Heroes – Congratulations are in order for the city of Memphis. What a hard fought victory. In particular, congratulations are in order for Marc Gasol. What an incredible shot. Put more succinctly, what a heroic shot. With the weight of the entire Grit-N-Grind era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball quite literally hanging in the balance, Pau’s little bro aka Big Spain found the soft touch to deliver one of the biggest buckets of his career; a bucket so huge…it saved a series, a season, an era, and most importantly a city (at least for the moment). Gasol’s miraculous shot defeated the Spurs 110-108 in OT of Game 4 of our first round matchup with the Grizz on Saturday night at the FedExForum in Memphis. Unfortunately for Spurs fans, the best playoff game of the year (to date) resulted in an L and equaled a series that we had earlier led 2-0 at two games apiece. As the most competitively played often do, this game turned into one of those contests where the team that had the ball last was going to win. Simply put, we weren’t lucky enough to be that team. Even though both teams played phenomenal basketball and were deserving, there could only be one winner. So I guess, in the end, this night was just meant to belong to the home team and their fans. That being the case, let me just say without qualification, “Felicidades por una victoria muy reñida, Memphis.” Having now extended our congratulations to our opponents on a hard-fought and well-deserved victory, let’s turn our attention to the question of the moment. Should we as Spurs fans be freaking out right now? In short, I think the answer is no. While obviously concerning, I don’t think this disappointing loss gives us a reason to need to panic. After all, as unlucky as we were to lose this closest of closely contested contests in such heartbreaking fashion, the reverse holds true for the Grizzlies. Memphis is the luckiest basketball team on the planet right now to have miraculously won this closest of closely contested contests and in doing so to have avoided a 3-1 series hole that they would have had little to no hope of digging themselves out of. In other words, the Spurs were intimately close to, for all intents and purposes, ending the series on Saturday evening. When put in this context, Memphis, who is in a good position (technically tied with us now in this series) is (at the same time) also barely holding on for dear life. It bares mentioning that we have outscored the Grizzlies 409 to 379 in the series thus far. 30 points is a pretty sizable disparity for a series that is tied after four games. Thinking about things from the standpoint that we’re winning the series by an average of 7.5 points per game should give us plenty to be confident about going into tomorrow night’s pivotal Game 5. I still would much rather be us than them at this point in the series for several reasons. First, we have home court advantage in the now best two out of three series. Second, we have the more talented, deeper, and all-around more experienced team and coaching staff. Next, Manu Ginobili will make his imprint on this series. We all know that he’s been held scoreless through four games but Manu’s struggles thus far should, more than anything else, scare the living daylights out of Grizzlies fans that a signature Ginobili performance is forthcoming. In every single playoff series that Manu has played in during his illustrious NBA career, he has had at least one game where he played his hall-of-fame magical best. I guarantee that we will get a signature Manu game in this series and when we do, it’s unlikely the Grizzlies will have the weapons to weather the storm on whichever night Manu decides to make his 2017 NBA playoff debut. Lastly, if all else fails, we have to best player in the series (and in the world). It should come as a surprise to no one that I like our chances tied 2-2 against anyone so long as Kawhi Leonard is suiting up for the #BlackAndSilver.
What more can I say about Kawhi? I know I’ve been beating the “he’s the best player in the world” drum quite profusely during this series. I feel obligated to do so for one very simple reason. There’s as much scientific certainty that neither Kawhi Leonard nor the San Antonio Spurs organization will ever campaign for such recognition as there is that human activities contribute to climate change. Because of the amazing culture established by the likes of David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Coach Pop many moons ago, San Antonio does not promote individual success. Therefore, it’s up to us, the Spurs fans, to scream it from the rooftops that Kawhi is not only the 2017 NBA MVP but also currently the best basketball player in the world because if we leave it up to our good friends the “experts” to come to the same conclusion, we may be waiting for a very long time given that their current infatuation with the James Hardens and Russell Westbrooks of the world doesn’t seem likely to wane anytime soon. On second thought, if the Klaw keeps putting together performances like he did on Saturday night, it will be hard for even the most prestigious of these “experts” to continue denying him. In Game 4, Kawhi went bananas in the latter stages of the fourth quarter, doing everything in his power (on both ends of the floor) to try to single-handedly steal the game away from Memphis. Down eight and seemingly dead in the water with 3:51 left, Kawhi proceeded to score the Spurs next 16 points to lift us out of the hole and even build as much as a three point lead of our own before the game eventually found itself tied at 96 a piece with zeroes on the clock. (Go figure, I had just written about the Spurs playoff success in overtime against the Grizzlies in Uno Derrota. Of course I jinxed our overtime good fortune. My bad.) Kawhi went on to score another eight points in overtime including two miraculous three point shots, the latter (with 12 seconds left) tied the score at 108. We all know what happened next. (Man, that was a heroic shot by Marc Gasol.) Kawhi finished the game with a career-high 43 points (14-30 from the field, 7-10 on threes, 8-8 from the line), 8 rebounds, 6 steals, and 3 assists. With this incredible performance, Kawhi became the first player in NBA history to score at least 40 points while making at least five steals as well as five threes. Kawhi’s performance was incredible, indeed. Put more succinctly, it was heroic. So heroic, in fact, is it even necessary to formally announce that he has earned player of the game honors for the third time in for games of this series? (I guess I just did). Honorable mention goes to Tony Parker. TP had quite the heroic performance of his own on Saturday night, carving up the Grizzlies defense for 22 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and a steal. Coming off of the scoreless performance in Game 3, Parker answered the bell and continued the general trend of proving he’s still got plenty left in the tank to quarterback another title run. Keep it up, Tony. Keep proving the doubters and naysayers wrong.
