Progress Over Perfection

Some time in the 2000s when the Blazers were good and the Spurs were battling for the best record, the regular season matchups against them — and any team that was good — felt momentous.

They were fuel for the arguments I would have at school about the team and it’s place in the league and in history.

In the years since, it has been nice to get some confirmation that the players take some games more personally.

Last year against the Raptors when Kawhi returned to San Antonio, it felt like that again. DeMar DeRozan notched a triple double. Kawhi yelled after dunking early.

In this matchup against the Clippers, it is harder to get the same feelings. If I have to choose an LA team to hate it would obviously be the Lakers, even if the Clips — a version of them — were the last LA team to beat San Antonio in the playoffs.

Kawhi day out the first game to be prepared for the Spurs. He was criticized for sitting against Utah because those fans are missing out while the LAC crowd has 41 chances to see their guy.

That is another discussion. What is curious is that he sat the front in, and not the second night. He wanted to play SA?

DeMar was more crisp in this one partly because he is back home in Los Angeles, partly because he is in the fourth game of the season and is catching his rhythm.

In the end, the Spurs has no obvious answer for Kawhi doing Kawhi things. They stayed fighting but did not get enough clutch buckets late.

The real complaint will be about the first half, where LAC was struggling after the playing the night before and the Spurs looked like they had some jet lag.

This is where two things can be true, something I had trouble understanding when I was a kid looking for hot takes for school arguments.

The Spurs wanted to win this game but did not do everything they could to win it off the court. Playoff preparation is much more detailed. Regular season preparation is about building the team cohesion.

We saw the Spurs get better by just a little bit in this one. Young Dejounte was not nearly as dazed by Patrick Beverly as he was in that Rockets series in 2017.

In fact, Murray back-tipped Bev on a drive. The student had become at least an apprentice.

  • Marco Bellinelli is still slumping. He has a shooting slump last season but he has been just poor all over the court.
  • Still no Carroll eh? What is going on there?
  • Lonnie was scolded in the postgame by Pop.
  • Kawhi did actually say he looks forward to playing his old teammates.
  • LMA was held to 5. He didn’t catch the rhythm of the game and the Spurs didn’t really help him out. Having DeRozan go off for 29 was nice and kind is the point is having two stars.

Kawhi Leonard Is Healthy As Hell

Kawhi Leonard is going to the NBA Finals again. This will be his third time and his first leading a team on his own. The 2013 and 2014 teams were led by the Spurs’ big three, but this was all Kawhi. 

He recorded an all-time NBA postseason and solidified himself as a top-3 NBA Player of his era. This has hurt many a Spurs fan, who did not want to see the One That Got Away do particularly well.

The truth is, this here Spurs fan is still pretty sports-bitter about the whole thing, but I always knew Kawhi was one of the best players in this league. It makes that 2015 season in which he was kicking the Warrior’s ass on their own home floor feel even more like a lost opportunity. 

Kawhi was not even as good then as he is now, as he has had three more seasons of individual work to make him what he is today. He was having an incredible postseason then — one that was cut short by a bad luck injury and took that incredible Spurs team to a shell of itself. 

DeMar DeRozan has got to be sick about all of this. His best friend is in the Finals and so he is happy for him, but his adopted team is in the Promised Land and he is looking at them celebrate from afar. 

That is what happens when you are dealing with Greatness, however. Kawhi Leonard is great and eventually we will forget about all the other teams that were in the conversations — those Sixers that pushed him to 7 games and forced him to sit and watch as fortune guided the ball into the bucket after 4 bounces. 

We remember Shaq and Kobe and forget they needed a 15-point comeback against Portland and a ref-aided(???) 7-game series win over the Kings. 

Greatness makes you forget. In this particular case, it will be a little harder to forget. 

From this vantage  — a Spurs fan who has seen 5 rings — it is a little difficult to get _too_ hurt about it all. This world is full of _actual_ injustice and pain and misery and watching an incredible basketball player do his thing at some other basketball place is the minutest of slights. 

If anything it gives us a glimpse of what would have happened had Tim Duncan signed with Orlando. 

The Continuing Saga of Kawhi Leonard

It very well could be that playing for Pop is an extremely awful experience that only a handful of people can abide. Mostly, it does not matter, as for about 20 years the one person that could abide it was extremely talented and had a lot of other characteristics that made playing for Pop secondary to Playing With Tim.

So it goes. Few know what it is like to work along side Kawhi Leonard and fewer still know what it was truly like to carry the burden of the franchise after Tim Duncan retired. It is not for everyone, and injury diagnoses aside, living in San Antonio is not the greatest thing for young black men in their 20s. I do not blame the guy for his rumored desire to live back in sunny, beach-having, Los Angeles.

