Down 3-0 in a best of seven playoff series, a lot of teams might have tapped out against the Warriors in Game Four, even on their home court, particularly if they had experienced the unbelievable amount of drama, adversity and hardships the Spurs have experienced this season. For most teams and most players, it would have made sense to just let the season come to a merciful end.
Win Game Four and then what? Win the next three as well? Against this team! What are the odds? Might as well take a vacation.
It would be so easy stay at home as opposed to getting on a plane and traveling to Oracle Arena, where the Warriors feed off their fans, play with even more swagger, rarely miss shots and their defense becomes even more stifling. Wins are hard to come by there, particularly for teams who haven’t won a road game since February.
It would have been easier to let Game 4 happen, and allow the season to end with the sound of hometown fans shouting “Go, Spurs, Go!” and “Ole, Ole, Ole!”
Get in your car and drive home. Say good riddance to a really weird and tough year.
But the Spurs didn’t take the easy way. They didn’t stop fighting. They wouldn’t back down. They would not go quietly in the night.
They want more.
Now they face the possibility of their season (and for Manu, perhaps his career) ending with the chants of “Warriors. Warriors,” ringing in their ears. They also have the opportunity to force an improbable Game 6.
This is why they play.
If you watched Game Four you’ll never forget it. You certainly won’t forget Manu’s performance. If this was the end of the season or the end of a career, he was not going to put himself in the position where would ever look back and wonder, “Could I have given more?’’
Manu left everything he had on the court. He made sure there was nothing left in the tank. The Moment has never been too big for Ginobili, and it certainly wasn’t Sunday, even if he was a 40-year-old playing a young man’s game. He put up 10 of his 16 points in the 4th quarter and willed the Spurs to an unlikely win.
There was one moment, however, in the 4th quarter — the 2 minute 48 second mark to be exact — with the Spurs clinging to a six point lead and the outcome of the game still very much in doubt. Ginobili crumbled to the floor after colliding with Nick Young, winced in pain, and grabbed his knee.
At that moment, I had one thought. Interestingly, it was not “Oh no, we’re going to lose,” rather it was: “No! His career can’t end like this! It doesn’t end with him being carted off the court. It ends with Manu walking off the floor, absolutely spent, the crowd going wild, giving him the ovation he deserves.”
And the “Ole, Ole, Ole!’ of course.
Then, as only a man nicknamed El Contusion could, he got up, limped around a bit, stayed in the game and sealed the win with a 3 point dagger with 90 seconds left.
Manu Ginobili, as he has so often done, elevated his game beyond pain and limitations, driving the Spurs to an improbable Game Four victory. Sure, guys like Aldridge, Gay, Murray and other Spurs produced, but Manu burned.
His effort spoke louder than any post game locker room speech he could ever give. The game he played was the speech.
No doubt Ginobili is very sore today, getting treatment so he can give everything he has in the tank for Game 5. He’ll need to be as ready as possible, as will all of the Spurs, if there is to be a Game Six.
When you look at both teams, logic dictates the Warriors should not only win Game 5, but do so decisively. On paper, they should run the Spurs out of the gym.
But the wonderful thing about sports is that there are variables that cannot be measured by rosters, box scores or plus/minuses. These variables can lead to the improbable becoming reality.
Intensity. Heart. Passion. The refusal to back down.
Upsets happen. It’s one of the reasons we love sports.
If the Spurs take that same passion, aggression, intensity and teamwork into Game 5, as unlikely as it seems, the impossible can happen. If the series gets to a Game 6, all bets are off.
Ginobili knows this. He doesn’t accept impossible. He never has. Once, he was on the wrong side of a 1 seed losing to an 8 seed. It was 2011 and the Spurs were upset by the Grizzlies. He knows the team that’s supposed to win can implode.
He also knows the team that’s supposed to lose can rise up.
In the 2004 Athens Olympics, a young Ginobili led a group of Argentine basketball players against a U.S. squad coached by Larry Brown. On that U.S. roster were names you’d recognize: Allen Iverson. Tim Duncan. LeBron James. Dwayne Wade. Carmelo Anthony, to name a few.
On paper, Ginobili, Oberto, Scola, Nocioni and guys named Pepe Sanchez, Gabriel Fernandez, Ruben Wolkowyski and Walter Hermann should have been run out of the gym by Team U.S.A.
Ginobili scored 29 points and Argentina shocked the world with a stunning 89-81 semifinals victory over the 2004 U.S. Dream Team.
Passion, teamwork, belief, and all out effort beat superior talent back then. It still can.
Uno mas, Manu. Uno mas, por favor.