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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Heat

Spurs decision to skip the 4th quarter proves costly

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

I’ve only run out of gas while driving my car one time. You never totally trust the dial that says it’s on E, right? Like, it gets down there close and you know that it’s close but you’re never quite sure how close. Maybe you have one of those fancy digital ones that counts down “15 Miles to empty” or whatever, but anecdotally, my understanding is that those calculations are pretty much just a computer making its best guess. The point is, you never really know how much gas you’ve got left in the tank until the car literally stops driving, and you’re stuck on the side of the road sheepishly calling your dad for help.

Last night, the Spurs ran out of gas. The car was going along just fine, better than fine, some might say, and then just stopped. It was the darndest thing. Early on it felt like we were getting the best version of this team on display against a tough opponent. They came out of the gates, absorbed a few punches, and threw a few of their own right back. They were hustling and communicating on defense. They looked like a team that had heard all the hype about “heat culture” and wanted to send a message of their own. They wanted to show they could hang.

Rolling into halftime down two, I was pleasantly surprised. The bench unit especially seemed determined to not let tonight be one of those games where Victor Wembanyama takes a seat and everything grinds to a halt. Keldon threw his body around and Blake Wesley got a couple of big buckets and, all of a sudden, Wemby was back in the mix and the Spurs were right there. You could almost feel everyone on the Heat radiating annoyance that they couldn’t manage to pull away during that stretch and ease into a gentle gallop towards the finish line. Nope. They were going to have to work for it.

Of course, we all know how much the Spurs love to famously tie their shoelaces together during halftime and fall on their faces in the 3rd, so when that didn’t happen there was a palpable sense of tension heading into the final frame. Could they sneak one by a Playoff contender? Could they hold this effort and shot-making together for a few more minutes? Could they clamp down on the Heat’s big guns just enough to break on through to the other side?

Reader, they could not. They spectacularly could not and it was, you know, kind of perplexing. All the things they had been doing so well just fell flat. Wemby couldn’t conjure any magic. No one shot the ball well. The effort on defense wasn’t locked in even a little bit. Why? It didn’t feel like the Heat flipped some magic “culture” switch or anything and leveled up. It just seemed like they stayed the course and, for whatever reason, the Spurs just drifted off to the side of the road and watched them race on to the finish line.

Weird game. Obviously, like pretty much every Spurs game this year, I felt alternately proud and also another emotion that I can only really describe as “ruefully shaking my head and staring at the ceiling.” This one felt a little different, though. It wasn’t demonstrably bad or anything like that, it just felt weird. I hadn’t seen this move from them before, and I kind of bumped on it.

They’ll be fine, I’m sure. Popovich didn’t seem too worried about it after the game. He said in his presser he “thought they played their ass off...Miami just played better in the fourth quarter. It’s not surprising.” Not surprising for him, maybe. At the end of the day, I guess I’m just overthinking it. The game wasn’t even that weird when you really think about it.

The better team played better. It’s not surprising.

Takeaways:

  • I’ve decided I’m not smart enough to assess whether or not Devin Vassell is good. I like him a lot, and I want him to be good, and I think that lack of impartiality renders any judgment I make on his game devoid of any meaning whatsoever. So what you’re about to get from me is something I feel, not really something that I know. I feel like he’s having a bad game a lot of the time when I watch him. Outside of the rare occasions when he catches fire (which is awesome), it always seems a little bit like he’s pressing. To be honest, it feels a lot like how it felt to watch Keldon try to be the Alpha on a bad team last year. He’s working hard, he’s getting shots up, and he’s doing a lot of things I like, it just never seems like it’s coming easy. That being said, that will be my impression of him from the game and look at the stats and he’s our leading scorer. This happens a lot. I don’t know what to do with him! I hope he can maybe calm down a little and find his groove alongside Wembanyama. Maybe get his shot to be a little more consistent over the offseason? I don’t know. I like him a lot, and I think he’s a leader on this team who I want to stick around for whatever comes next. This is just me putting my feelings out there.
  • Blake Wesley I just unabashedly love. Nothing complicated there. Him being on the court brings me joy, and the stuff he does is a net positive for the crucial “My Enjoyment of the Spurs” stat line. Three cheers for Blake!
  • I loved this play from the first quarter. Victor gets it up top and then gets, rather pointlessly, double-teamed. He then finds Tre Jones down in the post which lead to the incredible visual of a 7’3 dude feeding a very small man who then posted up on Tyler Herro. The heat defenders then get caught in a weird whirling defensive rotation as a result of the decision to have one guy hover around Wembanyama for half a second which lets Sochan just run up the gut, get the pass from Tre, and throw it down uncontested. It was beautiful. I swear the Spurs do something like this every single 1st quarter that makes me think “by god, I think they’ve figured it out! We’re going to win this game by 10!” I am not well.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- What is your general strategy around filling up your tank now that you’re, presumably, not an irresponsible teenager anymore.

- Ugh, I’m the worst kind of responsible adult now. If that thing drops below a quarter tank I go get gas. It just makes me feel better about life. I also plug my phone in when it gets below 70% battery and I buy a new thing of milk when we’re about halfway through with the one already in the fridge.

- That seems like an overcorrection.

- Its not...look I know it’s not rational but I don’t think it’s hurting anyone, right?

- You’re asking me that?

- I mean, yea maybe it speaks to a larger problem I have with generalized anxiety, but I’m not putting anyone in physical danger by doing this kind of stuff.

- I think if your daily operating mode is one that requires you to be on a heightened alert for any type of thing that might not be operating at peak efficiency then...yea look, I can’t promise that type of behavior won’t lead to someone getting hurt.

- Cool. That should really help with the anxiety thing.

- Anytime.