anchor back there. This was, obviously, further highlighted when the defensive effort fell completely off a cliff in the 4th quarter once the Minutes Restriction Reaper came for Jakob.
  • It’d be pretty tasty if Malaki Branham could continue evolving into a dynamic option for the Spurs. He definitely falls into the “figuring things out” division on the team, but his eyes seem a little less wide recently. His confidence is showing and he seems like he’s coming into that phase of things where guys sometimes remember that, even though it’s the NBA, you’re still just out there hooping. He’s stepping into shots and working confidently within the offense and just generally looking like he belongs out there. This is the stuff we should be getting excited about.
  • This team is really good at running the break. Or, at least, they seem like they are to my untrained eye. Any time there’s a loose ball or an opportunity to get out and run, I can feel myself start to perk up out of my chair. This is by no means a perfect NBA team, but at least the thing they’re doing well is a pretty fun thing! As an aside, I don’t have any science or stats to back up this observation so if you have something that contradicts it then please let me know by sending your complaints to my office at 123 Eat My Shorts Lane, Springfield, Il, 62701. Thanks!

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- Pretty bold of you to give out your address like that on such a public forum

- Hey, you know me. I just want to be open to constructive criticism.

- Do you get a lot of written complaints these days?

- Virtually none! I think it has to do with how perfect all of my takes are. Nothing I’ve said in my years writing for this site has generated even one letter of complaint.

- Impressive.

- I’ll say!