Entering the bubble, it appeared the end of the San Antonio Spurs' historic postseason streak was all but a formality. But two games in, including a 108-106 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, the Spurs are right back in it, jumping to ninth and only two back of Memphis.
"At the end of the day, if you're showing up to lose a basketball game, you shouldn't be here," guard Dejounte Murray said of being counted out before the restart. "Obviously, we don't have some players playing, but it's a next-man-up league, we're pros and we get paid to step up and do our jobs. We can't control what people say on the outside. We've got to keep the love and keep the faith inside the locker room."
The Spurs have made it to 22 consecutive postseasons, tied for the longest streak in NBA history (Philadelphia 76ers, 1950-1971). They came into the Orlando restart a long shot to force the play-in series with the 8-seed, back 4.5 games and also down their presumed best player in LaMarcus Aldridge. But a solid win over Sacramento in their opener and then Sunday's tight win over Memphis have put them back in the mix.
"When we came in there was a lot of confidence in the group we had, so just keep playing and get better every time we're out there," guard Derrick White said. "It doesn't change much for us. We've got a lot of work to do to get to the playoffs."
DeMar DeRozan knocked down two go-ahead free throws with a second left to put the Spurs up on Memphis, bouncing back from missing two just 12 seconds earlier that would've iced the game. DeRozan was clutch down the stretch, drilling back-to-back midrange jumpers in the final minutes after Ja Morant led Memphis on a charge to tie the game.
"I mean, he's a superstar in this league," Morant said of DeRozan. "One of the top players in this league. I felt like that's his job. I'm not surprised at all."
Without Aldridge, the Spurs have leaned on DeRozan to feature more in the closing role, especially as they bring along a group of young players around him.
"Most people go to their best player in the fourth quarter," Gregg Popovich said when asked about featuring DeRozan in crunch time.
Coming into the bubble, for the Spurs, the objective was on development and growth for a young core. Popovich has never missed the postseason as a head coach, but never mentioned playoff expectations during the lead up to the games in Orlando, instead keeping the conversation around how the Spurs are focused on improving for the future.
But after two games, because they're the Spurs, they are back to controlling their own destiny for a playoff berth. The schedule gets tougher from here, though: They have the 76ers next on Monday, then Denver, Utah, New Orleans, Houston and Utah again.
"We've got to continue to go out like every game is our last, and we've got another one tomorrow," Murray said. "We won one tonight, bumped up a spot, and we've got to continue to go out, play together and win basketball games."