Slowly but surely I am getting through these. As we get closer to the top, the games are more and more weighted towards those where the stakes are higher than ever. Today, my list only has one game but it is one of the most clutch plays in a do-or-die situation I’ve seen in my time watching the NBA.
#5 2011 Western Conference First Round vs Memphis Game 5
Yeah the Spurs lost this series. Yeah, the Spurs looked outmatched and like a shell of themselves in this series and, at times, in this game. Sure, this was an embarrassing series loss to an eight seed. Sure the reason this game is up here is because of one shot that, by a matter of centimeters, is rendered meaningless immediately after the shot went in.
Still, Manu hit one of the most difficult shots with a season on the line that I’ve ever seen. With a broken arm, no less. Plus, said shot provide some…ummmm….how do I say this without getting too graphic– provided some immense pleasure to a certain female fan in the stands.
I watched this game in a daze, partly because I really thought the Spurs were done (and they would lose the series two days later). The only other game I watched in this state of mind was Game 7 against Miami for obvious reasons. Thus most of this game, I couldn’t get mentally engaged. Its a shame because it had probably the craziest ending to a Spurs game ever.
Still, despite my being numb to it, I was completely aware of the greatness of Manu Ginobili. The team has struggled all series long with the physical, gritty, (and frankly better) Memphis Grizzlies. Manu missed Game 1 with a broken arm suffered in the last game of the season and was wearing a ridiculous, robotic looking cast for the rest of the series. Tim looked like his career was up (his rejuvenation the following season shocked the hell out of me) and the Spurs just looked rattled.
This particular game, the Spurs built a decent lead in the first half but couldn’t sustain anything. The Grizzlies smelled blood, knew they were the better team, and were playing like it. The entire fourth quarter, the Spurs basically played from just a little bit behind.
Still we had gotten it close enough. Zach Randolph had hit a jumper to put the Grizz up 3 with about 10 seconds left giving us (what felt like at the moment) one final chance. Cue one of the most botched in-bounds plays ever.
So Pop decided to have Antonio McDyess throw the ball in during the most pivotal play of the Spurs season. Inexplicable seeing as McDyess had thrown away the ball on a critical inbounds play against Denver in the regular season. But whatever, McDyess threw a terrible pass which got batted away. In the mad scramble for the ball, somehow Manu got the ball with time running out. It’s Manu time.
Maybe if they had broken his other elbow, he would have missed this shot.
Initially, Manu attempts to pull the ball back towards the elbow but he was being stonewalled by Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. All pretty beefy guys. So, alert as ever, Manu darted away after one dribble towards the corner. Gasol is momentarily stationary and Manu uses this to gain some separation. The Grizzlies weren’t ready for any of this, but Gasol was so close to Manu anyway that he was right behind him as he dashed into that corner. Manu, realizing he won’t be able to just stop and shoot without getting it blocked, just continues floating into the corner and lofts a ridiculous “three pointer” that touched nothing but net.
Now yes, that “three pointer” was ruled a two and the Spurs still needed another ridiculous shot, this one courtesy of Gary Neal, to get the game to overtime. But seriously, in the possession I described above, not only is the game on the line, but the Spurs entire season was too. There was so much pressure, and Manu still managed to corrall a loose ball, make multiple split-second decisions, display ridiculous athleticism (it’s subtle but that change in direction when he realizes he can’t get to the top of the key is done with such casualness that I don’t think most people realize how difficult it is to just shift directions like that), and hit an incredible shot that, were it not for his toe, would have been the shot that saved their season. Oh and did I mention that his arm was still fractured? This is probably the shot that I think of when I think of clutch Manu moments.