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What We Learned from the Spurs WIN Over the Trail Blazers

San Antonio’s fifth win of the season allows everyone to take another deep breath

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

It just feels good to get a win. There’s no two ways about it. Winning stays undefeated against it’s long time nemesis Losing. Does it fix everything? No. Does it change the record dramatically? No. Does it allow us to fanatically dream for 24 hours that this just might be the turning point that launches a winning streak that takes the league by storm completely devastates all the haters and losers whoever doubted the Spurs in the first place? YOU BET IT DOES.

Maybe that’s extreme. Maybe a semi-comfy win over another team that is a fellow traveler on the “Still Trying to Figure it Out Highway” doesn’t portend a glorious future involving win streaks or playoff berths or people I dislike being humbled in a grandiose fashion. That’s not how this works and we know it. Still, a win is a win and it feels good to get a win.

Did you get that weird pit in your stomach when the Spurs were up 20 in the first quarter? The one where you’re having a good time but you can’t really focus because you’re seeing ghosts everywhere on the court? Sochan just hit a driving layup to give the Spurs a 26-6 lead and instead of fist pumping you just mumble something like, “I’ve seen this movie before.” Sochan grabs a defensive rebound, rumbles up the court and lays it in to push the lead to 22 as you grimace, “Oh man, this is going to hurt even worse when it disappears by half.” After another defensive stop, Vassell feeds it into Zach Collins who finishes strong at the basket, much to your dismay. Finally, Jeremi Grant weaves through traffic and gets an easy 2 for the Blazers and the Spurs mercifully call timeout to stop the bleeding. The score is 31-8 and you’re drifting aimlessly through a waking nightmare.

The experience of watching the Spurs right now is bizarre for millions of reasons but, chief among them, is that they’ve made it exceedingly difficult to enjoy when things are going well. They’ve turned blowing double digit leads into an art form. They hang out on the precipice of beautiful basketball before settling on lukewarm mid-range jumpers for 5 straight possessions. On top of all that, it appears they’ve angered a witch who cursed them to turn into the Washington Generals in the 3rd quarter of every game. It’s like they bought the IKEA NBA Team set and lost the assembly instructions somewhere along the way. Every good is tempered by the looming bad.

So imagine our surprise last night in Portland when, after balling up into the fetal position as the lead dropped to nine in the 3rd third quarter, everything just turned out...fine? They held the line. They didn’t panic. They played within themselves. They gave the ball to their giant teen and let him cook. It was beautiful. It was like crawling out of a cave and seeing the sun for a first time in a month. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I just sat there on my couch in shock as they closed out a win like they’d been doing it their whole lives. No big deal. On to the next.

I still don’t know what to do with this information. My instinct is to dismiss it as an aberration. Getting our hopes up will only make the next 6 game losing steak more painful, right? This is still the same team with the same faults. The same deficiencies. The same collection of atoms that bounced around to the longest losing streak in franchise history. It would be folly to read into this anymore than we have already.

I’m tried of that though. We want these guys to be learning from their mistakes and showing progress. That’s the whole point, right? Well this game was that. This was progress. This was the team doing what needs to be done for 48 minutes to get the W. I want to read into it. I want to take heart in the fact that when the Blazers made their run, the Spurs didn’t let it get out of hand. I want to believe that the next time they have a lead like this, they’ll have a modicum of muscle memory to draw on. I want to believe this isn’t the start of something, it’s just the next step on the path.

Maybe this little win isn’t anything. But, and this is crucial, maybe it is.

Wouldn’t you rather believe in that?

Takeaways:

  • It remains insane how good Victor Wembanyama is at basketball. He’s SO good. He’s so good that it really upends our ability to accurately judge what’s happening with the Spurs in total because, like, how can the team be so bad when he’s playing so otherworldly good? I think the issue is that he’s so obviously still figuring out how to play. He can almost sleepwalk out there and get 18 points and 9 boards. It looks effortless when he does that. It’s almost hard to compute that when he had a good game that it’s actually kind of a “bad” one. The Spurs aren’t just trying to incorporate a fresh rookie into the lineup, they are trying to figure out how to play with a guy who is unlike any other player that’s ever been in the league. I think we are somehow are underrating how difficult that process is.
  • I bring up his “bad” games because when he has a GREAT one, like he did last night, holy cow. You can really tell, right? Everything on the team works a little better and a little more efficiently. The offense flows directly from him. The defense feels more locked in. Everyone’s roles make a little more sense. This is the future. This is what we’re building towards. When the Spurs look off and they aren’t quite functioning the way an NBA team feels like it should, just remember that they are trying to run an entire franchise through a 19 year old kid that, in spite of his prodigious talent, is still just a 19 year old kid. It’s going to take time but, man, it’s going to be so worth it. He makes night’s like this look easy. It’s not hard to envision a world where this become the norm and, well, if this becomes the norm then it’s not hard to let your imagination start to run wild with possibilities.
  • Kirk Goldsberry’s efficiency landscape’s have been pretty bleak for most of this season, but I’d like to share this one because, despite still hanging out in the “Quadrant of Woe” the Spurs actually are making progress here. They’ve been deep in the bottom left since the start but are gradually working their way up the Matrix. Specifically, their defense has been decent. Almost good even! They are hovering right around league average and I can’t stress enough how huge that is. None of this is going to happen overnight, but if that defensive efficiency number can keep crawling towards “Club Thibs” then we’re going to start seeing less blown leads. Less blowout losses. Maybe even, gasp, a few more wins? Dare to dream, folks.

What We Learned Post Game Press Conference

- Kirk Goldsberry is a big stats guy. Is that something your’e interested in? Crunching the numbers and getting into the Advanced Metrics of it all?

- Absolutely not. That stuff is for nerds and lesser wimps. I have neither the time nor the capacity to deal with numbers or math or anything that isn’t specifically Vibes Based when it comes to basketball analysis.

- Well...Okay. You did just write a whole thing talking about the Spurs defensive efficiency stats though.

- Right, I let one of the nerds do the work for me, make it into a pretty picture, and then I did a vibe check on it. The vibes were good! This is how I add value.

- It seems like you just copied his homework and took the credit.

- I prefer to think of it like, he built the house and then I decorated it.

- I don’t think you can decorate a house by just looking at it and saying, “the vibes are good!”

- You know what? I’m taking a look at this conversation and the vibes are looking pretty bad on it.

- I imagine so.