We're all very excited about the return of actual NBA games that count, so incredibly chuffed to see Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant bounding about our TV screens, and happy that we can return to enjoying what seems like important basketball in mid-autumn. The problem with the mid-autumn start — and it's the only problem with the mid-autumn start, to those who weirdly enjoyed the terrible lockout-shortened 2011-12 season — is that it's hard to flip the switch as the exhibition season turns into something real.
And then you get two championship contenders on national TV -- one working on the second night of a back to back that began on the road, with the other still reeling from a roster-changing deal that will take months to adapt to — playing in a hotly contested game with endless "DEE-FENSE" chants and Kevin Harlan talking up the action. It was great! It was terrible! It was NBA basketball, in the first week of November, with the Spurs pulling out the win.
It's an easy toss-off, but despite the Thunder's familiarity and the "13 returning players for the Spurs" that Harlan endlessly trumped (no slight, there; just odd and out of place in a non NCAA football landscape), the chemistry just wasn't intact. No team topped the 20 percent mark when it came to possessions ending in a turnover, but passes weren't where they should have been, and timing was off all night. The effort was in place, but no amount of sweat guarantees a switch being flipped.
In the meantime, it's clear that Tim Duncan is going to show signs of dominance this season in between bouts of showing his age, Tony Parker will be relied upon quite a bit even when Manu Ginobili returns at full strength, and peer pressure is a real and scary thing — for further evidence, watch Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw play basketball in San Antonio Spurs uniforms.
Russell Westbrook? He has issues mixing it up. Kevin Durant remains a brilliant talent on the offensive end, and Serge Ibaka is still getting used to the idea that he has to attempt to play for 40 minutes. Eric Maynor will once again become one of your favorite players, and Kevin Martin has a lot to figure out (though we appreciate his aggressive touch).
This game took place on the first day of November, and despite the furious finish, it looked that way. Tony Parker (who, despite our decade-long familiarity with this cat, is in his physical prime) and Tim Duncan didn't even check into the fourth quarter until the 6:28 mark, and this is because the San Antonio Spurs would like to be enjoying a championship-tinged siesta on 6-28-13. If you don't appreciate this cold water take, it's only to remind you that this league will take a while to warm up that engine. There's no fuel injection in pro basketball. Great basketball takes time.
No coach was unhappy with their respective sides. There was overpassing, step-slow screen and roll work on both ends (just look at the iffy touch on those bounce passes sent to professional knees), and a clear lack of understanding that NBA referees are instructed to call every single bit of BS-contact near or outside of the rim regardless of whether or not an actual foul occurred. It was the exhibition season, with more minutes and results that count when the playoff bracket is established next April.
And it was also a delight.
It was Boris Diaw's up-fake, and Tim Duncan's lefty hook. It was Kevin Martin, sometime in that second half, deciding that he could be "Kevin Martin" on yet another team. It was Gregg Popovich taking the piss out of the great David Aldridge during the fourth quarter, and Russell Westbrook making a mess of things. Nick Collison closed out. Eric Maynor returned. Kawhi Leonard's game grew three inches. Stephen Jackson matters, now. Kendrick Perkins knows more plays than Kenneth Tynan.
For one night — and, admittedly, a few weeks to follow — nothing really matters. The season is going to take weeks to work itself into shape; and the patterns shouldn't be given much thought until the snow starts to fall. The permanence isn't the question.
It's the game, and the entertainment, and the feel. This Thing is back, and it's fun to shout about even if we'll remember none of this by spring. There's your insight. There's your "analysis." It's all a stupid bit of noise that you should really, really tell all your friends about.
Six months left until May. Let's enjoy this while it stays silly, friends.
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