Admit it. You went to bed, right? You saw that it was a 9PM CT tip off and harbored brief delusions of staying up to watch two of the slenderest men in the NBA square off for the first time, but then like three minutes in you saw our French kid get bodied by Grayson Allen of all people for a rebound and thought, “You know what? It’s gonna be another learning night for the boys. Ima head out.”
I honestly don’t blame you. Through three quarters, this game was a lot of Kevin Durant flexing on kids who were in grade school when he was drafted, Jusuf Nurkić swallowing up every rebound in sight, and Keldon Johnson seeming like the only person on the team capable of keeping the Phoenix lead from getting completely out of hand. There weren’t even any cool little nuggets that seemed to indicate the promise of something great coming down the pike (unless you count 7’5’ teenagers dunking from outside the paint, but we’ll get to that later). It was a bad game and the Spurs were playing bad in it. It felt like a recipe we were, and still likely are, going to see a lot of as the real grind of the season starts to kick into gear.
I want to talk about the comeback and the win, and I promise that I will, but those first three quarters are important. Guys were going too fast and trying to do too much, then not quite doing enough, trying to make up for it and slow it down and just...never quite getting the tempo right. It was never about a lack of effort on anyone's part, it was just guys trying to build the plane in the middle of a flight. They’re giving Jeremy space to learn the point guard role. Devin is looking for ways he can create. Every instinct in Keldon’s bones is telling him to grab the rock and regulate even though he knows that’s not what the team needs. All the while, EVERYONE is trying to figure out what to do with the Tall Teen.
And really, what should they do? Do you know? Is it as simple as just running more pick and rolls? Should they force feed him the ball in the post? Is getting him out in transition the best use of his length? Is he taking too many threes or not enough? Who can say? No one has ever really played with a guy like this and, frankly, it’s a little awkward at times. None of it really flows together just yet and good, experienced NBA teams are going to exploit that tension over and over again this season. The 4th quarter didn’t magically fix anything.
Was it was fun though? Ohhhh man, it was fun. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a flicker. A spark. A glimmer. It was the wind picking up and fluttering the sails after you thought you were dead in the water. It’s hard to describe what exactly changed out there because, schematically, it wasn’t like the Spurs unveiled some master plan they had been saving until the end. No, they were mostly doing a lot of the same work they’d been doing all game. It just felt like they finally let the game come to them. The defensive rotations were a little crisper and the ball movement wasn’t quite as forced. It was like they all stopped trying to get out of each others way and finally just started to play.
There’s this thing that happens when Wemby does something amazing that I think is fascinating. It kind of causes the whole stadium to freeze up. He’ll block a three pointer from the free throw line or grab a rebound over the heads of two guys, and the crowd sort of sucks in its breath and the players stop for just a second to say a cursory, “What the hell?” Because they’ve just never seen something like that happen before. It’s hilarious, but it also causes the game’s record to skip a little bit.
Last night in the 4th, Jordan Goodwin had plenty of space to try a three and, still, Wemby somehow got his hand in the way. This was one of those moments where everyone usually stops for a second and says, “How tho?”, but this time Tre Jones grabbed the ball and immediately pushed up the court. Before he even caught it, Devin had sprinted out in transition and Wemby was running interference. Tre’s pass got to to Devin right in stride and he flushed it home.
It’s still going to take some time, but sooner or later this will all start to seem normal.
- One of the more bizarre finishing plays to a game I’ve ever seen. I’m sure there are weirder ones, but I’m struggling to come up with one at the moment. Why did no one on the Suns remember to box out the 7’5 dude on the play that got the Spurs within one? How did Keldon just take the ball away from Durant? Why did Durant just stand there frozen like the ball disappeared magically? TRULY, how did the refs not call a foul at any part of the sequence? I’m not saying the Spurs did foul him because they didn’t, that kind of detail just hasn’t always mattered. Regardless, I’m flummoxed. I’m bewildered. I’m confounded.
- Can’t say enough about Keldon Johnson’s performance. Last season must have been such a weird experience for him. Being asked to be the Alpha Captain of a doomed expedition aboard the SS Rebuild can’t be the most fun assignment, but he took it on and never complained. He had highs and lows and everything in between and I was always curious what kind of player would emerge out the other end. I think the answer is that we ended up with a leader. It’s like nothing can hurt him now. While the rest of our guys were tripping over their shoelaces for three quarters, he quietly took the reins and guided us through the hard parts. He didn’t scream and yell and do his whole usual routine because that wasn’t what was called for in the moment. I was truly so impressed and I know for a fact that when the team needs him to do a dunk and flex and go, “AAAGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH” that he’ll be ready for that too.
- Today in: Things that make me go “lol.” I mean...he jumped from outside the paint. He finished with his left hand? I simply don’t care that Kevin Durant makes one of the worst attempts at a close out I’ve ever seen to allow Wemby the space to pull this move off, I’m just glad we all got to be here for it.
- It’s come to my attention that some people are not quite as enamored with the game of Zach Collins as I am. Now, I’m not the kind of guy who would create a specific section of my limited space here on the Pounding the Rock platform dedicated to the the Art of Being Zach Collins out of spite, but if the hearts and minds of this nation need to be educated in the subtleties of what that man brings to the table every single game then, well, that might just be something I need to do. I mean, the man put up a respectable 14/5/4. The man had three blocks. The man had the second highest +/- on the team. The man settled the team down after the Suns got out to an 8-0 lead to start the game by getting our first bucket on a cool little pick and roll with Devin. The man saw Jusuf Nurkić bullying our guys around out there and said, “Hey, what if I took him off the dribble, took all the contact he had to give, and then finished up and under the other side while drawing a foul? Is that something you might be interested in?” Zach Collins is putting in the work. We want him on that wall. We need him on that wall.
WWL Post Game Press Conference
- How tempted were you to turn the game off after it started ugly?
- I’m a professional. I would never turn a game just to get a little sleep. In fact, as a rule I try not to ever sleep during the season.
- Hold on, hold on, hold on, you never sleep? Like at all?
- Of course not, what if something happens? Gotta stay ready, we’ve talked about this.
- Right, but surely you’re body would start to shut down after a few days right? I mean, the human body needs sleep.
- That’s correct. The human body certainly does.
- Yea so...wait...