It’s tough to win a playoff game without your 2nd leading scorer and emotional leader and the Spurs learned that first hand on Sunday when they blew a lead in the final minute to give the Memphis Grizzlies their first ever playoff victory 101-98.
For a stretch, it seemed as if the Spurs were going to be able to “steal” game 1 without Ginobili. San Antonio controlled much of the 2nd half and, despite going down by seven points in the final minutes, found themselves up by four thanks to two Matt Bonner three-pointers and two George Hill free throws. But a hidden possession that you won’t see on any highlight reels is what doomed them.
Up by two points with less than a minute left, San Antonio played to drain the clock. Tony Parker held the ball near the half court line and then waited for a screen from Bonner than didn’t come until there were a few seconds left on the shot clock. Instead of running the offense, getting in motion, making passes, getting into the paint, or doing anything that had worked for them all day, the Spurs settled for a mid-range jumper and missed. And then this happened:
Shane Battier made his only shot of the quarter to give Memphis the lead for good and sucked the air right out of the building. George Hill missed an ill-advised three-pointer on the next possession and the Spurs had to foul when Memphis grabbed the rebound. Richard Jefferson had a wide open look to tie the game that he was sure would go in, but rimmed out to seal San Antonio’s fate in their playoff opener.
Even without Ginobili, San Antonio went right after Memphis in the paint as they attempted a ridiculous 47 free throws. But you won’t see anybody talk about the disparity in free throws as a reflection of the referees because the Spurs were determined to be physical in this game. The only problem was that the players, Tony Parker in particular, were unable to set up any three-point-play opportunities. Parker was particularly frustrated because a lot of the shots he was attempting just weren’t going down the way they normally do.
The negative of getting to the free throw line that much is that San Antonio was unable to establish an offensive rhythm throughout most of the game because of how physical they had to be against the Grizzlies. During stretches in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th quarters the Spurs really had a nice flow going and Tim Duncan capitalized. He scored 16 points on 8-13 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds in 36 minutes of play.
As for the Grizzlies offense, San Antonio threw everything they had at Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and both did a good job of drawing fouls against Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair. The two finished with five fouls each and Gregg Popovich was in danger of having to send in Tiago Splitter if either had fouled out. Gasol and Randolph each shot extremely well from the floor too, going a combined 19-25. Gasol only missed one shot from the floor. They combined for 49 of the team’s points and 23 of their rebounds.
Gasol was getting quality shots to go, but Randolph was getting friendly rolls all night. All San Antonio can hope is that McDyess and Blair can stay out of foul trouble and that the defense they play doesn’t result in so many baskets on so few attempts.
Down 1-0, the pressure is going to be on Manu Ginobili to come back for game 2 on Wednesday night. He will have had almost a full week to recover by then and the only evidence of his elbow injury will likely be a protective sleeve. During the game, Sean Eliot said that he expected Ginobili to come out for game 1 to galvanize the team and the crowd, Willis Reed-style after reports indicated that Ginobili wasn't in as bad a shape as his "doubtful" status would lead most to believe.
Game 2 is a must-win for San Antonio. But after Memphis got such friendly rolls in the opener, shooting 55% from the floor and only winning by three, the Spurs know what they need to win their next game and go to Memphis with the series tied. They need Manu Ginobili back.
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