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The Turnaround

By Jeff Koch on May 19, 2012.


I’ve only ever seen one game live in San Antonio. It was against Boston, many years ago (I think the year they won the title, so the first year of their Big 3). I sat with the Baseline Bums. I was informed that every time the Spurs hit a 3, we all cheered and gave each other high-fives. I liked it.

The Spurs raced out to a huge lead. Something like 30-10 in the first quarter. High-fives were flying, “Go Spurs Go!” chants were raining down from all corners of the arena, and the crowd was on top of the world. There’s no way we were going to lose the game.

But basketball is a game of runs, a game of let downs, a game of energy shifts. Talent and skill being equal, a 20-point lead is almost impossible to sustain over 36 minutes of basketball time. (This is why I hate getting big leads early…that and scars from this game I attended). The Celtics kept pounding their own rock, and sometime in the 4th quarter, took their first lead. The game was back and forth, but the Celtics, riding the energy and the sustained effort of 30 minutes of hard work, pulled away just slightly. Garnett made an uncharacteristic mental mistake with 5 seconds left, leaving Robert Horry wide open for a game-tying (or perhaps winning?) 3, which rimmed out.

I left dejected, my first experience in the AT&T Center a losing proposition.

Saturday afternoon’s game against the Clippers wasn’t much different. Los Angeles came out on fire, giving the Spurs their best punch. Using a huge run and a Spurs’ drought, they surged to a 33-11 first quarter score. It was ugly.

But it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. While the Clippers did play good defense, the Spurs missed tons of easy shots at the rim. They easily left 10 easy points off the scoreboard. It happens. The Clippers continued their trend of making difficult and contested shots.  And Blake Griffin went off, having what Jon Barry called “the best half of his career.” For anyone who watches a ton of basketball and a ton of Spurs (as I do), the game still appeared within reach. I kept thinking, “if we could just get it to 10 by halftime, all will be OK in the world.”

And wouldn’t you know it, the score was 53-43 at the half. We knew the offense (the best offense in the league, without question, I think we can say at this point) would come around. If we could just get some stops, we would get back into the game.

The second half was only remarkable in that the Spurs had once been down by 24 points. But watch the second half with no knowledge of the 24 minutes that preceded it, and you’d just think the two teams played as you might expect, with the Spurs winning the half by 20 points. The third quarter might have been the best quarter of basketball yet for the Spurs in the postseason. Within the quarter was a 24-0 run, some great play on both ends, and a final tally of 26-8. The Clippers scored 8 points in the 3rd quarter… half of which came in the last 3 minutes.

But again… much of that was great Spurs’ defense, but also just some missed shots by the Clippers. Their third quarter was our first quarter.

Some more numbers:

• As the graphic showed on the TV many times, from the 8:30 point of the 2nd quarter on, the Spurs outscored the Clippers 80-46.

• After scoring 11 points in the first quarter, the Spurs scored 85 in the remaining 3, or about 28 per quarter.

• The Clippers, on the other hand, scored 53 in the remaining 3 quarters, or about 18 per quarter.

This was a very weird game, but a game we deserved to win. The Spurs dominated the Clippers for 32 1/2 minutes, or about 70% of the game. The Clippers gave us their best shot, and we withstood it. And returned several haymakers of our own.

The only question now is: do we close them out in dominating fashion in 4? Or do the Clippers get the ‘gentleman’s victory,’ before falling in Game 5 in San Antonio? Throughout the playoffs I’ve been talking about championship resolve and merciless domination, and so far, the Spurs have responded with resounding conviction every step of the way. Tonight’s game was no different: the Spurs ruthlessly removed all hope from the Clippers.

A championship team closes this thing out in Game 4. Will the Spurs respond as they have all season long?

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