The San Antonio Spurs just played their most uplifting game of the season
By Josh Paredes
Having been a fan of the San Antonio Spurs for over 20 years, I eventually learned not to take any given loss as a personal attack. Does the occasional tough loss still get to me? Of course. That Dort three made me want to kick the ball into the stands as well.
On those days, I tend to take the night to gather my thoughts before writing something up for a couple of reasons. One, to get rid of some of the raw emotion that still creeps in every so often before it clouds my writing. Two, I just am not in the mood to write after certain losses.
The Spurs’ 124-113 loss to the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets was absolutely not one of those games. In fact, the first thing I did upon getting home from the AT&T Center was open up my laptop and get to it. I wouldn’t call myself especially optimistic or pessimistic about the Spurs in general, but something was very encouraging about the way they played against such tough odds on Monday.
Let me throw some facts out there first. Yes, the Nets were without one of the best players in the NBA. Jeff Green also could’ve done some damage in this game. Still, their offense isn’t the best in the league for no reason. James Harden and Kyrie Irving can dominate a game at will, as they showed against San Antonio.
Meanwhile, the Spurs had to rely on a G League call-up playing in just his seventh NBA game to play meaningful minutes and guard an NBA superstar in the process. More on him later. San Antonio was without three of their best defensive wings in Derrick White, Devin Vassell, and Keldon Johnson. As a result, Harden and Irving went as berserk as you’d expect.
So what was so encouraging about the effort?
Next: The Positives
There’s no quit in these San Antonio Spurs
Any Spurs team in the post-Tim Duncan era likely would’ve folded once getting down by 10 with only two minutes left. Not these Spurs. They’ve been the victim of the occasional blowout, as every team has, but this team just doesn’t quit. DeMar DeRozan won’t let them — and lately, Dejounte Murray won’t either.
Murray’s miracle last-second shot capped off a 10-0 run by the Silver and Black when they were all but dead in the water. The comeback was something they’ve done numerous times this season.
Harden went off for 30 points, 15 assists, and 14 rebounds. Kyrie added another 27 points, seven assists, and six boards. Bruce Brown pitched in another 23. Still, the Spurs were right there with the 22-13 Nets until overtime began.
These San Antonio Spurs can adapt on the fly
All credit to Gregg Popovich — he’s not the same stubborn coach he used to be. Beginning with inserting Keldon Johnson into the starting lineup, he’s been more open to making changes over relying on veterans than he’s been in years past.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s tough to play against one of the best transition teams in the league, only saw 15 minutes of court time on Monday. That could’ve been due to Coach Pop wanting to preserve his backup big man for Tuesday’s matchup with the Knicks. Still, would last year’s Popovich ever have played Keita Bates-Diop and Luka Samanic for longer than LaMarcus? Doubtful.
These Spurs have plenty of weapons that can be thrown out at any given time, and judging by Monday’s game, they may have just discovered one more.
Next: Luka's Breakout
The San Antonio Spurs’ secret weapon is coming
Alright, I guess scoring eight points doesn’t exactly scream out “breakout game,” but the Luka Samanic we saw Monday was superior to the old Luka in every way. While last season’s Luka was shy, often down on himself, and looked disinterested at times, Monday’s Luka was engaged, aggressive, and effective.
Maybe it was his short, dominant stint in the G League Bubble. Maybe the increased minutes are giving him enough time to finally make his mark. Or maybe his tattoos are giving him special powers? Whatever the reason, Samanic has been impressive in his last few outings.
Luka’s picture-perfect stroke was on display a couple of times, including this crucial 3-pointer to tie the game heading into the last quarter.
LUKA TIES IT UP FROM DEEP!@SamanicLuka | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/QdyUpxlDuv
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 2, 2021
But what was more impressive about Luka’s game was his effort defensively. While the Nets are going to get theirs no matter who they’re playing, Samanic had impressive lateral quickness that didn’t go unnoticed.
Lonnie Walker IV on Luka Samanic's defense lately: “Really good honestly, his movement laterally.”
Small sample, but entering tonight, Luka had contested 13 shots and had defensive FG% of 38.9%, which led the team.
Again, very small sample size of 43 mins before tonight.
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 2, 2021
Here, he manages to keep up with Irving as well as you could expect, eventually getting a hand up on his mid-range jumper.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/03/01/0022000534/392/fbe55323-c096-9d19-180e-8d241bace3a3_1280x720.mp4
Will Luka get many minutes once guys like Rudy Gay, Derrick White, and Devin Vassell return? Probably not. But I think it’s safe to put the “total bust” talk to rest for now. This kid can play, and I think we’ll start seeing more examples of that as he continues to find minutes in the rotation.
The San Antonio Spurs are in the middle of a rough stretch without four key guys, but they might’ve just gained one for the future along the way.