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Game Changer in Clipperland

I have no idea where to begin. I guess I'll just begin with this. What an absolutely exhilarating basketball game that was on Saturday afternoon. That was a lot of fun. I don't feel like elaborating too much at this point. It's either because I'm still speechless after the Chris Paul "assist" to Gary Neal or my Tylenol still hasn't kicked in yet.

The real story here is that almost too much to focus on. It would be really easy to write about the possible lingering effects of Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter's injuries. My prediction is that the Spurs will play a lot more small ball and Spurs fans everywhere will be subject to praying that the opposing frontline doesn't completely kill DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner. I don't expect the Spurs to continue winning .682 percent of their games (winning percentage during the first bout with LWM), but the depth the Spurs have is a luxury that almost no NBA team can legitimately claim. If anything, I'm a little worried about losing Splitter more than Manu. He was positively exciting to witness in pick-and-roll situations and his crafty game predicated on sound footwork and the ability to use both sides of the rim was hard to stop. He was the glue that patched our frontline together.

Or I could write about another sneaky game from Tim Duncan. 11-17-3 and two blocks in 41 minutes of action. I favor per-minute stats, and judging solely by this leads me to the belief that Timmy does have a legitimate All-Star claim. Yes, there is some merit in giving players with the ability to last 35 minutes a game a nod over a veteran averaging 27. But from an efficiency standpoint, his numbers fare more than favorably against Andrew Bynum and Marc Gasol. Spurs homer alert there.

Or I could mention Blair's awful month of February. He had a minus-17 today and is currently averaging 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds this month. I don't feel like being masochistic, so I'll just stop there.

Or maybe I can write about important Tony Parker is to the fabric of this Spurs team (30 points, 10 assists today). Without him, there is no ten game win streak, and there's no way the Spurs could have managed to win 15 out of 22 games without Manu. I wrote earlier about why Kyle Lowry was a deserving candidate over TP, but I was wrong. And I'm really glad I was. At this point I don't even care if he doesn't get rest during the AS break, because he should be rewarded for his outstanding play. Because I like looking at numbers, TP is averaging 20.1 points and eight assists per game since Jan. 2. He isn't just a speedy point guard who can only create for himself anymore. Anyone who continues to treat him like he is just hasn't been paying attention, or simply isn't going to ever get it. Tony Parker may not have Manu's magnetism (Manutism?) but he's currently CARRYING this team's offense. I hope that's enough for you.

Since I've been pretty indecisive so far, I'll just declare my game changer. Gary Neal. Besides Manu, who else has a lower heart rate during big moments than the "Nailgun" himself? Everyone is going to remember Neal's step-back 3 pointer that tied the game or his game-winning three pointer with 25.4 seconds left in overtime. But I keep coming back to another big three of his that came in the third quarter as an underrated "game-changing" play. After coming out sluggish in the third quarter, the Spurs needed a play; something to show they were still in it, before the game got completely out of hand.

There was Neal. Unafraid. Ready for the moment. The Clippers were on a 17-0 run, the crowd was going nuts after another ferocious Blake Griffin dunk and the Spurs hadn't scored a bucket in six minutes. Fun fact (courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz twitter feed): the Spurs converted on their first eight possessions of the quarter and then failed miserably on their next 10. Like I said, something. Anything.

Neal stepped up with yet another crowd silencing three. 68-67, Spurs by one. That shot wasn't a definitive end to the game by any means but it was certainly another defining moment for Neal, the basketball player. On a night where so many conceivable angles could analyzed, I wanted to write about Neal the most. His minus-3 and .357 FG% don't do his day at the office justice. His eFG% of .536 is a little better.

How about this as a parting shot: and as soon as Paul's assist/turnover/backcourt-violation-avoidance thing, and the ball landed in Neal's hands, was there any doubt that he was making the shot to redeem himself? I rest my case.