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What we learned from the Spurs’ loss to the Pelicans

Pop’s eye-twinkle was the highlight of a Spurs’ performance that will be soon forgotten.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

After spending last afternoon in the sun on a public square with a friend, only for two other buddies coincidentally joining in, I went home in high spirits around 7pm. I was in such a good mood that I decided to stay up for the game, which started at 1.30am my time. “Be finished around 4am,” I thought. “I think I can handle that.”

At halftime, I went to the balcony to smoke a cigarette. I took my smartphone with me. I was in a silly, gallows humor sort of mode. It reminded me of the time when I took my a-levels, for which I went back to school after passing an apprenticeship.

We had four predetermined advanced courses in which we had to pass written exams. I knew English and German wouldn’t be a problem. And I also knew Economics wouldn’t – I had just passed an apprenticeship as a bank clerk, after all. But I knew I was going to struggle with math. But any good resolution that I was going to pay very close attention in math classes were gone before the first week back in school was over.

To prepare for the math exam about 1.5 years later, some classmates and I formed a study group for hopeless cases such as us. Some days before the exam, I broke out in laughter, realizing that this probably won’t work. I started making up jokes about math based on the little basic math knowledge I had. A classmate joined in. We did that pretty much for the rest of the day. And to this day I believe it’s that what made me pass the written exam, and even do surprisingly well in the oral exam that followed.

Back to my balcony. My Mindset: silly. Because the Spurs had only scored 33 points in the first half. And they were even less likely to win this game as I was to pass my a-level math exam. While smoking a cigarette in a silly mood, I did what I often do in such situations. I started typing some dreamt-up BS into my smartphone. (That way, and by writing replies to Facebook posts I never sent, 652 drafts have accumulated over the years in my email account.)

“Guys, we have a special game plan for tonight”, coach Pop said to his players. “Something I’ve been wanting to try for years, but never have. Because we had that winning habit for more than 20 years. Which we’re trying to get back, as you know, but we’re not there yet. And we won’t get any closer if we win tonight’s game. I’ll explain to you in the off-season. Well, if you’re still under contract then.

Anyway, here’s what we are going to do: When we’re in possession, please make sure we’re either turning the ball over, or we’re taking bad shots. You can pick, but please don’t roll. No easy baskets. As for defense, our opponent isn’t as offensively potent as our last one. Which means we might have to be, in a sense, actively inactive on the defensive end, so the Pels won’t know what hit them when they find out the game is out of reach before the end of the first quarter – out of OUR reach.

As for me, I’m going to get myself ejected early in the second quarter. I’ll be fuming. So much indeed that it’ll be impossible for the refs to give me the special treatment for seventy-something coaches with more than 1,300 career wins. If you see me twinkling at the refs while heading for the exit, everything is going to plan. No silly ideas if that’s the case. No getting hot, no comeback attempt before we have securely lost. Understood?“

That’s what I typed last night on my balcony. Then I went to bed. The second half I watched this afternoon.

Takeaways

  • The concept of tanking in an NBA basketball context is nothing that is black and white. And I also don’t believe in the concept that is “stealth tanking”. Frankly, I’m not even sure what that term means. I would say the concept of tanking in an NBA basketball context comes in, excuse the wordplay, 82 shades of grey. I would assume that every NBA franchise starts the season trying to win. But a number of franchises reach a point in the season where winning is no longer top priority. Last night, we saw one team that is clearly trying to make the play-in game. And it makes sense. Though he hasn’t played a game this season, this team has a clear-cut number one option to build around. And it has also got a number two or three option. The other team, the San Antonio Spurs, probably has less of an ambition to make the play-in. They have a bunch of talented young players. But only of them can yet be thought of as one of three primary guys on a contending team. Whether that guy’s a number one, two, or three option is remains unclear. But it’s clear that the San Antonio Spurs need to improve their chances of getting more than one such guy. And that’s why they have reached the point in the season where winning really is no longer a priority. That’s pretty much all there is to it. They’re not the worst team in the NBA because they only scored 33 points in the first half. But they’re a team that would be nothing but cannon fodder in the upcoming playoffs. I’m sure they didn’t lose last night’s game on purpose. And I’m very sure that my intro text is comically over-interpreting Pop’s eye-twinkle. Most of all, I’m sure there’s no need whatsoever to be bothered about how last night’s game went.
  • No Spur had a particularly good game last night. One thing I liked seeing, though, was Dejounte taking eight threes, roughly double his average, and making three, more than double his average. It was somewhat similar for Devin, whose offensive contributions some might find underwhelming since he became a starter after Derrick’s departure. Still, him going three from seven from beyond the arch is basically what I hope he can average going forward. Because the Spurs are still not good enough in terms of three-point shooting. More guys will have to go the Keldon route. Maybe Joe Wieskamp can be a rotation guy in the future? Kudos to him for three made threes from five attempts and 11 points in 19 minutes of play.
  • There’s only one real takeaway from last night’s game. And it really is an awfully sad one. I said in the comments section this week that for Lonnie to be a surefire contract extension, he will have to keep up the numbers from his most recent 13 games in the remaining 12. Seeing him limp off the court was just so very sad. I wanted to put my arm around him and say: “Future Spur or future elsewhere, future all-star or future bench guy, out of this world performance or in your head – it doesn’t matter to me. You’re good. And I feel you.”