AT&T CENTER–Seated in press row, overlooking the court from the upper deck, one could see the play as it unfolded. As Manu Ginobili set a screen for Tony Parker, who dragged the defensive attention of Harrison Barnes and Jarret Jack along with him, leaving Kent Brazemore to decide between an open Diaw and Ginobili.
Ginobili sank the three-pointer, the Spurs sank the Golden State Warriors, and for at least the night, analysis stopped there.
Press row erupted, not necessarily in celebration of the San Antonio Spurs victory, but in celebration of a game that provided everything we cold ask for and more. For moments throughout the game there were no beat writers, there were no bloggers. NBA scouts, coaches, and even players–save for the 10 battling it out on the court–ceased to exist.
For the night, everybody was just a fan.
A week ago San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he was mesmerized by Stephen Curry's shooting, comparing watching him to watching Michael Jordan, not in talent, but in the way they draw your attention and captivate your imagination and cultivate your love for the game.
"It's like when you used to watch Michael, I was watching Curry make shots I couldn't believe," Popovich said during the first round. "When you get close to the playoffs, and in the playoffs, you see these types of performances and they're always memorable for all of us, coaches, fans, players."
Curry delivered such a performance again, scoring 22 of his 44 points in the third quarter alone. Through Curry’s scoring binge, Popovich tried multiple defenders and strategies, but ultimately all anyone could do is watch.
Never intimidating, but at times demoralizing, Curry danced with ball and defender, creating—and only requiring—the tiniest sliver of space. As he crossed over, spun, and stepped back, everyone simply ceased trying to make sense of things. It was as if Curry found the video game controller to life, switched the difficulty setting to “rookie” and went into video game god mode.
“We tried to alternate between Danny, Kawhi and myself to try and give him different looks and make it tough on him,” Tony Parker said afterwards, at a loss for any other answer. “You just try and do the best you can. He’s a great shooter.”
The AT&T Center crowd alternated between frustrated at the Spurs defense to simply accepting of Curry’s greatness, conceding the game as the Warriors held a 16 point lead late in the fourth quarter. Behind me fans contemplated two possible Game 2 adjustments—playing Tracy McGrady or creating a Stephen Curry voodoo doll, with the doll sounding like an increasingly attractive strategy with every Curry shot hoisted.
But something happened as newspaper beat writers, up against an impossible deadline, began filing the Spurs eulogy. Klay Thompson fouled out and all hell broke loose.
An underrated defender, Thompson baffled Parker for most of the night, while on the other end proving to be too tall a matchup to switch Parker onto, making it difficult to switch Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard on Curry.
Freed from Thompson, Parker worked rookie Harrison Barnes while the Spurs finally were able to turn Kawhi Leonard’s attention solely on Curry. With fans rushing back to their seats, having started the process of filing out with roughly five minutes remaining, the Spurs capped off an 18-2 run with a Danny Green three-pointer to send the game into overtime.
“We made a good play, Pop drew up a good play,” Green said. “Boris set a good screen on my man, I got free, and luckily it dropped.”
Green, Parker, and Ginobili continued each went on to hit big shots, with the arena and basketball viewing world hanging on every single one of them. NBA players around the league checked in from Twitter excitedly, as if they were any other fan. It was a shared moment, and it was everything playoff marketing could be.
There was the ascension of a star in Curry, who for the night only lacked a victory and a “God disguised as Michael Jordan” quote. There was adversity, with Duncan posting 19 points and 11 rebounds with a flu on a night when 34 minutes could be described as limited. And there was the old guard, showing he still has a moment left, finishing the game in dramatic style.
“I went from wanting to trade him on the spot to wanting to cook him breakfast the next morning,” Popovich said of his range emotions as Ginobili followed up an ill-advised shot with what ended up the game winner in the second overtime.
And that’s how the night ended, with even Popovich hanging on every play, and everyone less sure of what to make of this series than they were before the game started. This was playoff basketball, and it was spectacular.