2018 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 103, Golden State 90
Golden State leads series 3-1

Sunday afternoon was a necessary win.

The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Golden State Warriors 103-90 and lived to fight another day. It was the culmination of a thousand emotions, shared by a team, an organization, and a fan base which hasn’t been in this situation in the last two decades. Our team probably won’t win the series, although the way this season has gone, would it surprise you if they did?

I predicted during the series preview episode of the SDP that the Spurs would win game 4 before being eliminated in game 5. While I may have accurately predicted the destination, I could not have predicted the journey. Frankly, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how chaotic this season has been, let alone this playoff series.

I want to express my condolences to the entire Popovich family. I don’t want to suggest that because I am a part of the Spurs family that I can grieve with the Popovich family. As individuals, they deserve to mourn their loss in private, without a fan base trying to overpower them with love. They deserve their space.

I’ve been highly critical of Coach Pop this year and as recently as Tuesday, April 17th – the night before Erin Popovich passed – I thought Pop had plenty to be judged on. Specifically, for his stubbornness. In true Popovich fashion, arguably the best coach in NBA history informed his staff that he wanted zero recognition for game 3. No moment of silence. No show of support. Nothing. He wanted the focus to be on the game.

And let me be clear: that was absolutely his right to do so.

But I do think it was a direct result of a game 3 loss.

The team needed to grieve. The organization need to grieve. Heck, the fans needed to grieve. It’s no secret that being a Spurs fan means a lot more than cheering for a basketball team. The Spurs are San Antonio and everyone felt this blow as another bruise on an already bruised season. Watching Manu fight back tears in those pre-game media sessions was gut wrenching.

Having that moment to grieve could have done wonders, but alas, it was not to be. The players looked lost and in a daze. There was some early emotion, but it fizzled and they spaced out. And who could blame them? Here’s what I said after game 3.

This team looks like they have nothing left. It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The Kawhi Leonard saga roars on. There’s continued discussion about the Pau Gasol and Patty Mills contracts; inconsistent play by expected cornerstones like Kyle Anderson and Danny Green; out-of-character commentary by seasoned veterans; front office decisions, or lack thereof; injuries; the possibility of missing the playoffs; and death: Rasual Butler, in the Anderson family, the Lauvergne family and the Popovich family.

This team is broken and it looks like the franchise is having its worst season ever.

But game 4 was the exact opposite. This team found a way to win. The team, the organization and yes, the fan base, had time to grieve a little bit. They had time to process the full gravity of the game. They were able to channel all the hurt, pain and drama of a horrible season and bring it all together for the greater good of the city of San Antonio.

They played loose. They played free. And they played for a purpose.

The purpose was simple: this is not how it ends.

In a game orchestrated by excellent coaching adjustments and frankly, finally hitting some open shots, the crescendo was another brilliant performance by Emanuel David Ginobili, who is only 40 years old and looks like he may have a bright future in the NBA.

In game 3, Tony Parker was fabulous, which is saying something, since he’s played like rubbish all year. But in Game 4, Manu was spectacular. We truly don’t deserve him. The Spurs were still outmatched by the Steph Curry-less Golden State Warriors, but you could almost tell from the moment Manu checked into the game, he had it in him that night.

His body language said it all: this is not how it ends.

If it weren’t for his ever-expanding bald spot and a few extra wrinkles under his eyes, you could almost swap the game footage with a tape from the early 2000s. He was everywhere and the team fed off of him. Shots started falling, guys started rotating on defense faster, and his hustle was contagious.

Manu scored 10 of his 16 points in the final period and, as if we needed more proof, cemented himself as the most beloved Spur ever.

It was his way of saying, “This is not how it ends.”

The Spurs avoided the sweep and will head back to Oakland for game 5 tomorrow night.

Not much has changed. The Warriors are still the better team and now get an elimination game at home. Popovich will not coach again. Kawhi is still rehabbing in New York. Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills are still short. Kyle Anderson still can’t shoot. And the offseason will bring a ton of questions about the future of this franchise. The Spurs will most likely lose and head home to watch the rest of the playoffs from the couch.

But for at least one memorable Sunday, it was a good day to be a Spurs fan. And it was a good reminder for all of us who call the Silver and Black a family: this is not how it ends.

Go Spurs Go.