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It Seems Fate is Not Without A Sense of Humor

By Jeff Koch on April 22, 2011.

2011 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 2: Memphis 87, San Antonio 93  /  Series Tied 1-1

The big storyline coming into Game 2 was the return of Manu Ginobili. Would his elbow be OK? How much would he be able to give us? Would he keep his elbow out of harm’s way?

That last question was answered pretty quickly and emphatically. Early in the game he went and grabbed an offensive rebound from Marc Gasol then collided into Zach Randolph to draw the foul and free throws; he came flying from the weakside to block a Randolph lay-up, popping the ball straight up in the air, where it eventually hit him on the head and went out of bounds; he fell to the floor in a wrestling match with Shane Battier for a loose ball; after the ensuing jump ball, he collided with a Grizzlies player and fell to the floor as the ball caromed out of bounds; he pump faked Tony Allen literally on to his back; he sideswiped a Grizzlies player on a steal; on a fast break he crashed into Randolph again and collapsed onto the floor; he collided with Tony Parker at midcourt on a long offensive rebound; and he tripped to the floor and out of bounds on an errant lead pass from Duncan. And this was all in the first half! No, Ginobili doesn’t know any other way to play.

And that way is with passion and frenetic energy. It seemed like he was going to jump out of his shoes (and out of his skin) on some plays. As I’ve stated many times, Ginobili is our heart, and just having him on the floor injects the team (and just as importantly, the crowd) with an energy and aggression that can be lacking without him.

Ginobili in the line-up also makes everything fall into place. It takes pressure of Parker to be the sole distributor; it takes pressure off Duncan to be the sole leader; it takes pressure off of Hill to be a starter or a PG or the only defensive stopper; it takes pressure off of Bonner and Neal and Jefferson to be the best 3-point shooters; and it takes pressure off of the entire team trying to close out a game (something we obviously could not do in Game 1). Ginobili is not only our best player, he might now be our most important player, a title long held by Duncan, even as his skills began to slip.

But Ginobili alone did not win Game 2, nor did his absence alone lose Game 1. The playoffs are about slowing down the other team’s tendencies and outlasting their anomalies. Overall in the two games, we’ve done a good job of equalizing some of the Grizzlies’ strengths, as we’ve been able to hang even with them on rebounds and limit their steals and transition baskets. But in Game 1, we were not able to stop Randolph at all (a tendency), and we couldn’t weather Gasol’s monster game (an anomaly). Conversely, in Game 1 Memphis put the clamps on our long distance shooting (a tendency) and outlasted Duncan’s first half offensive outbust (an anomaly at this point).

In Game 2, we were finally able to get some of our 3-point shooting back on track, going 7-17 for the game, but closing the game making 4 of 6. Also, with Ginobili back, our offense clicked back into place a little better, and we got some rhythm back. Two tendencies back on track. Defensively, we really slowed down both Randolph and Gasol, more or less shutting down the paint and turning the Grizzlies into a jump shooting team (if this becomes a jump shooting series, I like our chances). They got great games out of both Sam Young and Darrell Arthur ( 11-18 for 25 points, a combined anomaly) that was able to keep them close, but wasn’t quite enough to steal the game. For those keeping score at home, that’s one tendency slowed and one anomaly outlasted.

Now the series shifts to Memphis, where we can see if the closeness of these first two games is an anomaly or a tendency. I still feel like the Spurs can play much better, whereas the Grizzlies are playing near their capacity. In particular, Tony Parker needs to outplay Mike Conley, Jr. So far that match-up has been a wash (with perhaps a slight edge to Conley, Jr., who deserves a ton of credit for his play), and that’s ridiculous. As good as Conley, Jr. is, Parker is far superior and a proven playoff performer (even if he stole a Finals’ MVP from Duncan). If we get even a little bit more from Parker, this series turns decidedly in the Spurs favor. Right now Parker seems a bit passive. Mostly, though, his touch just seems to have gone away. Once those crazy driving lay-ups start falling (as they normally do), and the jump shot goes in with more regularity, we should see the Parker that closed out the season as our surprisingly most consistent player.

If the touch doesn’t come back, though, we might be staring at another loss or two. Either way, expect a couple more dogfights.

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