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The Pride Cometh, Finally; Is the Fall Far Behind?

By Jeff Koch on April 29, 2011.

2011 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 5: Memphis 103, San Antonio 110 / Memphis leads 3-2

There are two story lines that can emerge from this game. Memphis smelled blood, and had the Spurs all but knocked out. But they didn’t finish the job, didn’t drive the stake through the heart. And like a perfect movie script ending, the Spurs got a little luck and a timely shot from an unsung hero to steal the game–and perhaps momentum and confidence–from the young, upstart team.

In this storyline, the Spurs finally started to look a little more like the Spurs on offense, with good player and ball movement. They attacked the lane and the rim on the pick and roll, playing aggressively, yet with control. The 3-point shots finally opened up, even if not too many went down. Most importantly, they didn’t allow Memphis to dictate the terms of the contest. Defensively, the team was able to slow down the big guys inside and turn the Grizzlies into more of a jump shooting team, which is not a strength of theirs.

Even when the team fell behind, they remained resilient, fighting and scrapping to keep the score within reach as the seconds ticked away. Showing “the heart of a champion”, they made the plays that needed to be made and escaped with a win, finally instilling a little fear and self-doubt in a young team that heretofore had felt none.

The other story line goes something like this: Memphis came into San Antonio to play a proud, veteran team with their backs up against the wall and facing elimination. With the entire season on the line for the top seed, they were hungry and desperate and would give everything they had. Memphis took their best shot and got down early. And fought back. And seized control of the game in the second half. If not for a few miracles, the game and the series was won quite convincingly.

In this story, the Grizzlies played tentatively in the first half while the Spurs were more aggressive and hungrier. Yet they were still able to keep it close. In the second half, with their nerves calmed, the Grizzlies got back to playing their game–pounding the ball inside on offense, aggressive, ball-hawking defense that leads to TOs and forced shots–and, like three of the previous four games, dominated the Spurs.

AP Photo/Eric Gay

On Ginobili’s lucky corner shot, the Grizzlies were just an unlucky bounce away from a steal and winning the game; on Neal’s 3, they were a missed jump-out from Battier away from making the shot infinitely more difficult, probably leading to a miss, and sealing the game.

All of this is to say that, in this story, the Grizzlies are clearly the better team in the series.

Which story is the right one? They both might be. But neither probably is.

Here is what we do know. In four of the five games played, the game has been decided in the last moments of regulation (or OT). Battier hit a great 3 in Game 1; but Jefferson missed a pretty wide open shot that would have tied the game. In Game 3, Randolph hit the unlikely 3; but this is also the game without the timeout call, that could have given us a clean look at another tie.

This series could very easily be 3-2 San Antonio, just as easily as it could be over in favor of either team. The truth is, despite whatever narrative we want to read or write, these teams are pretty damned evenly matched, and their styles of play make for compelling, hard-fought games.

And despite everything that’s been written and said about this series, at 9pm EST tonight, the score will be 0-0 in Game 6, and all of the momentum and heart and big shots and struggles that have come before will give way to 48 more minutes of basketball.

Forty eight minutes that the Spurs must win.

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