Everyone has to make the best choice for themseleves — that is the biggest takeaway from Adam Smith’s work, remember? — so if Kawhi determines his best work location is in LA then he can communicate that to the Spurs and the Spurs will then work the better their position.

The bad feelings around this are not really whether or not Kawhi wants to leave. Again, that is the most understandable part of all this. The worst part is that all of this seems to be ending in the worst possible way for the franchise. I do not mean that for the staff and coaches and others in that vein. They are all highly paid and will get along fine. I care about we, the people. If the Spurs front-office is really and truly bungling the handling of MVP-calibre players then it is a bad thing for our enjoyment in the long term.

That said, I have been around long enough to remember that Tim thought about Orlando, and Derek Anderson feigned feeling disrespected, and Stephen Jackson complained, and Robert Horry went on to bitch after the fact. No one aside from fawning media says that Spurs HQ is a utopia. The Spurs have famously kept the uglier side — the distracting side? — under wraps and private.

That this is so public is unfortunate, but not unusual. If Kawhi wants to go I am not mad. I wish he — and the Spurs — handled things a bit differently but you cannot change the past.


The big news from ESPN was that there is ‘discord’ in the Spurs-Kawhi relationship after Leonard went back to his indefinite “recovery” mode. The Spurs are notoriously tight-lipped about these things and from all indications there is nothing more to this than frustration.

Still, the three names on the report — Adrian Wojnarowski, Michael C. Wright, Zach Lowe — are well-sourced, well-respected guys and they say there is ‘discord’. On ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast, Ramona Shelbourne asked Wright about that word ‘discord’.

For his part, Wright said it had more to do with ‘frustration’ surrounding the healing of the injury. He hinted that the issue is Leonard’s lack of communication is part of the problem, and the lack of progress after the Spurs’ reliance on their tendon experts.

The local morning radio guy Mike Taylor has taken this and run with the thinking that Kawhi is actually upset about LaMarcus Aldridge getting this renewed love. Personally, I can see how that would be an issue Kahwi weren’t so withdrawn from the spotlight.

After all, Kawhi can adapt his game to LMA much easier than LMA can to Kawhi — this has been demonstrated over the last two seasons.

What does ‘discord’ mean? That is the real question here. It was disappointing to hear Mike Wright flail in his answer which lends me to think that the real author of the piece was Adrian Wojnarowski with help from Zach Lowe. Last season Lowe first reported the rumblings that the Spurs and Aldridge had issues and he was exactly right.

RC Buford was quoted in the report saying there was nothing to the ‘discord’:

“There is no issue between the Spurs organization and Kawhi,” Buford said. “From Day 1 all parties have worked together to find the best solutions to his injury.”

Buford described a frustrating process of rehabilitation for what has been an elusive solution to an injury.

“This has been difficult for everyone,” Buford told ESPN. “It’s been difficult for Kawhi. He’s an elite-level player. It’s been difficult for the team, because they want to play with a great teammate. And it’s been difficult for our staff. Historically we’ve been able to successfully manage injuries. This rehab hasn’t been simple, and it hasn’t gone in a linear fashion.”

Wow said in a video report that the source used words like “disconnect, and distance” when talking about the process. That’s more vague hints.

The paper’s Jabari Young reported Kawhi’s uncle said there was “nothing to the report”.

There is no doubt that there is frustration on both sides. If it is all the frustration with the injury? That will be resolved once Leonard is back on the court and playing like his MVP-candidate self.

If the issue is indeed the coddling of LaMarcus Aldridge? Well that is a deeper issue that will be interesting. Kawhi Leonard is the franchise guy here, no matter what the Spurs say and do for Aldridge. He is younger, better, and has a higher ceiling.

None of that is to say that Aldridge is bad or not good and that this all would not be an issue if Aldridge were not so difficult to manage. Kawhi cannot win a title by himself. He needs Aldridge happy and if there is an issue Kahwi needs to squash it since his legacy can take the biggest hit.

The secret ingredient to the Warriors is that they have three or four franchise players and mix them together smoothly. Look at the Cavs and their clown show for an example of bad form.

The Spurs have been pretty good at pruning weeds in the organization. From Dennis Rodman to Captain Jack (making room for Kawhi). This week we saw Tony Parker benched for Dejounte Murray in a passing of the torch.

Things will be fine as soon as that quad heals.

Clipper Cure All

Did San Antonio learn so this from Golden State and decide to turn it on in the third quarter?

Aldridge is steady with his 20+ ppg, and is vaguely looking like Timmy on the score sheet. Pay tossed in some threes but Rudy Gay and Dejounte Murray are battling for the Most Fun Spur to watch.

