2018 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 91, Golden State 99
Golden State wins series 4-1

They battled valiantly (as much as playing a game can be valiant) to the final buzzer, showing true heart and grit. It just wasn’t enough.

We all knew it wasn’t going to be enough. Every Spurs fan I know concocted scenarios in which this Spurs team could win this series: “remember that game in Golden State a few months ago that they should have won…?” “The Spurs can’t be beat at home; if they can just steal one on the road….” “Golden State is really limping into the playoffs and missing their best player….”

Yet, when pressed, all of us picked Golden State in 4 or 5 games, depending on how charitable our mood was that day. It was a fait accompli.

We don’t need to re-litigate the series or the season. It’s over. The team wasn’t talented enough. Absent their superstar, the frayed edges and slightly ripped seams of “the system” really started to show for the first time.

It was a (relatively) miserable season to watch. Something always bugged me about this season, and it finally dawned on me as the Spurs’ final gasp fell just short in Game 5: for the first time I can remember as a fan, the actual games mattered very little.

The whole season felt like prologue to the summer. The outcome on the court bore little consequence to the health and future of the franchise, particularly in relationship to what is to come off the court this summer. In a league often defined more by what happens away from the game than during the game, this is the first time I really felt that dichotomy coming to bear on the Spurs.

It sucked. It still sucks. The regular season didn’t matter. The playoffs didn’t matter. Match-ups against the Warriors didn’t matter. Essentially, once Kawhi Leonard went down with injury, the entirety of the 2017-18 Spurs’ season just didn’t matter. So why did I watch every second of it?

For the first time in my adult life, I really began to question the nature of my fandom. Do I really just cheer for laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld so eloquently quipped decades ago. My love for the Spurs was born in the special relationship between Pop and Tim Duncan, in the passion of Manu Ginobili, in the ruthless and efficient turnstile of role players that always played a small but pivotal role in our successes and failures.

But what now? Duncan is gone. Ginobili isn’t long for the NBA. Pop has real decisions to make, but likely won’t be here beyond 2020. Kawhi was meant to be the torch bearer, carrying our fandom into the next generation, the true bridge between iterations of the team.

And now an entire season is wiped clean, awaiting a solitary decision in the summer, when nary a basket is made nor a pick is set. If he comes back, can we go back to a simpler time, before this season’s soap opera swallowed everything else whole? Or is it already too late; is our fandom broken, and we’re just like every other franchise out there? Can we ever look at our superstar player the same way again? Can we ever look at our franchise the same way again?

Maybe it’s already too late. This is a recap of Game 5 of a playoff series, and nothing about actual basketball is written, because nothing about the actual basketball matters to anyone.

The NBA is the best league. But it can also be the worst.