Game 4 San Antonio @ Utah: Spurs 91, Jazz 79 (3-1)
Well, add another town to the list, I guess. Let's see, we already had Denver, Detroit, Phoenix, Portland... and now Salt Lake City joins the illustrious collection of burgs where one Emanuel David Ginobili is held in much the same regard as Osama Bin Laden.
The funny thing is it kinda snuck up on us at first, but the more the fourth quarter progressed, you couldn't help but think, "Aw crap, the blogosphere is gonna have a field day with this..."
After all, we were just muddling our way through a very frustrating, ugly game for three quarters. 63-62 Spurs and I can't imagine a soul in that building not affiliated with the good guys directly didn't see this series going back to Texas knotted up at two games apiece. We somehow led at half 50-42 with Findog as our best player. Tony was inefficient as all hell but his persistence carried us for a stretch there in the 2nd quarter. Tim was a turnover machine once more and was unable to consistently get good position on his post-ups. Manu had taken all of five shots and was a soft, tentative non-entity, settling for jumpers if he shot it at all. I think his closest shot came from 18 feet.
The defense was alright, and Fab was creating a lot of second shot opportunities for us, but nothing about the first 24 minutes inspired a feeling of confidence. To say that the eight point lead was tenuous would be an understatement. Deron Williams was DESTROYING Bruce and you had to figure some of his teammates would heat up eventually.
Except... it never happened. The Spurs were absolutely wretched on offense in the 3rd quarter; like 13 points on 30% shooting wretched. Only three guys even scored and Bruce led the way with five points. Tony was 2 of 7, and most of the misses were cringe-worthy. Despite the offensive ineptitude though, we still clung to a one point lead because the Jazz could only muster a mere 20 points themselves. They shot it well enough, (53%) but the six turnovers did them in. Also, they only had four freebie attempts, all by AK-47.
Still, as I said, the game had gotten too frustrating to give props to our defense. Tony was our leading scorer, with 15, and he was a ghastly 5 of 17 at that point. When Tim wasn't turning it over, he was bricking four straight free throws. Manu hadn't scored since the first quarter. Where the hell were the points going to come from in the fourth? I had already made a mental note to mention Fab as the 3rd star in a tough loss, with the usual suspects for the Jazz nabbing the first two spots.
Even I can be guilty at times of underestimating the huevos of the one they call "El Contúsion."
It all started so innocently. Manu, desperate to get both the team and himself going finally drove the lane and drew a blocking foul on Millsap. Neither Sloan nor the fans liked it, because the rookie power forward was outside the semi-circle when Manu barreled into him, but most of the crowd conveniently didn't notice how Millsap slyly moved to the right at the last moment before absorbing the contact. Thankfully, the zebras saw it and called the play correctly. Sloan drew a T, which Fin hit, and Manu made one of two freebies.
Except two possessions later Vaughn managed to deflect a loose ball to an uncovered Ginobili on the left wing. He had a clear path to the basket and stormed to the hoop, bracing for the contact that he knew was coming. Mehmet Okur knew he was out of position as he was directly under the basket, but he also figured, correctly, that if he conceded a lay-up there, Sloan would've yanked him immediately, so he made the right play, fouling Manu as forcefully as he could without drawing a flagrant. Two more free throws.
Still, nothing to get too excited about, right?
But then the very next possession, Manu had a bit of room as Fisher got tangled up momentarily on a screen. Vaughn found him on the right wing and Ginobili immediately launched a three that rattled in.
An audible murmur could be heard from the crowd. Manu had something going here.
The next time down was what really got the feud with Fisher goin'. Manu held the ball at the top of the key, Fish swiped upward at it, missed, and ended up grazing Gino's chin. Gonzo was not amused and drove headlong toward the basket, trying to finish right handed. He missed the shot badly, but was so angry that he fought for and got his own rebound. Unfortunately, something went awry with his pass to Duncan afterward and we turned it over. Still, you could feel how into the game Manu was now.
Two possessions later he raced into the lane and kept a Duncan miss alive, bouncing it off the rim for Fab to tip home. By this point, even Mark Jackson, who's dumber than a bag of doorknobs, could see what was going on. Ginobili wanted the game more than anyone in the gym.
Finally someone else got into the act and Tim started taking the ball hard to the basket. He sandwiched six free throw attempts (and five makes) around a Parker steal and lay-in and thanks to a bevy of missed jumpers by the all of a sudden soft as puddin' Jazz, we led 79-72 with 3:57 to play.