Rudy Gay can score and that is great fun to watch. He showed some extra range was fun but the he followed that with a heat check. For we playoff-minded folks, the Rudy Gay they gets into pass lanes and uses length to bother teams is the one that will change a series.

LMA and Pau were not the most highly rated defensive players coming into San Antonio yet have held their own (in spots, in Pau’s case).

As Captain Jack once said, “The Spurs staff helps you be a great defender” and all that is needed is mental and physical effort.

So far, everyone looks about where they need to be. Now that the IG rumormongering is that the Klaw will be returning next week, things are looking up.

Brace yourselves, Kawhi is coming.

Spurs Season Is Nigh

I am an old basketball soul and my biorhythms are accutely attuned to the NBA cycle. That is to say that it does not quite feel like basketball season just yet.

And yet, we are a mere six days away from the opener against the Timberwolves.

What madness is this? Well, it is the the NBA’s way of addressing the resting epidemic popularized by San Antonio’s own Gregg Popovich.

As a rule, I do not pay much attention to preseason. Still, I have noticed Rudy Gay looking good in silver-and-black even if the uniforms do not. I am nervously awaiting the announcement of a jersey-sponsor that I find gross.

The new Spurs jersey looks . . . off. I don’t know. Maybe I have truly become the Scrooge I was meant to become. So it goes.

Meanwhile, the Spurs have a billboard with Aldridge peaking over his shoulder with his nameplate prominently displayed. Somehow I feel like the marketing arm of the Spurs is doing their best to make him feel wanted.

I mean gaze upon this:

We all consider Kawhi the face of the franchise but it seems like these billboards and advertising campaigns are here to make you feel better about LMA. The thing is, I would feel great about him if he played up to his talent level.

No amount of advertising will make me less frustrated with his performance in the second half of game one against GSW.

If he plays like 1st Qtr LMA? Well, then yeah.

Finger: Kyrie Talk, Aldridge Burn

Embed from Getty Images

As a counter to this, some will point to the Spurs’ acquisition of LaMarcus Aldridge, and how that has not quite met expectations. But if there have been any issues in that arrangement, it is not because Leonard hasn’t given Aldridge a chance to be assertive. It’s because Aldridge hasn’t taken him up on it.

That about sums up everything I have written about LMA. Emphasis mine.

I’ve heard that some players think Kawhi is a “system” guy whose success is dependent on the scheme, that a handful of other guys would be doing the same were they in his situation. This is a version of something even guys that are big fans of the organization have said, including Stephen Jackson.

Bob Horry even went so far to say that established players need to dumb down their game to play in San Antonio.

The thing to take from all this is that 1. This system isn’t for everyone. 2. Everyone isn’t for this system. The players that want to do the things to win value organizations that do so consistently. While Kyrie Irving looks like he is fleeing the greatest player of this generation for some substandard situation, he actually is taking control of his fate: LeBron is not long for Cleveland (because Dan Gilbert is a clown) and Irving wants some place where he can do his thing without uncertainty. San Antonio may not be ideal for his ego, but it is a model of consistency.

WCF GM 3: Warriors 120 – Spurs 108

The biggest disappointment I have ever felt as a Spurs fan was in 2001 when the Lakers came into town for the much-hyped Western Conference Final matchup of the previous two champions. Phil Jackson famously added an asterisk to the Spurs’ ’99 team and won the 2000 title by narrowly slipping by the Blazers in game 7 which required a 15-point comeback. The Spurs had lost Tim Duncan for the playoffs and so were hobbled in their title defense. The Spurs had home court. The Lakers wanted revenge for the ’99 sweep.

Instead of a classic battle, we saw Kobe drop 45 in game 1, the Lakers dominate game 2, and finally blow away the Spurs in the Los Angeles. Derek Fisher hit a record number of threes, and the Spurs were left to question themselves all offseason.

This year’s matchup had a similar air. The Spurs last faced the Warriors before they swapped Mark Jackson for Steve Kerr and began their transcendant three-year run. Steph, Klay, and Draymond were young but gave enough fight to nearly topple the Spurs back then, who needed some crunch-time free throw misses from Richard Jefferson, and Manu Magic to help steal game 1. The two teams played three overtimes in that series (2 in the first game, and one in the fourth). The Spurs went on to be heartbroken in the Finals, and then followed that up with a title the following year (The Dubs lost in seven games to the Clippers).

Since then the Spurs also got beat in seven vs Chris Paul, and got dumped last year by KD and Russ even though they had a franchise record 67 wins. For all the Spurs have done this season, they are clearly limited. The Warriors improved their 73-win squad with an all-time great. Surely there was no plan that could overcome talent.

