Off the Beaten Path, Spurs need Manu Ginobili
Despite the comforts and confines of the AT&T Center and Alamo city Sunday afternoon, home court advantage was merely a myth in the San Antonio Spurs Game 1 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Spurs players had the luxury of sleeping in their beds, following their day-to-day routines, and performing in front of their fans, but the Grizzlies dictated the settings of the game itself, remodeling the floor as they saw fit — often with the crumpled bodies of Tony Parker and George Hill.
Several years ago the Phoenix Suns were compared to a Ferrari or high class European sports car, transforming the NBA into their personal autobahn. The Seven Seconds or Less Suns were high performance to be sure, but also high maintenance to the point of great flaw.
These San Antonio Spurs, despite their (justified) label as a team predicated on offense, are not those Suns, but they are not a tank either.
The Spurs can travel the back roads, roll over a few speed bumps, and speed through some pretty rough terrain. But they are not the kind of team you want to take off-roading seven days a week either. Sunday the Grizzlies dragged them through the mud.
Few are equal to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in the game-to-game adjustment grind that is the NBA Playoffs and if the Spurs are to win Game 2 Popovich will have to find a way to clean things up. This San Antonio team is talented to be sure, more talented than Grizzlies in the present. But the only thing elite about the Spurs is their execution.
In Memphis the 47 free throws the Spurs earned, and make no mistake they did earn them, are viewed as an insult and malady to be fixed. In hindsight the symphony of referees’ whistles may have been a bit of strategic, if unintended, brilliance.
Memphis is not quite a tank, even if that is what they did to get here. There is some speed in their engine and while they may pursue the open road recklessly, the freedom of transition offense from forced turnovers is the path they travel best.
An offensive juggernaut they are not, especially in the half court. There are tools there to be sure in their large frontline of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but a lack of shooting and perimeter creativity without Rudy Gay places a premium on offensive rebounds; something the Spurs will be able to negate to a certain extent.
In creating an ugly game with the barrage of fouls, the Grizzlies may have knowingly put themselves at a disadvantage, but they did so to drag the Spurs down to their level so to speak. They blew up the road knowing all too well the Spurs were navigating without their best off-road driver.
In Duncan’s decline Manu Ginobili is the Spurs best ugly game player. One could not help but look at the 47 free throw attempts and wonder how many more would have been tacked on with Ginobili in the game?
As has been written here before, Ginobili is the Spurs player who legitimizes the system by being the sole player to operate outside of it. Manu is the one player on this Spurs team that would be able to not only make sense of the muck the Grizzlies turned Game 1 into, but do so while keeping a semblance of the Spurs system and execution intact.
Few thrive on broken plays as much as Ginobili, and no one in the Spurs playoff rotation is quite as adept at getting opposing big men into foul trouble at this point in their careers. Both will be important in getting a three-point game that has worked to the Spurs advantage all season back on track.
The Spurs accomplished many of the little battles they sought to win, the sort of battles that eventually win the war. Popovich has rightly suggested the general game plan would remain the same with undoubtedly greater attention to detail with a few minor tweaks.
But should the Grizzlies choose to take this series off-road again, the biggest adjustment Popovich and the Spurs could make would be handing the keys to Manu Ginobili.