With the obvious caveat that anything the Spurs do right now that might affect their chances of landing a certain French teenager in Silver & Black next year should be considered about as smart as going 15 miles out of your way to step on a rake....we love a win. Oh boy, do we love a win. We missed it. We needed it. We absolutely had to have it. I know we weren’t supposed to but, sheesh, the win felt so good.
It would’ve been so easy for this game to go the way many of them have this year. A hard fought battle with some really nice moments coupled with some youth driven errors and a heartbreaking finish. We’ve seen that movie a lot and when the Jazz retook the lead midway through the fourth quarter, it really felt like we were settling in to watch it one more time. It would’ve been easy to lay down. It would’ve been easy to stop pressing. It would’ve been easy to give up.
That’s the thing though, this team has never given up. They’ve been sloppy and they’ve been outclassed from a talent perspective, but they’ve never given up. Part of why this season has been so tough to watch is that these guys don’t seem to understand the script. They go out with the intention of winning and they seem to take it personally when they come up short. It makes it hard to shake these losses off like they’re just some numbers to put into a spreadsheet or something. These are real losses that take a real toll on a group of athletes that are used to being the best at what they do.
This game wasn’t special until it was. The Spurs did what they always do. They kept running the playbook and they kept pounding away. A lot of times this season it hasn’t been enough but in this game, all of a sudden, the stone started to crack. Just a little. Just enough. Jeremy Sochan started getting into the paint and acting like the best player on the court. Blake Wesley got in every ball handler’s face and made their lives a nightmare. The shots started to fall. The bounces were favorable. The plan was coming together. An 11-0 run? To take the lead? In this economy?
The Jazz pushed back because that’s what every decent NBA team is going to do when they get pushed. An equal and opposite reaction. This is the lesson the young guys are getting exposed to all the time. The first push isn’t enough. You have to maintain. You have to answer. All year long the Spurs haven’t been able to do that but, last night, they dug down and found what they needed.
Keldon Johnson, going through what has surely been the hardest season of his career, took the game by the horns and said, “not today.” He didn’t have to be perfect. He didn’t have to be the best player in the league. For three minutes though, he had to be The Dude. The Spurs needed their veteran to take the ball and be steady and be strong and land the plane. He did that. He took a knock or two, shook it off, and made sure they secured the win.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend the rest of the season is going be sunshine and roses. In fact, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, it might be a galactically stupid idea to all of a sudden decide to start winning a bunch of games right now. This team needed this win though. They needed to know that they aren’t just playing out the string of this year and banking on getting some help in the offseason. That all of this is building towards something.
They needed to know that when you keep hammering away at the rock, eventually, it’s going to split in two.
- It felt like every guy on the team stepped up at some point in the second half last night and did something that made me say, “hell yeah.” Like, with about four minutes left and the game all tied up, Talen Horton-Tucker came around a screen and drove hard to the basket. Zach Collins slid into position, timed his jump perfectly, and rose up in unison with Horton-Tucker. I heard the whistle and mentally sighed because, obviously, nine times out of ten that’s an automatic foul. You basically just write it off these days. Imagine my surprise as the ref walks in and starts signaling a travel! I think my jaw literally dropped. Zach had just fully stuffed him into submission like a champ. As the Spurs took the ball back down the court, I was left with no choice but to say to myself, “Hell yeah, Zach Collins.”
- Still glowing with pride at Keldon’s performance from last night. He has had to shoulder the load so much this season and his game just isn’t really designed to be the primary scorer on a team like this, but his mentality sure is. I think learning how to close out an NBA game is one of those things that is so difficult that we somehow underrate it. He’s had a steep learning curve with it recently but it was a joy to see him get it done here.
- Sochan. Sochan! Wow wow wow Jeremey Sochan! I know he had a pretty forgettable first half so, what I’m proposing is, what if we just forgot it? Because when my guy came alive in the second half it had me thinking dangerous thoughts. Can he just run the break like that? Can he just spin in the paint like that? Can he just defend every position on the floor like that? I know he’s a rookie and I know he has a long way to go but, man, his potential is absolutely intoxicating. Having a guy like him on the roster is the kind of thing that makes me think the Spurs are going to be back making noise sooner rather than later without or without the help of a certain French teenager. (although, you know, I certainly wouldn’t turn my noise up at his services if they happened to, ahem, be available.)
WWL Post Game Press Conference
- It’s been a while, how did you spend your All-Star Break?
- Well it was pretty busy. Obviously, it’s an honor to make the WWL All-Star Team, but having to travel all the way to the WWL All-Star Game for WWL All-Star Weekend definitely takes it out of you. Not quite the rest and relaxation you’re hoping for at this stage of the season!
- Wait, there’s a WWL All Star Game?
- Oh yea, I mean, of course there is. You didn’t think this was the only site that runs a WWL column, did you? Tons of publications all over the world are putting up pieces telling their readership What We Learned from _______ every day. What We Learned from the Bucks win over the Nets. What We Learned from Latest Congressional Hearing. What We Learned from Meredith Grey’s Final Episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Things of that nature.
- And they have an All-Star Game for...the people who write those things?
- Absolutely. Like I said, they have a whole All-Star Weekend. Skills Competition, Dunk Contest, the whole works.
- How does the Dunk contest work?
- It’s nuts. You basically just have to elaborately make fun of a deserving subject in increasingly cool ways and see which one the judges like the best. I participated a few years ago and I wrote a pretty scathing put down of the dude who writes the Dilbert comics.
- Did you win?
- No! I was totally robbed though. The other guy’s thing was ok, but I think he won it just because of how much bigger he is than me.
- Wow, who did win?
- Aaron Gordon.