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Autograph Win

By Jeff Koch on December 18, 2013.

San Antonio 108, Phoenix 101

After the Spurs’ loss in LA on Monday night, twitter was abuzz (helpful hint: avoid twitter wormholes) about the Spurs’ lack of a “signature win” in this early season. The Spurs beat who they have to, the narrative went, but every time they face a ‘quality’ opponent, they lose. Which, on its face, appears true. Our losses this season are to Portland, OKC, the Clippers, the Pacers, and Houston. All quality teams.

But games are not played in vacuums; context matters. Schedules, particularly, matter. Every one of those losses, based on schedule and context, was an acceptable loss regardless of opponent.

This logic also retroactively upgrades and downgrades certain teams. At the time, the Blazers game wasn’t viewed as a chance for a signature win (and wouldn’t have been considered as such at the time), but because of their hot start, we would call it that now. Of course, had we won that game, the Blazers start would be proportionally less impressive, so…. Also, we pretty handily beat Memphis on opening night. You remember, Memphis, the team we swept in the Western Conference Finals last season, the team that has been considered one of the near-elite of the NBA for the last couple of seasons. We then went into Memphis a few weeks later and beat them again. Shouldn’t those be considered signature wins? Or are they retroactively downgraded because Memphis isn’t quite as good this season as we initially thought (perhaps because they’ve lost twice to the Spurs)? And should our now 2 victories against Phoenix be considered something special since the Suns are one of the early surprises of the league? Minnesota put a beat down on Portland–the team with the best record in the league–tonight, so does that make our thrilling comeback win last week suddenly more signature-y?

You get my point. All you can do is play the schedule you have. The regular season is a process (as Pop loves to say), a means to an end. I would sure love for the Spurs to beat some really great teams; but I also know the teams that are ‘the talk of the league’ in December are rarely the teams playing for rings in June.

A few thoughts on tonight’s win in Phoenix:

–Given the schedule, a pretty impressive win. Phoenix is a good team. They are also young and athletic and disciplined, a potentially deadly combination for a road-weary team on the tail end of a crazy schedule without their star PG. After a rough first quarter, though, the Spurs bore down, played smart, and got a great win. After a 34 point first quarter, the Spurs only allowed quarters of 24, 23, and 20 after. That’s great defense, particularly with the pace the game was played at and the way the Suns were shooting in the first quarter.

–Lots of line-up and rotation shake-ups! Joseph started for the injured Parker, as would be expected. He played OK, but not great, and barely even solid. I was a bit disappointed with his showing. The offense lacked real punch with him running it, even with as little as he was asked to do. He played solid defensively, but you can see why Mills has the back-up spot over him right now. Hell, you could see it in this game, as Mills played great and really shook things up whenever he came in. Back-up PG is really only PG in title on this team with Manu, Boris, and Marco, and Mills’ skill set is a perfect fit with the way this team runs the second unit.

–Which is why I didn’t like the move to put Marco in the starting line-up. I understand it for this game, without Tony, as we need more playmaking in the starting line-up. But Belinelli is a completely different animal playing with Manu, Patty, and Boris, and his value is diminished outside of that unit. Of course, with Green slumping and playing so poorly, that puts the 2-Guard slot in some flux. I’m not sure what Pop’s long-term plan is, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

–The big rotation was also interesting to watch, as Phoenix rarely plays two traditional bigs and lots of “small ball”. Frye was on fire to start, and neither Splitter nor Duncan are really accustomed to guarding such slick shooting bigs. In the second half, through no fault of his own, Splitter was pulled early and came in to back-up Duncan, as we could only really play one big at a time. So Bonner got lots of playing time, as did Leonard at the 4. I love when we can play Duncan and Leonard as our front court. Leonard is a bad ass small ball 4.

–Ayres played a lot better tonight, and showed what he can do as both a defender (he played some really excellent pick and roll defense tonight against both Bledsoe and Dragic) and a finisher in the offense. Getting easy passes at the rim that you can throw down sure helps.

–Manu. Manu. Manu! What a season he is having; what a game he played. In the absence of Parker, he really stepped up and led this team, both as a playmaker and a scorer. In the first quarter he came in and got our asses back in the game. In the third quarter he helped the team to really seize control of the game. And in the final few minutes, he took it upon himself to make sure we didn’t lose, just completely owning the game, making plays everywhere. It’s such a pleasure to watch him play basketball.

Tomorrow night the team travels to Oakland to face the Warriors on national TV. A chance for a real signature win. And a chance for the talking heads (and ‘spirited’ fans) to go crazy if they lose, even though all factors are against them in the game.

As for me, I won’t be watching nor recapping until Friday, as I’ll be doing my duty as an American man between the ages of 25-45 and seeing Anchorman 2. In Ferrell we trust. A Spurs win on the same night? That would be out of site.

Stay classy, planet Earth.

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