Spurs shift between inept and competent play in loss to cellar-dwelling Cavaliers

As it turns out, you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks, just not the ones you might prefer. | Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Losses always belong to the team as a whole, but one or two made free throws (or one less technical foul) sure would’ve helped.

“The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition!”

If you happened to grow up in an era of single digit televisions channels and limited sports coverage, that’s a phrase you’ll likely recognize instantaneously. You may even hear the voice of a particular announcer narrating it as you read.

ABCs Wide World of Sports lasted long past it’s debut in 1961, and continued into my early childhood, but by that time its most famous narrator had left his post, and it was up to my father to hunt down old VHS tapes in order to more fully expose me to the phrase that he loved to jokingly employ at even the slightest of inconveniences. A casualty of ESPN, like so many sports montages of the time, little by little, that slice of America’s most famous sports programming has already begun to fade from the collective consciousness. That phrase however, has not.

Thursday night, as DeMar DeRozan bricked a pair of critical free throws with the San Antonio Spurs up by just three points in the final minute of the fourth quarter, I heard the austere voice of Jim McKay rumble forth from the past and through the recesses of my mind at the very moment that a much-played film reel of the failed jump of Slovenian Skiier Vinko Bogataj did the same.

What followed was a comedy of near triumphs, turned into further agonies, as DeRozan nearly redeemed himself with a steal, only to give it back up to a hot shooting Kevin Love (just earlier the maker of one of the best contested threes I’ve seen in some time, and over a fully extended Jakob Poeltl no less) who immediately drained it to send the Spurs to their third consecutive overtime game for the first time in franchise history.

The Silver and Black did have their chance to avoid their fate, but in what seemed to be yet another bid for redemption, DeRozan elected to take a contested mind-range jumper rather than drive to the hoop, and here we are, on the heels of yet another badly executed endgame, wondering when this specific strain of ineptness will end.

Making the loss even more agonizing, was that it came on the heels of the Spurs best period of offensive and defensive execution in several games. With the Cavs keeping the Spurs at arms length after gaining a lead in a largely dreadful first frame, San Antonio finally turned it on in the fourth, and after a parade of forced turnovers and nifty fast-break drives, went into the final minutes of the quarter with a six point lead and an air of confident execution. Jim McKay couldn’t have prefaced this loss better. The agony of defeat indeed.

Game Notes

  • To be fair, the Spurs certainly deserved to come out on the wrong end of this one. The habitually outmatched and reeling Cavs, in the middle of an eight-game losing streak, clearly wanted this one more from the very beginning of the game, and this time they came out with just enough juice to walk away with a narrow win of their own. Poor late game execution has plagued the Spurs for most of the season, and it appears that they’ve yet to shake their fourth quarter collapses and their first quarter sluggishness. This is a lottery team if that doesn’t change. And if past behavior is any indicator of future incidence, I’d have to say that it’s not looking great for this year’s team.
  • As some of you are likely aware, I have not been Marco Belinelli’s biggest fan this year. But sometimes you simply have to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and Marco deserves his due in this instance. For once his box score was an accurate measure of his performance, as Belinelli played an extremely efficient twenty minutes on the offensive end, and absolutely hustled his arse off on the other side. He’ll never be a stopper; he’s never really even managed to be the facsimile of one, but when he plays like this, it makes it hard to take issue with his usage. That the Spurs had a three point lead to protect at the end of the game was partly his doing in the first place, and in the middle of a team losing both their mind and their recent lead, he was a calm in the middle in the storm. If he was even a little more of a threat on the defensive end of the court, he’d be a perfect Spur.
  • Jakob Poeltl continued his long running block party, leaving the wreckage with a pair of them (and narrowly missing out on two or three more), which gives him like, a billion, in the last dozen games or so. More importantly, there was a clear momentum shift each time he took the floor, and the Cavs were often forced to take iffy jumpers rather than drive at the hoop. Defensively he’s really showing out with every outing. There’s not a chance in heck that he’s in the national media conversation for defensive player of the year at the moment, but he’s certainly the defensive player of my heart. And if he keeps this up, who’s to say he won’t finally make his way into the conversation some time in the next half decade or so. (I wish there was a clearer way to indicate the jaded degree of sarcasm in that last sentence. I wonder if I should look into using parentheses for that sort of thing.)
  • In other news, Lonnie Walker found the court for almost twenty-five minutes. It looks like Pop has finally extended some degree of trust to Lonnie after his miraculous Houston outburst. He might not have scored as much as that outing, but he lead the team in plus minus and defended as well as just about any player not named Poeltl.
  • Additionally, it appears that Pop is rotating Marco and Lonnie in for each other based on the offense’s needs at the moment. When the closing unit needed some long distance shooting, Pop pulled Walker for Belinelli, who made his presence felt in a big way. But once the team had secured another lead to maintain, he rotated Lonnie right back in to add some defensive presence. I actually liked this strategy, and I think it’s a great way to ease Lonnie into a more permanent role as he adjusts to playing regular minutes. In what’s beginning to feel like a lost season, it’s nice to see little developments like this. You gotta find your joy where you can.

Speaking of joy:

Spurs shift between inept and competent play in loss to cellar-dwelling Cavaliers
Spurs shift between inept and competent play in loss to cellar-dwelling Cavaliers

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