Consider last night a much-needed return to form for the Spurs as a team.
Sure, they got a superhuman performance out of Kawhi Leonard in Game 4, the type that drew Kobe Bryant comparisons for his ability to take over offensively. He scored a career-high 43 points to go with eight rebounds and six (!) steals, reaching statistical totals never put together in an NBA playoff game.
But it wasn’t enough.
Going into Game 5, it was necessary for the Spurs to balance Kawhi’s singular brilliance with better ball movement and help from the supporting cast. On Tuesday night, they got just that, with five other players joining Leonard in double figures, including 20 from Patty Mills and a combined 26 from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The team shared the ball much better than it had in Memphis, collecting 23 assists (to just seven turnovers) after racking up a total of 27 in Games 3 and 4.
Leonard remained the key, responding to countless Grizzlies traps and knowing when to attack the basket and when to find his teammates. In what has become the latest evolution of his game, he tied Parker with a team-high six assists.
Asked after the game whether he found it a challenge dealing with the pressure, he delivered a typically muted response
: "If two people are on you, you pass the ball. If you’re not open, you pass.”
Muted would not be a way describe the crowd at the AT&T Center, however, and the resurgent performance of Manu Ginobili was a big part of that. Held scoreless through his first four games of the series, the Argentinian was huge upon entering midway through the first quarter. He scored eight points in the opening period and finished with 10 on the night, as cheers rained down with every basket or dive to the ground.
Parker and Mills provided stability and scoring at the point guard position, taking advantage of a Grizzlies defense preoccupied with stopping Leonard. Mills made 7 of his 10 field-goal attempts, including five threes, and helped the Spurs deliver the knockout blow in the fourth quarter. Parker was a dynamo, turning back the close once again with some terrific inside-out play.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s numbers won’t garner headlines, but the work he did on the offensive glass and against Marc Gasol helped set a physical tone for the Spurs, who won the rebounding battle after losing it, 51-37, in Game 4.
Credit should also go to Gregg Popovich, who made the decision to roll with David Lee in the starting lineup, despite a ho-hum performance on Saturday and Dewayne Dedmon’s return from illness. Between Lee’s energy, Aldridge’s effort and contributions from Pau Gasol and Davis Bertans, Pop may have found a big-man rotation that works heading into Thursday’s elimination game.
This series is far from over, though. No team is yet to lose at home, and the Grizzlies can be expected to play with considerable urgency when they return to Memphis. It’s on the Spurs to make sure their balance and focus travel with them, so that both teams don’t need to come back to San Antonio for Game 7.