The Spurs are still alive. I thought they were going to be dead right now, but they are not dead right now, because they scored more points than the Denver Nuggets did in Game 6 of their first-round matchup, and basketball games are decided by who scores the most points, which, again, the Spurs did, and so they won, which is good because I love the Spurs, and if this sentence is beginning to feel a little loopy, that’s because I feel a little loopy. Because, for one, the entirety of my brain and my chest is filled with whatever chemicals enter your body when you watch your favorite professional sports team sword fight its way through an entire team trying to push it off the edge of a cliff, but also, again, for two, because I thought the Spurs were going to be dead right now. But they are not dead right now. They are alive. They are still alive. They are very, extremely alive.
I went and watched Game 6 in person. I did so because I wanted to cheer for the Spurs if they won the game, but also I did so because I wanted to cheer for them if they lost the game. This has been a good season for the Spurs. Several sucky things have happened, for sure, like losing Dejounte Murray to a knee injury during the preseason, which super fucking sucked. But beyond that, and beyond the other sucky things, the season has felt successful. The Spurs will, in all likelihood, not win the championship this year. (There is a very real chance that they won’t even make it out of Saturday’s Game 7.) But that’s fine. Because not every year is a title year. Most years, in fact, are not title years. Most years, there are other benchmarks in place to determine whether or not a season was a success or not.
An easy example to understand here would be the Los Angeles Clippers. When they wiggled their way into the playoffs as the 8th seed, mostly everyone said, “Well, that’s good. This was a successful season for the Clippers.” And had it stopped there, had they gotten swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Warriors, everyone would’ve said, “Well, yeah. Duh.” But then the Clippers won two games, and everyone said, “Well, whoa. This was the most successful way for this season to have turned out, because what the Clippers have done is present themselves as a team a max player or two away from being a legitimate contender in a city where max players are wont to go during their free agency.”
With the Spurs, nobody in San Antonio really expected them to make a title run. It’s been fun, of course, to squint our eyes and imagine a dream scenario shaking out, particularly when we all saw that Houston and Golden State ended up on the opposite side of the bracket. It’s been fun to imagine the Spurs eking out a Game 7 victory against Denver on the road, then in the second round taking on a Blazers team that has in recent years floundered a bit when the playoffs water starts to get a little too deep and a little too choppy. The Spurs would sneak past them, then face Houston in the conference finals because Houston was able to ride James Harden’s brilliance to an improbable 4-2 series win over the Warriors. And then Gregg Popovich, who has used Mike D’Antoni as a punching bag in the playoffs, would voodoo his way to another series win, setting us up for a Spurs-Bucks NBA Finals that only about 65 people would watch but would still count the same. It’s been fun to think about all of that and to imagine what that would feel like.
But that’s a string of events that is, all tallied, about as likely as you yanking your head off your own shoulders and then hook shotting it into a trash can on the other side of the room. Which is fine. And that’s why, even if we allow ourselves the leeway to fantasize about that stuff, we knew (or know) a long playoff run is never really what we needed to feel good about this season, and I hope by this point it’s clear that every time I write the word “we,” I am referring to Spurs fans.
Because all that we, the Spurs fans, have needed is all that we’ve ever needed: We just needed for the Spurs to fight. To rumble. To bang around a bunch on the court and cause some trouble for someone else’s championship aspirations. And that maybe sounds like a small thing, or a Mostly Romantic Idea of Basketball thing, but it is not. And the Spurs have done it. They did it during the season, and they’re doing it again during this first-round matchup against the Nuggets.
The actual in-arena experience at the game was very enjoyable. It was exactly the kind of game that I hope for when I make my way to the stadium, which is to say that it stayed close through three quarters (juuuuuuust enough to make things feel tense), and then the Spurs fucking opened it up in the fourth quarter and pulled away, and I did not have to feel my body fill up with that very specific kind of nervous dread you always risk experiencing when you attend a high-stakes sports game featuring one of your favorite sports teams.
Also, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge were both stellar, as was Rudy Gay. I have grown to care about those three a great deal.
Also, I somehow ended up on the Jumbotron while I was eating nachos, which was as mortifying as you might expect.
Also, Gregg Popovich was only 12 rows away from us, and that’s the closest I have ever been to Gregg Popovich in my life, and also it’s the closest I would ever like to get to Gregg Popovich in my life. (Our relationship is very much like the relationship you might have with a large bear you spot in the wild, in that it’s cool that you got to see one, but you definitely do not want to get close enough to it that it’d be able to eat your arms off.)
Also, Nikola Jokic put up a doofy stat line (43 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals), and I have to tell you: He’s mesmerizing. He just kind of machines his way through everything. It’s one thing to watch him on television, which I’ve done nine or 10 times in the past few months. It’s another thing altogether to be in the arena with him, and to feel his gravity, and to watch him bump and rub his way through pick and rolls, just kind of destroying everything, like an 18-wheeler driving through a Walmart. Poor Jakob Poeltl, who started at center for the Spurs, just couldn’t do a single thing with him. He was skinned alive.
If the Spurs win Game 7 in Denver on Saturday, that’ll be cool. I’ll feel good about that. I will lie to myself (and to everyone on Twitter) and say that we’re headed toward our sixth championship. If they lose, it’ll be fine. I’ll be sad, I’m sure, but only because the season is over, not because of any larger kind of disappointment, which is about as good as it gets during a season-ending loss. Either way, it’s going to be good. Because the Spurs are still alive. In the playoffs. And in a grander sense, too.