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What We Learned From the Spurs’ Win Over the Nuggets

The first post-Pöltl glimpse of the future Spurs’ core altogether was a thing to behold. 

NBA: Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

As someone whose first first-hand “military” experience, as a boy in the 80s, was witnessing soldiers with machine guns patrolling on the other side of the inner-German border, I must admit it took me years to appreciate the military. Because what I just mentioned was, I guess I’m not exaggerating, a traumatizing experience for me. One I can remember vividly. Including the questions I asked my dad. And his answers.

More than ten years later, it must have been in the year 2000, I at least felt terribly excited when a scene of the Cold War movie “Buffalo Soldiers”, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Ed Harris, was filmed in my hometown (for those who know the film: the scene in which the gas station explodes). I tried to catch a glimpse of the production, but not a chance.

I still felt a bit bewildered, though, when I consciously took notice of “military appreciation night” for the first time in an NBA game (I don’t remember when exactly that was). The reason: Next to my experience as a boy, it’s completely unimaginable to have something like this over here in Germany. For good reasons that need no further explanation.

Still, I must admit I’ve grown to feel warmly about military appreciation night in NBA games. What I really like, for example: You can always trust members of the military to just sing the US anthem in tune – and not make an exhibition of your vocal range out of it. So, I liked that before last night’s game. But there was plenty to like even more in what followed.


  • “The San Antonio Spurs are almost certainly not going to win against the Denver Nuggets”, Devin said in yesterday’s game preview, convincingly arguing his (foregone) conclusion. And though the Spurs went into halftime up one, I fully expected them to have surrendered the lead and be down double-digits by mid-third quarter. But then Devin Vassell hit that transition three. Which is when I started believing this could – and I emphasize could – be a win. The fact that they actually won against a bona fide contender at almost full-strength only amplified the thought that occurred to me when Devin hit that transition three: Since the Jakob Pöltl trade, this was the first time us Pounders got to witness next year’s core altogether on the floor. And they were giving the Nuggets a run for money. And these Spurs might even end up with the number one or number two pick in the upcoming draft – oh yeah! I know: It’s only one game. But any reason to make me bursting with anticipation with regards to the future Spurs is welcome most to me.
  • Jeremy Sochan started the season as the Spurs’ first starting rookie since Kawhi Leonard. That in and of itself is remarkable. But what’s even more remarkable is that Jeremy is ending the season with stretches in which he already looks like the Spurs’ best player: The ease with which he moves through the opposition’s defense with the ball in his hands; the ease with which he’s hitting turnaround jumpers. It really feels like the really difficult things come much more easily to him than to anyone else on the roster. On top of that, you get moments like him man-handling Nikola Jokic in the first half, or smothering Aaron Gordon in the second. Whatever Jeremy will turn out to be, to me, he has been the most joyful thing to experience this season.
  • Another extremely joyful experience: The Spurs are picking up a guy off waivers whose nickname will almost certainly be “Mamu”, and whose surname ends with “ili”. Which is a bit of a fairytale storyline. What’s reality though, at least judging by Sandro’s performance last night, is that the Spurs replaced Isaiah Roby with someone probably better than Isaiah Roby. Again, it’s only one game. But also again, any reason to feel good about the Spurs future is welcome to me. Plus, Sean and Bill Bill said it in their commentary: You can see Sandro’s game was conditioned over four years of college basketball. To me, waiving Roby for Mamukelashvili is another indicator that GM Brian Wright knows what he’s doing.
  • Other joyful experiences: Keldon hitting more than half of his three-point attempts for only the second time since New Year’s Eve, the ever-industrious Tre Jones hitting those mid-range runners, Devin making his presence felt on both ends of the court, Doug McDermott being at his sharp-shooting best, and, though absolutely not unusual, Keita Bates-Diop being Keita Bates-Diop. In short, if all that happens, the Spurs are a much better team than their record suggests. And, due to injuries, there weren’t that many instances this season where all this could have happenend, right?
  • Am I doing Zach Collins a misjustice when I call him a scrappy player? I don’t think so. But I’m completely on his side when the target of his – in this instance: provoked – scrappiness is a guy who has a history of having a very high opinion of himself. Therefore: Good shout, Zach!