Now, if the game had just quietly ended there, we'd have had a gutty road win and everyone could have quietly gone about their business. But nothing ever ends quietly for Manu in a hostile environment, and a hat trick of crafty fouls drawn on crowd favorite Fisher would make him the subject of much derision across the land.
First Fish was once again a bit late getting to Gino on a three pointer attempt and swiped his arms before Manu could properly complete his follow-through. If the shot was close at all it might not have drawn a whistle, but the air ball two feet wide was pretty damning evidence. Gonzo landed on his keister just in case though, and that drew the ire of the crowd. I can understand their point, Fisher probably didn't hit him hard enough to knock him down, but a foul is a foul and I think Manu's earned enough capital in this league that he's not going to be missing shots that badly on his own.
The second controversial play was even more complex. Manu had the ball on the left elbow and Tim was setting a screen for him. Fisher knew he was effectively shut out from the play and gave his best Raja Bell impression, literally flinging himself backward five feet. Honestly, I'm not even sure if he was trying to draw the foul on Tim or Manu. Either way, the refs didn't buy the effort and Manu drove on by and made a left handed lay-up, only our fourth (and final) field goal of the final period.
As Manu was jogging back up the floor down the middle of the court, Fisher slowly angled his way toward him, and gave him a slight nudge with his left elbow as he was pretending to look up the court. It was the exact same shit Ron Artest pulled in Game 1 of the first round last year, where he saw that Manu was going to follow his man on a path right by him and stuck out his elbow at Ginobili's head while looking into the stands. The refs didn't buy that one either.
This time around the contact wasn't nearly as egregious, but Manu made sure people noticed it. He didn't launch himself onto the floor like Horry or Devin Harris might have, for example, but he did register that the bump had knocked him off his intended path. Steve Javie, perhaps sensed that something was brewing between Manu and Fish and tried to nip a potential incident in the bud by T'ing Fish up. Of course, that judgment only served to incite the crowd more, and Sloan got himself ejected by saying something ungentlemanly at the veteran official (my official guess, he called him a "cunt").
My opinion? Fisher probably didn't deserve the technical there, as far as the actual act goes, but the intent was definitely there and the contact wasn't incidental. Manu's lay-up made it 85-73 with 2:33 to go, Fisher was clearly frustrated, and there is no way he makes that decision if it's a two point game. Either Fisher was upset that he wasn't quite as sneaky as he wanted to be, or he was pissed he didn't hit Manu more solidly.
No matter, because with fifty seconds to go, the shit finally hit the fan. Manu gave Fisher a subtle chicken wing to give himself some room for a jumper, and Fish came right back at him with a hard swipe across Manu's left arm that jerked his head sharply to the right and knocked him on his ass. Replays were inconclusive as to whether he hit him in the head or not, and I'm not sure if he got that 2nd T because of the foul or because he glared at Ginobili on the ground afterward. Once again, it can be argued that perhaps Manu exaggerated the amount of contact, but he was definitely fouled.
By the time it was all over, Ginobili had 13 4th quarter free throw attempts, (the Spurs had 25 as a team to Utah's two in the fourth quarter) a playoff career best 16 points in one quarter, San Antonio had outscored the Jazz 28-17 in the final quarter, and our guys had to be rushed off the court as the Mormons were steamed enough to chuck their souvenir mini basketballs, water bottles, chap stick, and whatever else could be relied upon to travel a fair distance and make a hard impact.
So no, all in all it wasn't a fun final twelve minutes to witness if you already disliked the Spurs and/or Mr. Ginobili to begin with.
I do have three pieces of good news, however.
A: The Spurs don't give a shit what people think of them.
B: Manu is uncomfortable enough being worshipped in two countries, so I'm guessing he's quite content being reviled by ugly, xenophobic Americans.
C: We're one measly home win away from what looked like in January a seemingly impossible fourth trip to the NBA Finals.
Now, if Spurs fans could only learn to not care about what others think about their team or their players, we'd really be on to something.
3. Fabricio Oberto- Outside of Groundhog Day, he's probably been our most consistent player all playoffs. 11 and 11, with six offensive rebounds? I can't believe how well Fab's been playing. I can't imagine they won't invite him back next year.
2. Deron Williams- On one hand I'm getting a little nauseated listening to the announcers slurp him every two minutes, but on the other hand, how badly would we be crushing these guys if he wasn't playing out of his mind?
1. Manu Ginobili - Just remember, when Jordan willed himself to the line over and over again in Game 7 vs. the Pacers in '98, all the scribes were gushing about what a warrior he was.