I believed SA had nothing for the Warriors except maybe one steal game based on Kawhi’s ability and a good shooting night. Now? We are left to wonder what if? Game three was all but decided once Kawhi was ruled out for the game.


I would not call the feeling I have about this series disappointment. It certainly does not approach the gut-punch that was Kobe dropping buckets at will in the Alamodome back in 2001. I could not help but feel good about the other Spurs that were giving the Warriors a game for three quarters tonight. Even The Greatly Disappointing LaMarcus Aldridge has an excuse: the playmakers he relies heavily on are out. He has to play beyond his well-established abilities.


It is hard to feel disappointment when the TV guys are all singing the praises. Pop is getting twitter praise like “look how he is getting production from random guys”. Barring a miracle, this is the end of the line for the Spurs on Monday night and it is in a far better fashion than the Rockets or Thunder left on. Hell, Boston played their final home game (likely) and got whacked by 44. To even lose by 40 on Monday would not stain any reputations any further.

I mean, Manu is going out swinging with all his might:


This is what you want to hear:


Without Kawhi, there is no chance. We all will point back to game 1 and that 23 point lead as evidence of something like a chance 1. While I want to bottle that narrative and hug it, I have watched this league long enough to know that one game does not tell the story of a series. Hell, last series was evidence of that fact. Part of what makes the NBA great is the series format allowing for the best team to demonstrate its superiority by mitigating the one-off luck night from the equation.

The first game was as Manu described: Spurs playing at ’10’ while the Warriors were playing at ‘7’. Even in this game, they did not have some role player to rely on. They turned to Mr. Bandwagon himself, Kevin Freaking Durant for 13-straight in the 3rd. While even Jalen Rose pointed to the fact that Kawhi was holding KD in game one, we have to remember that Leonard cannot guard everyone. The talent disparity was the reason most sane people expected a Warrior victory with maybe only dropping a game.

I cannot be disappointed in this team. I do have a few questions about LMA, who has come up pretty small in straight playoff years. That is for another time. The series is not officially over, even though we all can see the fat lady warming up.

  1. And the March 29th game wherein the Spurs did something very similar but with a blown lead in the second quarter instead of the late third. It could be taken as evidence that this was always going to play out as it happened. 

No Belief: Spurs 100 – Warriors 136

LaMarcus Aldridge caught the ball at about 18 feet, immediately looked to pass. Unfortunately, he was completely open for that jumper. He missed badly.

I shook my head knowingly. We know the Spurs are at their best with an aggressive LaMarcus Aldridge using his size and talent to get buckets. Usually, when a guy is off — John Wall — he is either forcing shots because he is frustrated at the defense, or getting the shots he wants but just cannot hit. Those are frustrating for we fans at home but completely understandable. Sometimes you are human.

The other kind of bad night is completely strange to see. Just two days previous Aldridge looked like he was worth every penny the Spurs paid him in the first quarter. No one on the Warriors was able to slow him, let alone stop him. Then in that post-ankle quarter-and-a-half he was passive, harrassed, and fading away when he had space. He looked like a QB shook from too many hits.

While the beat writer theory is that Aldridge simply had no where to go, and could not find the rhythm and space because the Kawhi-less Spurs were supporting him. This is part of the reason he was not completely comfortable. The rest? He did not want it.

I do not buy his excuse about overthinking and being a facilitator. He is 31-years old. This is just who he is. The team is the team. This blog has stressed this previously, and so complaining about one of the better big men in the game is silly.

The frustrating part of LMA is the aforementioned contrast between his good games and his bad. That said, was he the entire reason the Spurs lost? No. Jonathan Simmons was the only player attacking the game and trying to win. Pop said as much. Manu called it a “feeling sorry for themselves” game. It makes you wonder if Pop was trying to instill a little fight with his rant.

That is an easy connection to make, but it ignores the previous round where the Spurs got destroyed at home, with both Kawhi and Tony. Oh and the Rockets were a worse team. Golden State was always going to have a game where they exploded, and the Spurs were due for a let down after that great first game (read: half).

With Kawhi

Honestly, I do not know how helpful Kawhi is going to be if he is at 88%. Generally the Spurs do not risk long-term player health for the good of a series. However, Kawhi put it like this: “We are 8 games away from our ultimate goal“.

When Pop sat Timmy Duncan back in 2000 the ultimate goal was farther away an the circumstances of the injury were different. Kawhi was obviously integral to the big lead last Sunday, but if he is shuffling about he will be will hurt everything beside morale.

