2011 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 3: San Antonio 88, Memphis 91 / Memphis leads 2-1
Like many a great story, let’s start at the end.
The timeout that never was.
There’s varying schools of thought on what to do in this situation. Many people prefer not to call timeout after a defensive rebound while trailing because they don’t want the defense to be able to set up and dictate the possession. In a mad scramble when defenders are frantically seeking out players to guard and the seconds are ticking away, it’s often to the offenses advantage and can usually lead to a wide open shot.
But a couple of different factors were working against that logic Saturday afternoon. First, George Hill rebounded the ball with a little over 6 seconds left in the game; he dribbles to about mid-court, then passes to Ginobili with about 3 seconds left. At this point, there’s really not time for anything else to happen other than a Ginobili shot. But since Hill and Ginobili were the only two players really pressing forward, two Grizzlies defenders were smothering him. We all saw the end result: we didn’t even get a shot off. Inexcusable. To my thinking, the strategy to not call a timeout only seems wise when there’s at least 10 seconds left in the game; anything less than that, and too much time is wasted advancing the ball and trying to get some semblance of organization.
The other factor working against it: Popovich. As Jesse Blanchard points out in his recap over at 48MoH, we’ve got one of the best (if not the best) late game play callers in the NBA on our sideline. He has shown again and again that even facing a defense that is expecting a 3 and trying to stop a 3, he can draw up a play that will result in a wide open 3-point shot for a good shooter. In Pop we trust, and to not even give him the chance to get us the open shot is, again, inexcusable.
Now let’s double back to the beginning, when the tone for the whole story was set, and the first echoes of the lost were etched into the stone.
In the first half of the game, it was unclear which team was playoff neophytes facing its first real weight of expectation, and which team was the veteran squad who has seen every situation, faced every pressure, and overcome them all. Tim Duncan airmailed his first free throw; every player looked tight, as most shots clanged off the rim short and most passes missed their mark by just a few inches (which doesn’t seem like much, but removes shooters from their rhythm). We allowed Memphis to dictate the terms of the game and were always one step behind them, reacting rather than acting. The broadcast microphones caught Pop imploring the team to “calm each other down…it’s just a basketball game”. Shouldn’t that sound bite belong to the huddle with the team whose core hasn’t won 3 championships, let alone a single playoff series ever?
Basically, our nerves were tight and our execution was shit. What happened to that glorious offense that hummed its way through the regular season? The Grizzlies’ defense is good, but it’s not this good. Suddenly, our player and ball movement is lacking; we’re either overpassing or underpassing; we’re shooting when we should be driving and driving when we should be shooting; we’re missing the next player in the rotation, and thus missing wide open shots. Maybe it’s the offenses own fault for producing such wide open shots in the regular season. Perhaps the shooters don’t feel comfortable enough with a little pressure coming at them, as is bound to happen as everything steps up in the playoffs. Whatever the reason, our offense is ugly, and I’m mystified every time we score, wondering exactly what went right for the ball to go in the basket. Suddenly the game has devolved into a one-on-one contest; believe me, that’s a game we’re going to lose.
To understand the failings of the offense, I suppose we need to understand the failings of the players in that offense. Up and down the roster, most players are playing below expectation. To my eyes, the only players acquitting themselves well in this series are Manu Ginobili (though he can still play better), Richard Jefferson (who would have thought he’d be our most reliable player after 3 games in this series), and Tim Duncan (old reliable, though we can no longer rely on 20 points and 12 board from him). Everyone else disappointing. I barely notice when Hill is on the floor. I only notice Gary Neal on the floor because of how many shots he’s missing and how often he’s getting torched on defense. Ditto Bonner. All 3 seem to be aiming their 3-pointers rather than shooting them, leading to ugly misses. Blair is his usual bundle of energy and heart, but his size is hurting the team on both ends of the court. McDyess seems to have lost consistency on his jump shot and looks a little lost at times in the offense.
But the biggest scratch of the head belongs to Tony Parker. What is going on with Parker. Because of his importance to the team, by the end of the game, his numbers never look all that bad, but any rational Spurs far watching these games sees quite plainly with the eyes that Parker is playing very, very badly. I don’t even know how to deconstruct what is happening to his game; I only know that in the 4th quarter of Game 3, I was hoping he wouldn’t be on the floor (though he might have at least called that timeout). Coming into the series, the PG match-up seemed to be the one match-up that was clearly and decidedly in our favor; after 144 minutes of game time, it’s the one match-up that is hurting us the most. This is completely baffling.
And yet, miraculously, there’s hope. We played much better in the second half, and wrested away some of Memphis’ control. We again held the edge in rebounding. And despite everything that came before (and what was to come after), we only trailed by 3 points and had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds. If not for some dumb luck (Randolph’s crazy 3, Parker and Jefferson colliding under the basket which lost us a rebound and essentially 24 seconds of the game as Memphis milked another possession), we might have actually won the damn game. As much as a 1-seed playing well below their regular season level in a 1-2 hole against an 8-seed playing above their’s can, there is reason to believe that this series is still ours for the taking. Every game is a knock-down drag-out fight that should be decided in the closing minutes and seconds. Despite the breakdowns of Game 3, I still trust our team and our coach to prevail more often than not in those situations.
Just call the *bleeping* timeout next time.