The San Antonio Spurs are here. Still playing. Manu Ginobili hit a wild shot. Gary Neal hit the thrilling game saver to force overtime. Tony Parker morphed into Tony Parker circa 2005 in the overtime. San Antonio staved off elimination Wednesday in dramatic fashion.
But it did not change the underlying issues in this series. The things that put the Grizzlies up 3-1 in this series are still there heading into Game 6 in Memphis Friday night (Memphis is now up 3-2). So long as the Grizzlies stay true to who they are — as they have through the first five games — it may take another San Antonio miracle to force a Game 7. And it’s hard to survive on miracles.
Memphis still has Zach Randolph and the Spurs still have no good answer for that. Mark Gasol and Mike Conley continue to be rock solid, consistent every game. Memphis continues to defend the corner three well (the Spurs are shooting 2.4 fewer of their bread-and-butter shots per game and are hitting 39 percent, down fro 42 percent in the regular season). The Spurs are shooting just 31 percent from three overall in the series. Memphis continues to own the paint. And the boards.
And now Memphis goes home. With the chance to close out the franchise’s first ever playoff series win in front of their home crown in a legendary upset. They are going to bring it hard.
At this point in a series there are no more surprise coaching adjustments, it’s simply execution. The Spurs are going to need the Manu Ginobili from Game 5 — 33 points on 18 shots — and the Parker from overtime of that game to pull off the win. The Spurs will need Tim Duncan to jump in the hot tub time machine for a night because this older one struggles against the Grizzlies twin big men. San Antonio cannot count on end of game heroics. Not this time.
San Antonio needs to find the Spurs from December, the ones whose offensive execution ripped everyone apart. Otherwise this will be the last stand for the West’s top seed this season.
The San Antonio Spurs are still alive in the playoffs right now, living to fight another day.
Thanks to Gary Neal. A rookie. He did what seemingly countless veteran Spurs have done before him and made the big play — in this case a three to send Game 5 to overtime. Where the Spurs prevailed and made the series 3-2 Memphis.
Memphis defends this play well — San Antonio clearly wants to go to George Hill in the corner, but that is covered. Neal gets the ball and needs to take a dribble to get a decent look.
But all that matters is it fell. And the Spurs are still alive and headed to Memphis for Game 6.
Antonio McDyess: “We’re playing like a bunch of wussies”
Memphis came into this series a tough matchup for San Antonio — the Spurs want to control the paint and take away those three pointers opponents like to shoot.
Except the Grizzlies don’t really shoot threes and have more size and skill in the paint than the Spurs.
And they are more physical. In the paint with the Memphis bigs for sire, and on the wings Tony Allen and Mike Conley have followed the Grizzlies style. They pushed and the Spurs… well, Antonio McDyess characterized the Spurs response this way to the News-Express Spurs blog.
“We’re playing like a bunch of wussies,” McDyess said.
That analysis didn’t meet with much disagreement, not after the Grizzlies pummeled the Spurs 56-36 in the second half to assume a 3-1 series lead…
“They put their foot on our throat and never let up,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Popovich finally tried to use some size to counter the Grizzlies, throwing Tiago Splitter in Game 4, but by then it was too little, too late.
San Antonio won a lot of games this season because either Richard Jefferson played well (or well enough) or when that didn’t work they went to a three-guard lineup with a lot of Gary Neal and George Hill. Their big man off the bench was three-point specialist Matt Bonner, but he was draining good looks in the regular season. It may have been fools gold. In the playoffs, where the larger teams live, size was going to matter. It has mattered. And the Spurs don’t have a counter.
The Spurs ran into a Grizzlies team that in the playoffs has been allowed to play a physical game. San Antonio got punched in the mouth. And then…