The issue was and is belief.

Can you blame them, though? A good portion of Spurs fans (myself included) did not really think San Antonio had anything for the Warriors that night. That’s the nature of the game. The game within grasp was always going to be tomorrow’s game three.

Assuming Kawhi is on the floor and this week’s back-and-forth was more Pop cloak-and-dagger, the Spurs have a good shot. In March, the lead was big early thanks to some hot shooting and Warrior turnovers. GSW manages 10 and 12-point runs where the Rockets were getting 8. That game one 18-0 run was already underway when he left, and they have three guys that can absolutely catch fire like no one we’ve ever seen before.

The hope is that Patty makes some of the looks he was getting. He has had trouble with the Warrior length, but it is nothing he has not seen previously. The added responsibility of carrying the starting PG role is stretching him some.

If Kawhi is 100% and brings his scoring average, the Spurs have a shot. It will have to be an early blow-out that they hold on to and not a game-long back-and-forth shot fest. The Warriors have too many guys that can get a bucket late, and enough defense and savvy that the Spurs’ usual advantage schematically is neutered.

Without Kawhi

He is listed as questionable. My gut tells me he will not play. If the head man were anyone other than Gregg Popovich, Kawhi would absolutely play. As it is, Pop has the clout and job security to bench him and essentially calling it a series. The Spurs have no shot at winning four of the next five against Golden State without Kawhi, but they will not have anything for the Dubs and Cavs in future years without him either. Kawhi is just entering his prime, and visions of Grant Hill in his recurring ankle injury are haunting me.


I expect the Spurs to come out looking really good in game three. If the lead is not 20 or 30, then I see a repeat of game one. Hell, even if it is 20 or 30, we could still see a repeat. Pop saw the Warriors only weakness in the form of the bench. He was already limited in attacking that as the Spurs lost that depth, and there is little to no shot of exploiting that when all the cards are on the table up front.

While Jonatan Simmons was the highlight of the second game, that 22 point effort was designed to come off the bench when the Warriors were resting their starters who were thinking about Kawhi Leonard all week. As it was, Jonathan was balling and had no one doing the same when he sat.

After watching Boston get completely embarrassed at home (44 points), the least we can ask for is a competitive game.

The Great Closeout Debate

In the immediate aftermath everyone was pretty upset with the Warrior’s Zaza Pachulia for sliding underneath Kawhi. After the quotes from both Zaza and Kawhi came out — both saying there was no intent — it seemed things were going to settle in the realm of something like distaste. 1

Then Gregg Popovich came out with a firery rant that touched on all three subtopics of this issue:

1. Was it intentional?

Pop (paraphrased):

Who cares about his intent? You get jail time for unintentional manslaughter.

2. Was he upset?

What do you think? We had a chance to beat the best team in the league by 23+ and our best guy went down.

3. Was it dirty?

Zaza sure has some history of it and it plays into their feeling about it.

Here is the play again, for reference.

Pop ripping Zaza

The obvious counter-argument here is that Bruce Bowen was hurting dudes in his time as a Spur and got his number in the rafters in SA for it (among other things).

Here is some surface-level hypocrisy from Pop, as pointed out by Matt Doyle.

Pop Defending Bowen

Some dirty Bowen lowlights:

I think the key here is context. The style of play in 2006 was famously more forgiving of physical play. The kind of thing Bowen did then was mostly discouraged by unwritten rule. Now it is explicitly outlawed.

See this in the old MYSA article:

Popovich said Bowen is being singled out, citing incidents where New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson and Dallas’ Josh Howard sprained ankles after landing on Miami’s Shaquille O’Neal and Golden State’s Mickael Pietrus.

It was more of an issue back then. Enough for the league to step in and actually provide guidance instead of direct calls to Bowen himself about changing his ‘tactics’.

If this happened with Bruce Bowen on the floor, on the bench or on the roster that is one thing. He is long retired and the game has changed in the last decade.

Earlier in the EC Semis we were arguing the relative dirty nature of the Kelly Fight compared to the 80s’ slugfests. What was tough basketball then is now over-the-line. I don’t make the rules, nor do I want to get into a debate over the shoulds of the game, but I think it is clear that Zaza is a habitual line-stepper and that he has no benefit of the doubt in this scenario, at least with Pop.

I do not have video, but LMA might have done something similar to Curry just after. This sort of emphasizes the point about reputation. It is hard to say the guy that throws elbows, and attempts MMA moves does not mean harm compared to Aldridge, who has no such rep. So it goes.

  1. Noted dirty player Draymond Green saw the video and seemed to only offer a dutiful ‘eh, not dirty’ without a passionate defense. It was telling.