Manu Ginobili, maybe the Spurs' all-time leader in floor burns, pursued another round of them early in Wednesday's second quarter. The play-by-play account said "steal," but his act of thievery meant more.
"He's their Tony Allen," Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins said after the Spurs' 93-87 victory to even the series.
The spirit of that statement is correct, but Allen has a long way to go to match Ginobili's Hall of Fame resume. Maybe the description fits, though.
A player who finished 5-of-13 with five turnovers was a 61-win squad's MVP on a night the eighth-seeded opponent showed up ready to locate San Antonio's jugular. An 0-2 deficit heading to Memphis would have all but assured the upset so many have predicted.
Instead, El Contusion struck again. The story of the game: The Spurs shot 43 percent, coughed up the ball 18 times and still won. Ginobili makes these results possible.
His presence allowed San Antonio to almost hijack the points in the paint battle from the team that led the NBA in inside baskets. The manageable interior margin: Grizzlies 40, Spurs 38.
How will Memphis counter a competitor whose level of exertion is not quantifiable in a box score? The Spurs must put faith in Ginobili as they travel to Tennessee. He once again holds the key to winning a playoff round.
The Grizzlies, for one, announced via megaphone that they do not plan to adhere to the scouting report. Sam Young hit just 17 three-pointers through 82 games. He swished a corner triple with 14.4 seconds remaining.
Allen nailed the jumpshots the L.A. Lakers were willing to cede in the 2010 NBA Finals. If the two-time defending champions dared the defensive stalwart to shoot, and he missed most of those looks, no one can blame the Spurs for trying the same strategy. He even drilled a contested leaner just before the shot-clock buzzer in the fourth quarter.
Gregg Popovich cannot prepare for these deviations with film or a clipboard. Ginobili, then, will have to suffice as the berserk respondent.
He did not connect from the field until the 9:51 mark of the second quarter. He split two defenders and finished in traffic with his right hand. Yeah, scout that.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph shredded the Spurs in the opener. Wednesday, they finished a combined 7-of-23. Even the TNT announcing crew of Matt Devlin and Kevin McHale wondered aloud, though, how Randolph and Gasol managed to bury some of those tough-angle shots on Sunday.
The best adjustment Popovich could make after such stunning accuracy was to re-introduce his untamed, ultimate war horse to the postseason fray.
He fell hard, bumped into Memphis' trees, chased loose balls like a bloodhound all but disregarded his healing right elbow. The lone reminder of the hyper-extension he suffered a week earlier in Phoenix was his uncharacteristic 7-of-13 performance from the charity stripe.
His freebie accuracy figures to improve, and the Grizzlies should expect to taste some of his signature crunch-time, stepback triples.
When he arrived in San Antonio as a curious rookie, he had to overcome a number of barriers. Timidity was not one.
Popovich once asked him in the locker room, "what the hell was that?" The coach was referring to an errant lob that almost hit the popcorn guy perusing the lower bowl.
Ginobili's response—"it's who I am"—forever endeared him to his teammates. Tenacity is perhaps the only predictable thing about his game. He goes left a lot, but his off hand is good for more than just sponging the sweat from his forehead.
Maybe the quote should have been, hell hath no fury like Manu Ginobili.
As this first-round brawl now enters the ring at Fed-Ex Forum, his antagonism looms larger than any on-paper advantage Memphis can tout. His pained facial expressions in Sunday's apex said it all: he does not want this group's potential last shot at a title run to culminate with a first-round exit.
The question with these Spurs, though, is not how much they want it. The Grizzlies do not mind the championship count being four to zero.
They do not care where Tim Duncan ranks among other power forwards in league history. They believe the series belongs to them, and they have reasons to exude such credence.
Maybe a strange embrace of the underdog role is just what San Antonio needs to pull off its own shocker. Charles Barkley, after all, still likes the Grizzlies.
His chief reason: Duncan is older and will wear down as the series progresses. His analysis did not include Popovich limiting his franchise player to a career-low minutes average, less than 29, to prepare him for the playoff grind.
Maybe this short-sighted analysis explains why a Barkley endorsement is a kiss of death. What president occupied the White House the last time he correctly predicted a series outcome?
We all enjoyed watching the Dallas Mavericks punish the Golden State Warriors' "midgets" in five games.
This is hardly the first time San Antonio has faced a younger, supposedly taller, more athletic opponent. The Spurs' 1-5 postseason record without Ginobili makes even more sense now. His heart and sheer hardihood can negate matchup problems and turn a hopeless match into a winnable one.
Can the frontcourt quartet of Duncan, Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner and Dejuan Blair do anything but ignore the scouting report when it comes to checking Randolph? What can't he make?
Throwing those documents in the trash might behoove Memphis, too.
The key to stopping Manu?
Put down that piece of paper and look at the floor. The Grizzlies and Spurs know one thing, in a series that promises more twists and turns than a Gene Hackman thriller: He'll be there again Saturday night.
The hardwood is Ginobili's indoor swimming pool, and he recklessly dives in, even when a cumbersome brace limits his right arm's mobility. He doesn't see insurmountable length, or a decaying Duncan or a reason to, for once, take Barkley seriously.
He's seen the same thing for nearly 10 years. The ball. He wants it.
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