Oh, I almost forgot. There is one more reason, which I failed to mention earlier, why Spurs fans should be confident that tomorrow night at the AT&T Center (back home in good ‘ole Titletown, TX) we will retake control of our 2017 NBA Playoff destiny. In case it hadn’t occurred to you yet, Game 5 will be the first home playoff game for the Spurs during Fiesta 2017. If you’re currently in San Antonio or have ever lived there, you understand the significance of what I just pointed out. If you do understand the significance of what I just pointed out, Happy Fiesta! For everyone else, let’s just say that our home court advantage just got cranked up from somewhere in the seven range to an unmatchable eleven. The Memphis Grizzlies and their fans may not realized it yet, but when it comes to crowd noise and the home court advantage that comes with it, they’re in for a world of hurt tomorrow night. While San Antonio fans aren’t consistently the loudest in the NBA, we have the highest ceiling. It’s not even close. If you think there is another basketball fan base or arena in the league (or in the world, for that matter) that can rival Spurs fans in the AT&T Center at it’s loudest…I admire your innocence and find your naivety quite endearing. I probably shouldn’t do it but I’m going to let all of the San Antonio outsiders who are reading this in on a little secret. The noise in the AT&T Center only gets cranked up to eleven (or louder than any other arena in the NBA can match) on two separate occasions. The first? Obviously when the Spurs are playing an NBA Finals game at home. (By the way, in Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals during the run when the Spurs overtook the Miami Heat, the noise level actually hit twelve. Being the only such incident of a twelve ever being recorded on Earth, Game 5 was the loudest gathering of people in the entirety of human history. No need to look it up. I verified it, trust me.) The second occasion when the noise level gets cranked up to eleven in the AT&T Center? Fiesta. More specifically, the first Spurs home playoff game after the start of Fiesta. Usually, the opening weekend of Fiesta coincides with the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs. And since the Spurs usually have home court advantage in our first round matchup, the first game of Fiesta usually coincides with the first game of the playoffs. This year, for whatever reason, the NBA playoffs started the weekend before the opening weekend of Fiesta. So guess what that means? The Memphis Grizzlies are coming back into town expecting to play their third straight road playoff game dealing with a noise level in the seven range. They have no idea what’s about to hit ’em when our Fiesta crowd (who, by the way, will not only be drunk but will also be angry that the series is tied to begin with) blows the roof off of the building with the type of emphatic eleven that puts to shame the nines registered in Memphis over the past couple of ballgames. Sure, David Fizdale manufactured some extra noise out of his home fans with his now infamous “take that for data” rant. But manufacturing a gimmick can only get a team’s noise so far. To belt out a ten, the fans’ love for the team needs to be burning from deep within their souls. The ability to raise the noise level to a ten is cultivated through years of devotion, through triumph and heartbreak alike. Gimmicks can’t manufacture tens. Tens are built by rallying behind your team over the course of decades, not over the course of press conferences. To belt out eleven in the first round of the playoffs? Well, unfortunately for everyone else, the team needs to be the Spurs, the arena needs to be the AT&T Center, and the scenario needs to be, “¡Viva la Fiesta!” This is why we should be confident tomorrow night. Nothing else matters. Yes, David Fizdale whined. Let it be. Yes, the Memphis scorers table screwed the Spurs in Game 4 by neglecting to reset the shot before Patty Mills launched that three. Let it be. Yes, the refs gave Memphis the lion share of the calls down the stretch of the fourth quarter and overtime in Game 4. Let it be. Tony’s heroism was wasted. Let it be. Kawhi’s heroism was wasted. Let it be. Mike Connely’s heroism was rewarded. Let it be. Marc Gasol’s miraculous shot made him (not Kahwi) the enduring hero of the game. Let it be. Bottom line, the Spurs are still the better basketball team and tomorrow night, we get another opportunity to let it be. We don’t need to rely on our heroes to make heroic shots to win tomorrow’s game. San Antonio is at its most heroic when we come together as a city and let it be. So, no. There’s no need to panic. All our players need to do is lace ’em up, play suffocating Back to Black Spurs defense coupled with tantalizing Wild International Spurs offense, and let it be. Similarly, all we as a community need to do is celebrate Fiesta, crank the noise in the AT&T Center up to eleven, and let it be.
Featured Image Source: NBA.com
Headline Image Source: San Antonio Express-News