The other shot
I promised to write a short post about Manu Ginobili’s almost-triple. I keep putting my hands to the keyboard, write a couple sentences, delete everything, and start over. I am not sure why. Maybe it is because I am emotionally spent, still shaking after watching one of the best basketball games of my life. I keep looking at my girlfriend and asking, “Did that happen?“, and she keeps nodding, with a constancy and an evaporating patience that says that yes, I am that lucky.
We are that lucky.
Or maybe it is because it feels like a scant tribute to a man who scored 33 points in the Spurs’ first do-or-die game of the season, hitting more triples that the rest of the team combined, still wearing a blue-and-black elbow brace from Hell. Ginobili does what he can to help you forget he’s hobbled by introducing amnesia with every hard dribble to the basket or every off-balanced but timely jumper. It was a game-long show to remember, and simply applauding the final trick seems somehow inadequate. But what a trick it was.
Describing the play is beyond me, but I will try, because it deserves the attempt. McDyess inbounded the ball with 9.4 seconds left on the clock and the Spurs down three. A 3-pointer to tie the game, and only Ginobili had proved accuracy from distance tonight. All eyes were on Manu, but he still shook loose with those long, fast steps of his, and ran past Dyess with hands open and willing. But then the veteran misjudged the pass, because all the savvy in the world will not turn a big man into a guard.
A Grizzly slapped it away from Manu but McDyess snagged the loose ball from the fray, looking to mend his mistake. 7 seconds. McDyess threw a pass that hit Marc Gasol’s arm, and the ball bounced high where he fought and tipped it again, right into Manu’s hands. 6 seconds. Manu, the same who has learned the secret of being in the right place at the right time, or maybe the secret of making his own right places and his own right times, faked left, three opponents around him, then turned around, 5 seconds, and dribbled past Gasol toward the corner. Corner jumpshot, falling away, 4 seconds, still falling away, and finally the ball goes up, up, down and in. It was beautiful.
The most amazing aspect of sports, of basketball, is the ability to triumph when everyone expects you to triumph, to excel even when you are supposed to. We saw Manu’s triple before it happened, in our minds and hearts, the same we’ve seen many times before, but the reality managed to trump our fantasy.
But tonight the gods of narrative decided to show off, so that Manu 3-pointer was actually a 3-pointer in everything but the cold hard-reality of unfeeling rules. Manu’s foot was on the line. Ginobili’s heroic 3 was deemed a prosaic 2. After a pair of Memphis free throws, the clock wound down to 1.7 seconds, and the Spurs were again down three. Manu inbounded the ball, this time, and his pass was everything that McDyess’ had not been. Neal received the ball and was immediately doubled – and for a split second I knew what was going to happen. Neal would pass quickly back to Ginobili, inexplicably open at one of his best spots beyond the arc, and he would nail the 3 and carve another indelible mark into the hearts of every fan watching. That’s who Manu Ginobili is. We knew it was coming. When the cosmetics are abandoned, Manu’s function is simple: he is a crafter of memories – the best sort of memories.
Neal took the shot instead, chasing down a little immortality of his own.
I have no complaints.