Spurs avoid collapse, survive nearly fatal error
The San Antonio Spurs didn’t score a single point over the final 4:18 of the fourth quarter in Tuesday night’s 93-89 overtime win over Memphis, and the Grizzlies clawed their way through a 15-2 comeback run and sucked the oxygen from the AT&T Center. The visitors were stout defensively over the final eight minutes of regulation, but while Tony Allen writhed in pain and held his head with 26 seconds remaining in the final frame, it was a moment of drama that nearly flipped this game upside-down.
With an 85-81 lead in the final 30 seconds, Manu Ginobili turned the ball over all the way out near mid-court and the Grizzlies broke out the other way. Allen took off in front of the pack, and as he climbed through the air and toward the rim, Ginobili reached out from the side, grabbed his left arm and pulled downward. Allen crashed to the ground, and a moment later he grasped his head in apparent agony.
The incident was ruled as a flagrant foul, and two free throws and a bucket later, what was once an 18-point game late in the third had been upended and tied as the teams jumped to the extra frame.
But further discussion would ensue regarding the dramatic nature of Allen’s fall and just how much agony he was actually feeling. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate fell as cleanly as could reasonably be expected, and upon further review didn’t appear to even hit his head on the surface.
Oh, the irony, as Manu stood helplessly next to Gregg Popovich trying to plead his case this time. That it was just a good old-fashioned hard foul. That there was an effort to go after the ball. But all it did was evoke memories of 2006, when Ginobili fouled Dirk Nowitzki in the waning moments during the Western Conference Semifinals in Game 7 at home.
This time, the Spurs survived. Not only that, but they extended their lead in the conference finals, going ahead 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
And, ironically enough again, it was foul trouble that left the door open for the Grizzlies’ comeback. Tim Duncan picked up his second, third and fourth fouls in a period of 30 seconds with just under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. The infractions forced Pop to put Duncan on the bench for long stretches of the second half, but it might have been a good thing.
When Timmy took a seat after his fourth foul at the 7:51-mark of the third quarter, the Spurs saw their 56-40 lead dwindle to just 78-70 by the time he re-entered early in the last frame. San Antonio would build on their lead once more with their defensive anchor on the floor, pushing it out to 83-70 with 7:36 left in regulation. But Duncan would pick up another foul, his fifth, with 7:36 remaining. He’d have to take a seat, and once again Memphis went on another run. This time it was enough to cut the lead to five points in Duncan’s absence, but even after a questionable sequence regarding the Allen situation.
Regardless of what happened, those four points forced overtime, most likely.
But with the foul trouble, Duncan was fresh. He played only 31 minutes but went for 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots, and in overtime he basically saved the night. Timmy scored all three team field goals in the extra fame and gave them the boost they needed when the gas tank went dry.
And it did. The Spurs were gassed, and Tony Parker seemed like he could hardly move at the end of his career-high 18-assist night. After all the big shots were falling through the first three periods, they weren’t going down in the fourth. San Antonio really needed its big man. After all, had the Spurs dropped this game on gone to Memphis tied 1-1, the tension would likely be higher than it was going to Oakland in a similar situation.
We have three days off in between games and we’ve got plenty to talk about, including the wonderful team defense played in San Antonio over the first two games of this series. The fourth quarter gave this one a feel of the series we all thought it might be — physical, low-scoring and hard-nosed — and we’ll have a few days to analyze it all here at 48 Minutes of Hell. So stay tuned.
But for now, take a deep breath, because the oxygen is back. On a night where most players’ legs seemed to be failing them in crunch time, the 37-year-old Duncan made sure the ground didn’t fall out from under his team.