Panic Games

by

Two days ago I had a panic attack. It was not my first one, thankfully. Five years ago, my first ever panic attack (which came about after a long breathing disorder than had me wheezing for a week) did honor to its name. I described it to my family as a “heart attack or something.”  I was rushed to the hospital while I felt progressively unable to draw in air, and basically shouted for help until a doctor decided to take pity on me. He laid me out on a gurney, put an oxygen mask on me, and then said something that broke through my fear and made me feel not a little stupid: “If you weren’t able to breathe, you wouldn’t be shouting.”

Panic attacks are tricky. The causes are many and none, impossible to pin down on any one thing. Stress, biological causes, heredity, illness – even good old coffee can be a trigger. Fear of not being able to breathe after a brush with pneumonia probably did me in that first time, but I will never know. There is a feeling of shame in being scared of nothing, in knowing that there is no real danger and that the only reason you are not gamboling about in the sun right now is you and your reactions. But it was a learning experience.

My second panic attack was two days ago, as I mentioned. I had finally sat down in front of the TV after a long day of work,  ready to relax and enjoy myself at the Pounding the Rock game thread – the Lakers game was on. Bynum was on a rampage, grabbing rebounds at will over Blair’s outstretched arms, and Metta World Peace was scoring on fall-away triples from the corner like he was still in Indiana, before Metta, before the Malice, back when he was more of a basketball player and less of a personality. Then, that odd flutter started in my stomach that told me that something was wrong. Ten minutes later, I was able to recognize what I was feeling, to give it a name, so I moved onto my bed and kept on watching while I tried my best to relax. The Spurs did not help, so at halftime I turned off the TV. I was spared the rest of that debacle.

I am not ready to blame Andrew Bynum for my panic attack, despite his soft touch on the post and his ever-growing skill as a three-point specialist. The bottom line is this: my body and mind shared a moment of weakness while I go through a particularly draining stretch of my schedule, and some family matters piled on top, and perhaps that fifth cup of Peruvian coffee was not a good idea. I am glad, though, that previous experience let me assess the full measure of his non-emergency, and ride out the wave of wrongness without much incident. Acceptance of my limitations and composure despite the randomness of the attack kept me from turning that sensation in my guts from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I will claim that as a victory.

I am not sure what parallels I can find between what happened to me and the Spurs’ spectacular collapse against the Lakers, but in the back of my mind, something tells me parallels are there. Not just in how players could react to such a whooping, but in how we fans will react in the next two games against the Lakers. I am aware that few things instill more fear in us that the confirmation of our expectations. We all know what the Spurs’ 7-ft-sized Achilles heel is, and we have waited for this whole shortened season for the arrow that would pierce it. The number “30” stared at us from the center of the box score, presenting such an obvious enemy that game analysis is almost impossible.

It transforms a largely inconsequential regular season game (because Popovich will never fight for that first seed) into a personal affront that obliterates the foundations of our 11-win-streak-borne confidence. But unfortunately, our coach is seemingly unmoved by our sensibilities. The Spurs played with the rotations they have fielded for the majority of the seasons, no one played more than 27 minutes, Splitter joined the fray when Duncan sat, and vice versa. The Spurs attempted to play the Spurs way – but Tim Duncan decided to grab all of 2 defensive rebounds, Tony Parker could not buy a jumper, and Manu Ginobili was ineffective. In the key stretch of the game, the first 8 minutes of the third quarter, Metta World Peace was a perfect 5-5 from the field and Ramon Sessions chipped in with his own 2-2. The game was effectively over.

I was not surprised by the Spurs inflexibility, even if the lack of urgency disappointed me. I am interested to see what wrinkles Popovich brings to the next two games against this Lakers team, although I am not sure that the adjustment the Spurs faithful clamor for, a Duncan-Splitter combo, is a possibility. I refuse to believe that a single game can have a significant impact in the Spurs’ title chances, though – not one, or two, or three. The emotional response that such a gruesome loss against a hated opponent is not a factor into my evaluation of a team whose strengths were not represented during the Lakers game fiasco.
To overreact, I believe, would simply lead to a loss of identity. Last night was an opportunity for the team, to test their limits and recognize their flaws. These are the Lakers, and this is what they can do. Let us see them do it again. I guess it all comes down to a simple paraphrase: If the Spurs weren’t able to breathe, we wouldn’t be shouting.

The Spurs turned around a gave a convincing victory against the Grizzlies, a team every bit as good as the Lakers. The Spurs don’t panic, and they certainly don’t succumb to panic attacks. It’s simply not something Popovich allows.

