Posted Apr 21 2011 10:28AM
SAN ANTONIO -- The Grizzlies treated the Spurs like an overstuffed picnic basket in the first game of their Western Conference playoff series, devouring the No. 1 seed on San Antonio's home court. The Spurs missed shots all over in that game. But, mostly, what they missed was their growl.
On Wednesday, in Game 2 of the series, Manu Ginobili helped them get it back.
Officially, this series is tied 1-1 after San Antonio's 93-87 win Wednesday night. But it's still heading to Memphis with the Grizzlies' paw prints all over it.
They push, they shove. They reach, they grab. They put a backside into you to move you out of the paint. They plant elbows in your sternum. Marc Gasol even took Tim Duncan all the way down to the floor at one point with a headlock that would have had wrestling fans howling.
For the rest of this series, the Spurs don't really need what Ginobili did in the box score on Wednesday -- though 17 points and seven rebounds was nice -- as much as they need his energy and unpredictability. That's what had been missing in Game 1 from the team that won 61 games during the regular season.
"Everyone knows what kind of competitor Manu is," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "Just to have him on the floor is a plus for the psyche of the whole team without a doubt and, on top of that, he played pretty well."
Ginobili had been out since he sprained his right elbow in the final regular-season game at Phoenix. Without him, the Spurs fell in that shocking Game 1 loss, 101-98.
In other words, he was his usual self.
Early in the first quarter, Ginobili followed up a missed jumper by Richard Jefferson by ripping the ball away from the hulking Gasol, turning and lunging backward toward the basket and drawing a foul from the bruising Zach Randolph.
That was the play that brought the hometown crowd to its feet and lifted his teammates to a higher plane.
Midway through the second quarter, he went on a wild spin drive that split Shane Battier and Leon Powe and produced a hoop. In the third quarter, he snatched a pass right out of Mike Conley's grasp and went the length of the floor and rose up for a one-handed slam.
"Manu is like that," said point guard Tony Parker. "It's who he is."
The Grizzlies these days are a team totally unlike the soft, timid finesse bunch that made three straight playoff appearances from 2004-06 and went down meekly in three straight embarrassing sweeps. Coach Lionel Hollins has a pair of bulls in Randolph and Gasol and has instilled in them more than a touch of his own personality -- tough, prideful and unwilling to concede anything.
Since the NBA went to the current playoff format, the No. 8 seeds are only 3-51 against the No. 1 seeds. But the Grizzlies are not your typical No. 8 seed.
"They were more physical than most other teams in the regular season, so we expected even more from them in the playoffs," Ginobili said. "We talked about it. In my opinion they are one of the most physical teams in the league. So we knew it was gonna be a tough series."
In the playoff opener, with Ginobili sitting on the bench, the Spurs were rough and tough, but the Grizzlies were rougher, tougher and utterly ferocious. What the Spurs were missing in that game was attitude more than aptitude.
When Ginobili returned for Game 2, the attitude came with him.
"I took some risks," Ginobili said. "I went for steals, rebounds and it's not that I played worried of getting hit or of something happening."
He never worries. That is both the blessing of Ginobili and the bane of his existence. He's hardly what you'd call fragile. But he's consistently careless enough to throw his body into some kind of situation that will break it.
Ginobili has been a vital part of the last three Spurs championships. But as Duncan moves toward 35, Ginobili has ascended to his station as the Spurs' MVP. If they're going to make one more run at a title this spring, Ginobili will lead them.
Truth is, the Spurs are probably going to need every last ounce of his fearlessness, unpredictability and just plain I'll-do-anything craziness simply to get past Memphis. Because even with him, they didn't win Game 2 as much as they survived it.
"It's gonna be like that," he said. "It's gonna be a scrappy series."
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