Tony Parker dished out 18 assists to deliver a Game 2 overtime win. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
• Spurs hang on. Gregg Popovich unleashed the NBA's version of a "First World Problem" after his Spurs moved just two wins away from the 2013 NBA Finals.
"Sometimes, your worst nightmare is a big lead," the legendary coach said, after watching his team survive despite scoring just nine points in the fourth quarter and conceding a 7-0 run in the final minute of regulation.
Some franchises struggle with the possibility of relocation, some hope to break up all the losing by changing their team nickname. Some franchises can't seem to pull themselves out of the lottery, some can't get over the hump to win a playoff series. Some franchises can't keep their star players in town, some can't seem to find the luck or timing to find a star in the first place.
Then there are the Spurs, who win and win and win. Often their biggest fear, as Popovich points out, is complacency, and yet they even win on nights where they essentially self-combust, giving away an 18-point second-half lead by scoring just two points over the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter.
"It's tough to keep big leads," Popovich said, one game after the Spurs dealt the Grizzlies a 22-point defeat, their worst loss in months. "We were fortunate in Game 1. ... [The Grizzlies] are not going to give in."
Memphis looked oh so close to folding up shop mentally during portions of this game. The Grizzlies' defensive focus was markedly improved, but it wasn't making much of a difference, not with Tony Parker dishing out 18 assists.
Zach Randolph, who scored 15 on 18 shots and missed five of his eight free throws, continued to look furious with himself as point-blank shots clanked off. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince were in the midst of shooting a combined three-for-16, and that lack of offense forced Lionel Hollins to turn to reserves Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter for huge minutes.
"I just told them there's no quitting," Hollins said, of his team's fourth-quarter push that was sparked, in part, by the Bayless/Pondexter duo, which combined for 25 points, one more than the 24 combined points from San Antonio's bench. "We finally found a combination that we could use to attack. We played a little bit faster. ... We scratch and claw and find a way to find something that works."
The scratching and clawing looked as if it would only be enough to make the final score respectable, until a Manu Ginobili flagrant foul in the final minute briefly sent panic waves through the AT&T Center. What once looked like a sure-thing victory was, with one hard arm tug, anybody's game.
San Antonio, holding a four-point lead, turned the ball over with a little less than thirty seconds remaining in regulation. Randolph came up with the loose ball and tossed it ahead to Allen, who had already leaked out behind Ginobili and had a clear path to the basket. Rather than concede the layup, Ginobili yanked Allen's left forearm, preventing the conclusion of a shot attempt and sending the All-Defensive first-teamer crashing to the court. There, Allen rolled around and held his head, even though replays indicated that he didn't hit his head on the court, and the referees ruled that Ginobili was guilty of a flagrant foul 1 on the play.
A flagrant foul 1 applies to "unnecessary" contact, with no direct determination regarding intent to injure or the like. While Ginobili's foul didn't lead to injury, he wasn't in a position to make a play on the ball and the force with which he dragged Allen's arm down put Allen in a defenseless position.
"It's such a weird play," Duncan said afterwards. "It's a tough play for the officials. I think Tony just tried to sell it more than anything. The ruling is, if he's in a vulnerable position and they feel that it's excessive then it's a flagrant. I thought Manu did the right thing in trying to prevent a layup and you have to let the referees call what they are going to call."
That's the conventional wisdom, but making such a strong play on Allen's body in transition effectively put the game's result (in regulation) into the referees' hands and, ultimately, ended with the worst possible result for the Spurs. Allen made both free throws, Mike Conley made a short jumper, Duncan missed a potential game-winning buzzer-beater and all of a sudden what was a two-point game was headed to overtime. This was the rare case where conceding the layup would have been preferable, as Memphis would have either been forced to foul after scoring or take its chances with barely any time on the clock after giving the Spurs a chance to ice it.
The nice thing about having a Big 3 that has seen it all and accomplished everything there is to accomplish? Even if one-third of the trio is causing worst-case scenarios, the other two are there to ensure a level of stability. So what happened in overtime? Parker and Duncan, Duncan and Parker. Rather than cave in the face of a swift and improbable momentum-swing, Parker found Duncan twice, Duncan tacked on another basket, and a pair of free throws ended the Grizzlies' miracle shot.
"Tony has learned to take what's offered, between scoring and assists, he moved the ball well," Popovich said. "[Duncan] basically took over for us scoring wise in the overtime. He took it upon himself to be aggressive and helped us win."
Duncan, who finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, added: "I hate that we gave up that big of a lead but we were resilient enough to go to overtime and get a win there."
It's hard for any coach -- let alone one as decorated as Popovich -- to be truly happy after a win by the skin of their teeth. Outsiders, those whose stress level and blood pressure isn't entirely dependent upon each play down the stretch, can see Popovich's nightmare, but also the power of Parker/Duncan in the biggest moments, a pair that's looked pretty dreamy to opposing coaches for more than a decade now.
"He's a Hall of Fame guard, people," Hollins said, almost chuckling as he recounted, in full detail, one Parker dish to Duncan. "That's Hall of Fame plays."
• Happy, well, almost happy in defeat. You can't blame Hollins for sounding like he was almost willing to settle for a moral victory, even though his team heads back to Memphis down 2-0 after digging itself a large hole for the second straight game.
"We played better than we did the first game," he said, striking a very positive tone. "We were more Memphis Grizzlies, we were more us. Especially in the second half."
There's no debating that Memphis did what it does best -- team defense, finding ways to engage Randolph -- significantly better than it did in Game 1. At the same time, Hollins and company surely feel like they can do better on both counts. Their defensive performance in the fourth-quarter came after they sacrificed back-to-back 30-point quarters; Randolph's night, although significantly better than his Game 1 no-show, was still full of frustrating moments and near-misses that will surely leave him hungry. On both counts, there was cause for hope, something that just wasn't there after a demoralizing Game 1 in which San Antonio dominated in all facets.
"Game 1 was just an aberration," Hollins said. "We were blown out in the regular season, too. It's just one loss and we come back and got back to being us."
It's a reasonable message, but one that he wouldn't have dared of delivering had the game ended midway through the third quarter. Even though the rally wound up short in overtime, it's not a stretch to suggest that it was a season-saving, identity-reaffirming push for the Grizzlies, who looked to be teetering.
"We played like us again," Hollins repeated for emphasis.
• Yet another NBA fan becomes an Internet star. Well, it looks like We Did It Spurs Guy can now take his place alongside Good Job Good Effort Kid, Screaming Spurs Woman and Finger-Flipping Heat Lady on the list of NBA-fans-turned-Internet-celebrities. Who is he? Who knows, but ESPN's microphones caught a man yelling, "Woo! We did it! We did it!" as the players cleared the floor following the game.