  • Finnobili

    Ha!  “If the Spurs weren’t able to breathe, we wouldn’t be shouting.”  Well said.  My emotional well-being and I are still all in this season.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    If the Spurs make it past the first round (I’m assuming they can handle Houston, Denver, or Utah, so yes), there’s a pretty good chance the Spurs will face the Lakers in the Western Conference Semis or Finals… So wouldn’t Pop want to keep his possible in-series adjustments a secret?

    Is it plausible that Popovich wants to keep his trump cards a secret? ie
     – Duncan+Splitter
     – SJax guarding Artest (see: Indiana history)
     – Ginobili the driver in the paint (this is more a health issue than secret)
     – Blair: DNP – Coaches Decision

    Why show your hand when you’ll be happy with what you get without showing it (1st or 2nd seed)?

    The Spurs clearly redeemed themselves last night, as promised by Duncan. When Duncan can make a promise like that and live up to, I will tend to keep my faith in this team. 

  • Jason

    Remember how last season collapsed on the Spurs? The starting point was a 30-point beatdown at home by these same Lakers, one game removed from a superb performance against the Heat. Pop panicked, took Blair out of the starting lineup for good, and the Spurs went on a downward spiral after that. Lesson: don’t panic!

  • theghostofjh

    @Jason,

    “Pop panicked, took Blair out of the starting lineup for good, and the Spurs went on a downward spiral after that. Lesson: don’t panic!”

    Exactly. Leave Blair in the starting line-up.

  • theghostofjh

    @Ryan,

    “Is it plausible that Popovich wants to keep his trump cards a secret? ie
    – Duncan+Splitter — Blair: DNP – Coaches Decision”

    I think that’s more like your personal fantasy than it is Pop’s secret plan.

  • Robert G

    The only reason that I panicked was our reminiscent this game was to last year when the Lakers came in and handed the Spurs a similar whooping. I don’t think the Spurs were ever the same after that. Thoughts?

  • silverandblack_davis

    Awesome write up, LD. Hope you’re okay now. Hopefully a deep postseason run will rid every Spurs fan of those panic attacks once and for all.

  • SpurredOn

    @Jason – last season’s collapse started with the injury to Duncan, as the games he missed were all part of the 5 game losing streak. That, along with end-of-game errors from our guards, continued on throughout the playoffs (see games 1, 3 & 6) with Duncan playing on a less than 100% ankle. It was that injury, not the Lakers loss or taking Blair out of the lineup, that began the slow decline.

  • http://facebook.com/ryan.mcshane Ryan McShane

    @theghostofjk
    Just wait until the playoffs. Blair is to the big man rotation as Anderson is to the guard rotation – he’s there to keep the more important pieces healthy. Anything else he provides is gravy. His minutes will go down in the playoffs, especially against bigger teams like the Lakers and Grizzlies.
    BTW, I like Blair. I think he just needs to lose 30 pounds, get a jumpshot, and play the 3 (and small ball 4)… think Michael Beasley in Minnesota. He’s already pretty quick… imagine how much trouble 3s would have guarding a super strong Blair (look how much trouble players have guarding super strong LeBron and Iguodala).
    In his first practice interview of the season, he was asked if he’s going to start playing the 3… Blair said “Hey, I ain’t playin’ no 3; don’t put that on TV. I’m the 4, 5. I ain’t no 3 yet; probably two, three years from now.”
    http://www.nba.com/spurs/video/111211_blair
    Maybe coincidentally, Jefferson’s contract ended three years from then and Jackson’s ends two years from then. Blair will have to be re-signed for this to come to fruition, though.
    Regardless, post defense is a glaring weakness for the Spurs right now. When things slow down in the playoffs, I’m sure we’ll see Tiago + Timmy more frequently than now. And just as much as the Spurs were outsized in the post last year against the Grizzlies, they were outsized in both wing positions – that simply won’t be the case this year unless they play Neal at the 2 a lot. The Spurs have been making up for undersized bigs by sending Leonard, Green, or Jackson into the paint to help out on D when it’s clear a player is trying to muscle a ball in. They’re also sending those guys in to rebound on both sides of the court.

  • spurzztop

    its only 1 game and i still like our chances against ANY TEAM this year
    GO SPURS GO

  • p2cat

    Finally got onto my pc to read this – glad to see 48MoH isn’t totally dead, but still can’t access it on my phone:( Worth the wait, LD – I really enjoy your writing! Hope you are ok now that the Spurs are back on track, and hope they beat the Lakers tonight and/or Friday…Go Spurs Go!