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Spurs dust off outside shot, defeat Warriors

The three-pointer returned, the defense held up, and Manu Ginobili turned in another performance for the ages to lift his team to a much-needed win.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

To talk about a team down 3-0 is to speak with a touch of inevitability — when they’re facing the Warriors, even more so. That the Spurs came into Sunday also down one superstar, their Hall of Fame-bound head coach, and any semblance of a three-point shot had most fans feeling glum at best and fatalistic at worst.

Luckily for the Spurs, one of those missing factors returned in Game 4, as they doubled the Warriors’ three-point output, 15 to 7, en route to a series-saving 103-90 win. Game 5 will be Tuesday back in Oakland.

While the Spurs counted on a dozen things going right, including peak effort and execution, a slow pace, missed opportunities by Golden State around the rim (they shot 15 of 33 around the basket), and some unlikely shot-making, the win still wouldn’t have been possible without a guy who’s consistently railed against inevitability.

Manu Ginobili didn’t want Sunday to be about him, and certainly not about him saying goodbye. Instead the 40-year-old made his performance the story, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and helping the Spurs endure a final Warriors surge. He did his damage from beyond the arc — 3 for 5 from three-point range — but also by being aggressive off the bounce and running the offense, tying Patty Mills for a team-high five assists. Ginobili’s evergreen play has been one of the high points of 2017-18, and it also ensured that San Antonio’s season would last at least one more game.

It took LaMarcus Aldridge 19 field-goal attempts (and making all three of his three-point attempts) to get his team-high 22 points, but his effort on both ends was crucial to the outcome. He also came up with perhaps the biggest play of the day, salvaging a lost possession against a perfect Warriors defensive effort by banking in this 25-footer with the shot clock winding down:

The Warriors continue to make life difficult for Aldridge whenever he touches the ball, but they may need to tweak their focus on him defensively if his teammates remain aggressive and continue to knock down shots. Patty Mills (3-for-7) and Danny Green (2-for-5) were both markedly better from deep than they’ve been this series — as was another unlikely contributor.

Dejounte Murray, who was left comically wide open during parts of Game 3, capitalized on those same looks on Sunday, confidently stepping up and knocking down three of his four three-point attempts. Kyle Anderson, another limited shooter who appeared to be rendered unplayable at times, also made himself a threat. He didn’t knock down a three (although he had his foot on the line on an attempt he swished), but he got into the teeth of the Warriors defense on multiple occasions and made plays. The pair combined for 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, a complementary boon to their defensive talents.

Stepping in for the second-straight game to assume head-coaching duties, Ettore Messina did a great job balancing rotations and keeping size on Klay Thompson (4-of-16 shooting) for most of the game. The Italian spoke about the team’s effort, especially given the circumstances.

“The guys played with great heart. I think it was, in this kind of situation, you are already fine with playing a good game. Shake their hands, congratulate them on their way to, possibly, a championship. I think that our guys did a little bit more. They really tried to win the game — not only have a good game, but tried to win it for whatever it might mean. Maybe it’s just one more game, but in these days to have just a little joy, which is now comparable to anything. It’s just something we want to savor. Very simple.”

“Joy” is a word Messina mentioned multiple times in his post-game press conference, and the idea of savoring a victory, however fleeting, isn’t lost on him. Nor should it be lost on a fanbase that, despite shifting expectations this season, still gets to experience a bit more Manu magic, live and perpetually unpredictable, for at least one more game.

A few more notes on...

A strong defensive start and finish

The Warriors had seven turnovers in the game’s first seven-and-a-half minutes. Some were avoidable, but almost all were the result of the Spurs’ constant ball pressure, effort through screens, and terrific half-court rotations.

Steve Kerr noted that it forced his team into playing with less ball movement (and off-ball action) than they’re used to, so look for that to be a point of emphasis in Game 5.

The Spurs also put the clamps down towards the end, allowing just four points in the final six minutes (!!!) of the game after the Warriors cut the lead to just two at 88-86.

The return of the three-point shot

The Spurs made 15 of their 28 (53.8%) three-point shots in Game 4, after hitting a combined 20 of 83 in Games 1, 2, and 3. Given that many of these throughout the series have been open looks, the hope is that this is simply a regression to the mean that continues in Game 5. No, Dejounte Murray won’t likely go 3-for-4 again, but the Warriors may also not be leaving him as open as they have, and the need to respect his shot may lead to open looks for other players.

Another achievement unlocked

Despite its common association with the Big Three, “Winningest” will never not be a weird word.

The Spurs, avoiding a bad bit of history

San Antonio had never been swept in a first-round seven-game series and, according to Real GM, its last first-round sweep occurred in 1992. They avoided rewriting both of those with Sunday’s win.

Manu on playing for an old coach

Ettore Messina and Manu Ginobili won a EuroLeague championship together back in 2001 as members of Virtus Bologna. When asked what it was like being reunited in the NBA playoffs as player and temporary head coach, Manu had this to say:

“For moments when he talks to the rest of the team or when he gets upset and yells at us, a lot of flashbacks. He’s, you know, very strict. He wants the team to play his way, so whenever we stop executing the way we should, his old self always comes back. It was good seeing him coach at this stage. Good memories.”

The rebounding disparity

“Has anyone ever seen a box score like this?” Steve Kerr asked after the game. He was referring to the extremely lop-sided, 61-34 rebounding edge that the Warriors had. A good chunk of that came from the Warriors’ advantage on the offensive glass, one of the many signs that shows that, while their execution may not have been there like Kerr wanted, the effort was. The Spurs should consider themselves lucky that more of those put-backs didn’t go in.